Archive for the ‘Random Advice’ Category

The arrival of ‘Cam’ always causes me a frisson of excitement. It’s certainly the best alumni magazine to come through our letter box, and rarely disappoints for either human interest or a bit of an intellectual stretch.

The latest number arrived today and I was immediately captivated by an article about ‘play’. ‘Excellence often requires many of the qualities of play’ I read.  ‘This’ I thought, ‘is my kind of article’.

Based on a new book by Patrick Bateson and Paul Martin (Play, Playfulness, Creativity and Innovation CUP) I interpret the piece as a research-based argument that I should play more.  After all, without his playfulness Flemming may never have discovered penicillin. And if they did not play with sticks when young, chimps wouldn’t be nearly as good at the tasks which playful scientists set them.

It made me wonder which aspects of my childhood larking about have equipped me for life today.  I used to like lighting fires – and am still pretty good at it when faced with the challenge in a holiday cottage or after a big clear-up in the garden.  Fire lighting for me was part of Scouting which was, I suppose, an organised form of play. I now see the rudimentary weekend camps as a school of leadership. That sounds impossibly pompous, so I should explain that I mean that it was an arena for making mistakes which would teach you not ‘how to be a leader’, still less ‘what to do if you are a leader’, but that ‘the big life lesson that it is okay to make mistakes.’

Reflecting on the article I recognise that it’s not so much play as playfulness that matters.  The word ‘play’ is used for all sorts of activities which, while not intrinsically meaningful, are super-serious.  This is ‘play’ with the fun taken out – which is a one word oxymoron (if you can have such a thing).  It seems that it is play in the proper, relaxed, and purposeless sense which allows for later purposefulness.

That’s the paradox of play.

It’s not that you can write a Shakespearian sonnet by letting a million monkeys play with typewriters.  It’s that the next time you read something really interesting, moving, poetic or original the chances are that it will be written by someone who has had a good dose of play in their younger life and who still retains that quality of playfulness.

Bateson writes that people can be helped to become more creative. How?  ‘by freeing up time from the pursuit of predictable goals, and by avoiding time-wasting distractions …’ But he goes on, (and this is the bit I especially like)  ‘Daydreaming, far from being a wasteful activity, can lead to links being made between disparate bodies of thought.’

That sounds a bit prosaic – but the reality could be amazing. The point is that no one knows what will happen if you allow yourself to be playful and creative. That’s the fun of it. And the wonder. And the paradox.

Let us play.

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There’s no time like the present for sorting out your relationship with time, so why not choose one or two of the NYR ideas below to help you avoid the perils of excessive busyness in 2013?

  1. Commit to making a two-column to-do list at least once a week, if not every day.
    The two columns are headed ‘must’ and ‘may’ respectively. They require you to distinguish between essential tasks and desirable ones. Many people who are too busy never make that distinction.
  2. Disappoint someone regularly. Sometimes yourself.
    People who are too busy are often attempting the impossible. Guess what! You don’t have to do the impossible. To achieve the extremely difficult is more than enough.
  3. Get your holidays booked into your diary by the end of January.
    This might be difficult and involve a permissions process but where there’s a will there’s a way. Get it sorted. Knowing when your breaks are coming, having ‘Predictable Time Off’ – PTO – makes a real difference. People study this stuff and have proved it.
  4. Trim the length of regular appointments.
    If you normally see people for 90 mins make it 75. If it is usually 60 mins in 2013 make it 50. It sounds mean but, be honest, if you knew you had less time you would use it better.
  5. Use the timer on your phone a lot more.
    Be disciplined in how much time you give to both essential and desirable tasks. When the time runs out, stop. If the work is not finished, book another session into your diary to complete it. Sometimes be extra generous in your time allocation, especially if it is tasks that needs extended concentration – or if you just enjoy it.
  6. Have a clear-out of the meetings you attend.
    If you don’t know what the meeting is achieving, or don’t feel it is very efficient, then tell the chair. If they don’t care – resign. If you are the chair – get it sorted.
  7. Make a vow never to censor yourself when a really simple question bubbles up in your mind.
    Those questions – the ones that feel stupid – are often the key that needs to be inserted into the lock of some problem that no one has yet properly spotted. Asking it of yourself, or of others, could free up hours and hours of time by creating a new way forward. The little question ‘must we?’ has revolutionary potential, as do ‘why?’ or ‘why now?’, as kids know. (Sometimes, of course your question might actually be stupid, but who cares. It might give everyone a laugh and that is always energizing.
  8. Invest yourself deeply in something that can only be done slowly.
    One of the best ways to de-bug your busyness is to step aside from the time management mania into something slow. Playing or listening to music is good (don’t speed it up) so too is cooking or gardening, as are most things that come under the heading ‘spirituality’. (Use that timer to ensure you give these things long enough.)
  9. Limit the amount of time you spend on social media.
    They can easily become anti-social media and remove you from contact with the people around you. Like everything modern, they can easily drag you out of the present moment or even become addictive. Speaking of which, let me stop right there.

Happy New Year!

P.S For a load more ideas about how to grow in time wisdom and get out of the busyness trap have a quick look at my book Beyond Busyness

P.P.S. If you liked any of that you might also like this from the Digital Nun.

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There are loads of ways of making a mess of the great opportunity which a presentation presents.

We have all seen some of these in action and many of us have committed them ourselves.

Here is my selection of some of the most common.

Presentation Killers

  1. Give too much information.
  2. Expect your audience to know your jargon, acronyms and in-jokes.
  3. Read your slides or handouts – suggesting that you think they are illiterate.
  4. Talk too quickly, or too slowly, or too monotonously, or too excitedly or too quietly – or too loudly.
  5. Use sentences that belong in books, not on lips.
  6. Laugh nervously from time to time.
  7. Grip a script in your white-knuckled hands and read it.
  8. Over-cook, or under-cook, the whole thing.

And just to balance things out, here are some top tips:

Presentation Makers

  1. Speak as if you are addressing people you like, admire and look up to.
  2. Offer the tip of the iceberg of the subject.
  3. Don’t even think about using gimmicks.
  4. Eliminate jargon.
  5. Bring in colour and imagery.
  6. Be emotionally present – share your enthusiasm and your feelings as you go along.
  7. Get at least one story in there somewhere.
  8. Be genuinely interested in questions and feedback.

What would you add to (or subtract from) either list?  (That’s a genuine question, I’d like to get better at doing presentations – they are such great opportunities.)

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