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Category: Hacks

Blog too big? Tidy up and make eBooks?

Blog too big to manage? Does WordPress have plugins to help?

I have almost a thousand posts on this blog and I would dearly love to tidy them up; but this is a horribly big job.  Posts for one year alone come to about 500 printed pages and there is almost a decade of writing on here.

My search for  eBook plugins  for Word press begins

MPL plugin for WordPress

I have just now downloaded and activate my first eBook plugin: MPL.

Over the coming days I will test it and then try others too.

What I hope to do to tidy my blog

Goal 1:  Dead posts

When I spot a post that I really do not want to keep, I would like to delete it.

The post might be important to other people though.  Before I delete it, I will check on the Google statistics on Google Analytics, the analytics through Jetpack, and if it is an old post, the statistics on the original wordpress.com blog that I had and that redirects here.

How do I know if someone links to it?  And does it matter, if the link delivers no traffic?  It would be good to find out though.

My statistics will include

  1. The number of posts considered for deleting
  2. The number retained anyway
  3. Why I retained them

Goal 2: Interesting posts that might maintain a sense of my interests changing over the years

A post may be pretty much dead but it might be a market of my interests over the year.  Nostalgic perhaps, but I would like to complete those.

Maybe, I should simply make one of my eBooks – The first decade.

Indeed, this is the value of writing. I will do this first to give myself an overview of the blog.

Can I download a list of all 1000 posts, with their dates, tags and comments and look for a pattern?

Can I find out their current traffic too?

Task 1:  Get overall statistics for my blog

?? What is missing here?

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Personas: A hack used by professionals to imagine people they don’t know well

Shooting in the dark ~ I don’t know these people!

I want you to imagine any situation in which you are preparing to work with someone who you don’t know well.

  • You are going to hire someone and you must write an advert
  • You are going for a job interview
  • You are taking a new class
  • You are going to a party and your host is relying on you to get the party going
  • You are scouting for new business and you are all but cold calling

Personas

In any of the situations, it really helps to write a persona.

We write down a little story of where the person has come from and where they are going to.  How many children do they have?  Who is their partner? What is their immediate concern?  What are the values that have guided their choice in the past?

Sometimes the persona just won’t flow

Once we start writing, sometimes we realize that our expectations don’t hang together.  We can’t make the story “come together.”

That  is the real core of our sense that we don’t ‘know’ people.  We must be able to imagine a coherent story to be comfortable.

Use a character builder

When I get stuck, I find a “character builder” online, fill out the questionnaires, and resolve in my mind all the little details I expect about the person.

The version that I use suggests a Myers-Briggs profile.   It is very good for settling on one persona.

Once I have a coherent picture of someone, then I can imagine what I am going to love about them, and also what I am not going to like.

Here is the key to resolving my ‘stuckness.’  What will I not like about the person? Where must my approach change to be reasonable?

Once I’ve got past this point, I can complete the scenario and write a few more, including scenarios of the person in the context of home, play and work.  Who else will be there and what are their personas?

Useful hack

I hope that’s useful: Use a character builder to help your write personas to understand people you don’t know well

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3 time management systems for grown ups!

Slowness breeds to do lists!

I hate it when I have a slow day.  Sitting around in dull meetings, getting dehydrated and eating at the wrong times, I fill the the time by making to do lists.

When I get back to my office, I see, laid out in front of me, all the things I could and should be doing.  And can’t settle to any.

When I was a youngster, I loved a to-do list labelled with A’s B’s and C’s.  I liked making calls and crossing things off.  I hate it now.  I like dealing with larger chunks of work and  I like working towards a goal that has some meaning.  “Getting things done” no longer does it for me.

My rationale now is to figure out one or two things that are very important and just do those.  As long as something important is being done, and getting finished and getting shipped, a list adds no further value.

But in times when I have a long list, these are the methods that I have found useful.

#1 Yellow stickies

I use an ordinary A5 diary.  For every little task that I have to do, I add a yellow stickie, upside down. The stickies go down the page in columns, overlapping each other. That’s why it is important they are upside down.  The top line gives the title of the task and the details are covered by the next sticky though visible by lifting up the sticky below.

As I complete a task, I rip off  the sticky with glee, and put it on the corner of my desk.  At the end of the day, I have a pile of completed stickies and hopefully a clear diary. If not, I can move the stickies to another page.

And when I need to record my actions, I record what I have done on the page itself.

#2 Access data base

Access databases are pretty handy for projects which have many detailed steps, each of which must be completed precisely and in a particular order.  Anything which needs a PERT analysis is suitable for a database.

Each sub project is put in a table with tasks, expected dates, actual dates and costs.  The report function can be used to list all the tasks that need to be done in the next day, week or month and of course to check that everything has been done.

#3 Google Wiki

I’ve recently discovered Google’s Project Wiki, on Google Sites.  It is not really a wiki – linkages from page-to-page are limited.  It’s more like an electronic filoax!  It is  a full project template where you can add to do lists, time sheets, blogs, documents and pretty much anything else except perhaps a GANTT shart and a PERT analysis.

That’s what I am using now.  I’ll store away every zany idea in my Google Wiki and add a column for priorities.  My personal kanban will become the top items that I’ve resolved to start and finish. The choice is start and finish, or start and dump.  What’s not allowed is more than two or three open tasks.

What’s more, I can add dates that I completed work so I can review my progress at the end of each month.

The front page in the wiki is also useful because it prompts you to put in a strategic plan, which after all you can do for the next quarter!

My only reservation is all the information that I am giving to Google.

Here are you then – three time management systems for grown-ups!

1.  Yellow stickies for bitty projects and a physical reward for knocking off tasks

2. Data bases for precise projects where tasks must be done in order and on time.

3.  Google Project Wiki for messy jobs where it’s not really possible to tell priorities ahead of time but it important to work on on chunk at a time, finish and ship!

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Heatmap of personality in Toronto

I love mashups and I love seeing online data that we used to bury in fusty dusty archives.

The Canadians, bless their cotton socks, have taken the personality scores of Toronto residents who logged in online and produced some heat maps.

Follow the link to see which parts of Toronto are

  • Introverted or Extroverted
  • Emotional Stability or Neurotic (Intense)
  • Open to Experience, or Not
  • Agreeable (or scratchy)
  • Conscientious

These are Canadians, hey.  So they are all conscientious.  But the city otherwise differs. Categorizing a place as one or another or neither, then we have 3x3x3x3 =81 personality profiles.  Decide the character of the place you would like to live and move in?

PS If they weren’t Canadians, there would be 3x as many profiles = 243 choices!

As for the technique, there are 3 steps for compiling personality maps

  1. The personality test is online. Anyone can log in and they are asked to add their postal code.
  2. Average scores are calculated for every postal code with more than 10 people.
  3. The averages are mapped on a heat map.

Done!

Technical Aside.  The personality test is commonly known as the Big Five.  It is the agreed “periodic table” of personality.

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Anything, but please, not the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list

It’s October. In January, I found myself with far too much to do.

I tried all the tricks of the trade. I decluttered. I prioritized. I still had too much to do.

At last, I quietened my panic by drawing each goal as a spoke, coming in to a central hub. I marked off months and quarters. And wrote down some milestones.

Bicycle spokes for planning

Inevitably (and it is inevitable), I made heaps of progress. I am sure that resolving my panic was important, if only because I could do something useful with the time that I would otherwise spend panicking!

I am still busy. Horribly busy. Work is cutting in to my sleep as well. So, I am motivated to give my planning system a thorough overhaul.

Umbrella goal

Fortunately, I am much clearer now about what I want to do. I’ve managed to phrase a super-ordinate goal and the many goals that gave me such grief in January, all contribute in their own way. When I make a decision on one project, I’m able to check in my mind how work on that project fits in with the overall goal and all the other projects.

There is a lesson in this, I think.  Don’t discard your competing goals.  Live with the strain until you can see why you are attracted to apparently conflicting projects.

Eventually the bicycle wheel takes shape as an umbrella!

From wish to intent to action

Now I am more focused, my attention has shifted from goals – to critical mass & priorities.

I could list everything I have to do.  I could even put everything on a spreadsheet.  But I think I would throw up.  There is too much to do and seeing it in one place won’t help.

That kind of planning is better when there are lots of steps that are critical, and when they must be done in a specific, and known, order. That will come later.

Impact vs ease

I had a brain storm last night. I remembered a technique which I learned from Zivai Mushayandebvu in Botswana.

Sort tasks into four piles (2×2):

  • What will make a huge impact and is relatively easy to do.
  • What will make a huge impact but is hard to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is easy to do.
  • What will make a small impact and is hard to do.

The first, we do.

The second, we see if we can buy in.

The third, we might get do as filler tasks.

The fourth, we discard.

Keeping it simple, cheap, disposable (and green)

This whole project can be done on the back of old envelopes and a set of shoe boxes. My guess is that the priorities to develop critical mass are going to emerge quite fast.

I am going to try it. Anything rather than the bludgeon of a huge ‘to do’ list.

UPDATE: In another phase of overload, I think I shall rate my tasks like this again!

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WANTED: Advice of someone who has made friends with their alarm clock

A typical digital 12-hour alarm clock showing ...
Image via Wikipedia

Is there anyone out there who is recovering from a bad relationship with their alarm clock?

I don’t sleep through them.  I don’t hit the snooze button over and over again.

But if I have set an alarm clock .  .  .

  • I cannot go to sleep
  • I wake up during the night
  • I wake up before the alarm clock.

I do so hate been rudely awoken.

Does anyone have any tips for trusting alarm clocks?

Winter is coming and how does one know the time at this latitude without one?

P.S. I grew up in the tropics.  The sun came up predictably between 05:30 and 06:30 all year round.  It was no problem to be up and at work by 07:00.   I really don’t know how to do this!

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Little known secrets about what a work and organizational psychologist will do for you in a recession

My job is to help you find forward momentum

I’m a psychologist. What this means, in short, is that you come to see me when you feel frustrated and it is my job to help you find a way forward.

Clinical psychology, social workers, lawyers & doctors

For some people getting out of a bad situation is complicated.  Quite often they are in extremely difficult circumstances and they need social workers, doctors, lawyers, etc. to help them solve practical problems.

They may also have lived in difficult circumstances for so long that they no longer recognize easy circumstances.  Helping them unravel their view of life and live an easier life is the work of clinical psychologists.

Work & organizational psychologists

Most people who come to see me are not in a bad situation.  They are at one of the normal turning points in life where they have to make a decision and they do not have sufficient information.  These turning points are often frustrating and scary, but they are essentially about questions like which organization should I join?  Or, how do I improve my status and my income?  Psychologists like me work less like clinical psychologists, who work with what is in your head, more like social workers, doctors and lawyers.  We help you understand and manage the external world, and in particular the world of organizations and work.

Indeed, we are quite often work for organizations rather than individuals and when we do, we are architects of systems.  We design selection systems.  We design disciplinary codes.  We design bonus systems.  HR systems are just formalized ways of making a lot of personal decisions about what we are doing and where we are going.  When we design the systems well, we give people an easy framework to make their own decisions well.  And we also strengthen the organization, by providing a place where we live and work comfortably and easily.

Work & organizational psychologists ask a lot of questions about work & business

To design good systems, we need to know a lot about jobs and business.  Of course, we don’t know as much as the people who run the business and who have worked in it all their lives.  Businesses and technologies change fast too.  So we are less in the business of knowing, and more in the business of asking questions.

Learning about the financial crisis

I started writing this post this morning after I read a post from the redoubtable Alice Cook, who provides a graph showing that financial debt has grown disproportionately to consumer and corporate debt in the UK.  I knew that generally but didn’t have a graph at my finger tips.  So thank you.  I like to have data stored away neatly.

Personal action during the financial crisis

I am amazed, though, that anyone is amazed by these figures.  Like many people, I feel that the managerial classes in the UK have a lot to answer for.  They should have known these figures intimately and acted accordingly.

The trouble is that blaming others is pretty useless as a psychological technique.  Professionals & business leaders may be to blame.  We might be right to hold them in contempt.  And personally, I wouldn’t feel unhappy if they were prosecuted.  But blaming others doesn’t help us feel better, and more importantly, it doesn’t help use get things right.  So I’ll leave that to others.

As a psychologist, what I have to say is this.

Until we are all a lot better informed, we will simply lurch from one crisis to another

Listed below are the bare bones of an information system that I am used to having at my disposal.

  • Trends in our industry
  • Current economic figures supplied monthly by our bank
  • People around me who read the figures
  • Key figures pertaining to our industry
  • Data on databases so that computer savvy people (including youngsters) can play with data and ask questions
  • Key figures that show the strength and resilience of our business
  • Key figures readily available so computer savvy people can play with them and ask questions

It is true I have not seen this information being made freely available to employees since I have arrived in the UK but I’ve lived elsewhere where a key player in the provision of information to people in business has been, ironically, British-listed banks.

If we want to get out of the biggest mess since the great Depression, we are going to have to do something. And to do something, we have to begin.  The first steps I will tell you, being a psychologist, is to ask questions.

Some easy no-cost first steps that individuals and small business owners should take

You have a computer and internet?  So let’s go.  If you haven’t already done it, it’s time to set up your own economic intelligence system.

FIVE steps will do it.  Set up folders on your email, feeds reader, bookmarkers and hard drive,  and a page on your blog.

1. Google Alerts.  Set up Google Alerts for your industry.

I have alerts for UK jobs and UK GDP and use a ‘rule’ to send them straight to my “intelligence” folder in email.  I read them once a week or when I need a break from other tasks.

2.  As you find useful blogs, subscribe in your feeds reader.

I scan these at my leisure and make a point of reading The Economist on Thursday evenings.

3. Bookmark articles you might want to come back to.

One big folder works better than many little ones.  Bookmarks saves you Google-time when you want to re-call something.

4.  Save useful graphs, data and pictures on your hard drive for the presentation you will make later!

5. Blog from time to time to organize your thoughts.

Then make an index of useful posts on a separate page where your readers can find all your writings on the future of your industry and local economy.

So will being economically-savvy help?

Keeping an eye on the economy does not stop other people from being foolish, of course.  And it can also make you feel panicky when you see a trend that no one else seems to care about.

I find that understanding the economy is like knowing the motorway ahead is congested.  I have created choice for myself.  I can keep driving and join the throngs inching along and losing their tempers.  Or I can pull off, and take a longer route through the back roads.

Neither may be a great outcome and it is also possible to put far too much effort into deciding the best alternative.  But I prefer a leisurely drive down the back roads enjoying the country view than boiling with frustration on an ugly motorway.

And I quite happy to leave behind badly run organizations for a business venture that is smaller and more likely to be here tomorrow.

Follow the good money

If you haven’t already done so, begin.  Spend a few hours a week following the economic data.  It gets easier.

And if we all do it, we won’t be routed by unscrupulous managers, at least for a while.

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Managing multiple and inter-dependent goals

For years, I’ve been looking for a way to lay out a set of goals that are inter-dependent and possibly conflicting. Yesterday, I stumbled a text to mindmap online program.

It’s great. You type in a list of topics and sub-topics and it generates a simple mind map for you. You can have a springy free-from map. Or, you can “fix” it and move the topics and sub-topics to where you want them. And you can download the map as a jpg file.

How do I use it for defining my goals?

1. I made the title and central concept “A great 2008”.

2. I added in my various projects, including planning 2009, and grouped them – in the text list. When I was done, I had it generate the mindmap (yeah, no fiddly graphics).

3. Then I fixed my map. I thought I would fix the map to show the progress of the projects bringing projects going well closer to the middle. But I decided rather to reflect their importance or priority.

4. And I can come back to the site whenever I want. It’s free. I am going to do this periodically to review how I am doing.

5. As events unfold, I can take note of what has surged ahead unexpectedly and what is lagging and needs more effort. I can also expand sections if that is what I need at the time.

Unfortunately, we can’t edit the goals except on the text list and we can’t save. So we have to retype each time.

What I really love is that there is no messing around with graphics.

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Dale Carnegie – still relevant

I remember reading Dale Carnegie at High School and College.  Both times, I was able to take large steps up : once public speaking in front of 400 people,  and the other obtaining sponsorship for a student club.  I was so pleased to find it again.

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