The importance of taking a break

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop” – Ovid

Ovid knew what was up 2000 years ago, I really should start paying attention

The advice I most often give to friends and family is ‘take a break’ or ‘look after yourself today’ or ‘you don’t have to do that thing, you’re allowed to say no’. Unfortunately I’m pretty rubbish at taking my own advice. Over the past few weeks I have completely run myself into the ground, and I am in desperate need of sleep and brain rest!

So I’m checking out for a week – no work, no blog – instead I’ll be resting, spending time with family, and doing some fun stuff which I don’t usually make time for (like my multiple abandoned sewing projects…).

In the meantime, I thought I’d leave you with a few videos which have amused and/or inspired me, in hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I promise I’ll be back in a fortnight with new found energy, ideas and enthusiasm! 

James Veitch – Scammers prey on vulnerable people, and make this world considerably less awesome. James Veitch has a unique (and very amusing) way of tackling this problem.

Tim Urban – Feeling bad for putting off that thing? You are not alone!

Leadership ‘Dancing Guy’ – A reminder that you don’t need a big idea to start a movement – you just need one supporter.

Angel City Chorale – Listening to this warms my heart, how can you not smile when seeing so many people having fun and singing their hearts out? 

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Agile Attitude

The organisation I work for has recently introduced Agile, and I am gradually getting used to the new methods and terminology. It’s gaining support as we are seeing quick results and products which meet actual (not assumed) needs, but there’s still work to do to keep up the momentum, and stop us falling back into old ways.

What has struck me from the start is that Agile is as much an attitude as a methodology, and we need to recognise and cultivate this in order to make a success of our new tools. I should stress I am very much a novice to Agile, but these are the things that strike me as important:

  1. Accept that we are not, and cannot, be experts in everything – let go of our identity as the resident expert on something, and consciously seek out alternative viewpoints from colleagues and (most importantly) users
  2. Share work, especially when it’s not finished – resist the urge to commit a lot of time and energy into ‘polish’, and share ideas with others for guidance, support and perhaps even offers of help
  3. Stop talking and start the thing – cancel the planning meeting, scratch the elaborate project plan; get started on asking questions and building prototypes
  4. Get comfortable with being wrong over and over again – welcome criticism as a positive contribution to a project, and remember that every version of wrong is a little better than the last
  5. Keep it simple – a simple solution which resolves the problem is far better than a grand masterpiece which doesn’t
  6. Celebrate the progress – take the time to reflect on the great things as they happen, rather than saving all the praise for the final product
  7. Always talk to the user – “when you assume you make an ass out of u and me” – take the time to ask questions; and be conscious of any inherent biases, personal viewpoints and preconceived solutions which may steer us away from our purpose

This is not a definitive list, and I’m sure I will add to it over the coming months as these new ways of working become more familiar.

So, what do you think? Does this sound familiar or scary? Have I missed anything?

*

Three posts in and I’m starting to enjoy this blogging malarky… Maybe Jon was onto something… It’s still early days while I find my writing ‘feet’, so if you have any feedback on what you like, what I could do differently, or what topic you’d like to see next please let me know!

Adventures in Reading

“Don’t get used to normal”. This is the advice I was given on the first day in my job, and I must say it has served me well.

I work in Local Government, a sector which is under considerable pressure to change, as we face increasing financial and population pressures. The ability to be flexible, to challenge assumptions, and try new ways of doing things is essential.

The problem is that once the novelty of a new job has subsided, it’s very easy to get used to ‘normal’, to find your place in the pecking order and stay there. While this is a comfortable existence, it won’t move us forward…

I’ve been making a conscious effort to challenge my sense of normal, and one way I’m doing this is through reading. I challenged myself to read 75 books this year; I’ve now reached number 63 and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.

These are the pick of my favourites so far; favourite because they surprised me, challenged me, or gave me a different perspective.

 

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell

A truly unique take on autobiographical writing, documenting the seventeen times the author almost died, but lived to tell the tale. Some parts of this book make for difficult reading, as they are a stark reminder of the fragility of life, but to me this is not a sad book; it is a call to action. It reminds me of how grateful I should be for my life and everything in it, and that if I want to do something great I should start now while I still have the chance.

We Do Things Differently by Mark Stevenson

I read this book while I was sick and house-bound, and it did wonders for my mood! It contains a series of case studies where people have taken on challenges with non-conventional approaches, and succeeded. Many of these people are ‘ordinary’, with no particular expertise or capital or formal power, but through thinking differently and being persistent they have enhanced their communities.

How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb

The importance of gender equality has been prominent in recent news, and while I am familiar with the female side of the debate, I have been blind to the challenges faced by boys and men. Robert Webb’s memoir makes for compelling reading, as he tells of negotiating society’s expectations of masculinity and identity.

What If? by Randall Munroe

Equally amusing and fascinating: scientific answers to a collection of hypothetical questions. Proof that there is no such thing as a silly question (and even if there is, you can learn something from working out the answer).

The Poirot Novels by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie has been on my must-read authors list for a while, and this summer I finally opened my first Poirot novel. They are short, satisfying reads with the inevitable (yet always unexpected) twist. I have continued to read my way through the series, as these books remind me never to assume, because I will almost certainly be wrong.

Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg

If you read the news every day, as I do, you could be fooled into thinking that everything is wrong in the world: this is the 21st Century and our world is still blighted by war, disease and inequality. This book with its charming yellow cover is a reminder of how far our species has come. We may not have solved every problem (far from it), but we are moving in the right direction.

Watching the English by Kate Fox

Possibly my favourite book of the year so far, although I have loved so many… A series of pin-point observations on typically English behavior (highlights of which include talking about the weather, drinking tea, and the hallowed art of queuing), showing how much of our environment we assume to be normal and universal, even when it isn’t.

 

So these are the best of 2017 so far (I’ll let you know if any gems appear in the final 12…), and I will continue to seek out books that give different perspectives on life. If you have any recommendations, I’m always keen to hear them, so please comment or tweet me your suggestions 🙂

Excuses, Excuses…

 

(Argh! How do I start this thing?)

This blank page is a rather intimidating prospect, but somehow putting a few words on the page makes writing the next bit a little easier… A colleague has been trying to convince me to start a blog for a few months, and despite agreeing that this was a good idea, I’ve resisted until now.

I’ve been wracking my brains for a first blog topic, and because I was taught to write what you know, I thought I would introduce you to my internal monologue on why not to start a blog…

First and foremost… I don’t have anything to say! While this is the excuse I tell myself it’s simply not true. If anything…

I have too much to say! I have the great privilege of being on the Local Government Association’s National Graduate Development Programme, which means that I change roles every six months and attend numerous training events with ~100 other graduates from around the country. No two days are the same in this role, and I have learnt so much in my first year about myself, teams, Councils, leadership, Politics and politics, learning styles, communities… I hope that I will be able to share some of this learning through a series of blog posts (putting that in black and white rather commits me to writing again, doesn’t it?).

What if nobody reads it? Well I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t have a loyal readership of at least one person (i.e. the colleague who persuaded me to start this blog (Hi Jon!))… However, blogging isn’t all about readers, and I am hoping this process will help me to download some of the thoughts which have been swimming around my brain in the last few months, occasionally keeping me up at night.

What if everybody reads it? Well this is rather contradictory to the last point, isn’t it? It’s definitely a scary prospect to expose my thoughts in a public space, but since my readership is likely to be very small (or non-existent) at this point, shall we just cross that bridge if/when we come to it…?

Do I have time? “I don’t have time” is my most hated excuse, so it pains me that this is in my list of reasons not to blog. I have always believed that if you care about something enough you will make time for it in your life, and up to this point I have not put blogging at the top (or anywhere near the top) of my to-do list.

It might not be very good… Well, if I never try I’ll never find out! I’ve always found writing a bit of a struggle (I’m much more at home public speaking that I am writing prose), but it will never improve if I don’t practice, and those 10,000 hours to mastery won’t find themselves if I don’t make space for them.

So, in conclusion, I have no justifiable reason not to share some of my thoughts and learnings somehow, somewhere (I will not break into song… I will not break into song…) and despite my reticence to write this seems to be a relatively simple and accessible medium.

Watch out for my next post (yes, I am planning the next one already, yay for early motivation!), which will be about one of my favourite things: BOOKS 🙂

C.