How to Work Better

A nice article on how to work better.  I like that it focuses on simple ideas that can have profound impact on how we work and how we think about working.

The list appears simple on it’s face, but is worth thinking about as we do our day-to-day task, but especially, I think, as we try something new.

Here’s the list:

  1. Do one thing at a time
  2. Know the problem
  3. Learn to listen
  4. Learn to ask questions
  5. Distinguish sense from nonsense
  6. Accept change as inevitable
  7. Admit mistakes
  8. Say it simple
  9. Be calm
  10. Smile
[Lifehacker via Scott Berkun via Team Genius Book Report

Better Presentations

Merlin Mann at 43Folders did a great presentation on presentations that is worth a read.  This was from 2007, but is still a good way to shake up your presentations.

I admit I struggle with how best to apply some of the ideas since most of my presentations tend to be pretty technical and filled with details.  So, I struggle with leaving them out and as a result, they tend to look like a bullet-fest-apalooza.  And, you pretty much don’t see technical presentations given with stock photo footage.

This leaves me wondering why that is and not having a great answer.

Nevertheless, it’s a great article on better presentations and if it gets me thinking differently, that’s not a bad thing.

Better Public Speaking

Lifehacker has a nice article on improving your public speaking.

Years ago I took a week long class in public speaking at the company where I worked.

It started out with video taping a short impromptu speech.  We didn’t get to see the results of the tape at that time.  Later, we talked about many of the basic of better public speaking: eye contact, cadence, pacing, etc.

Two of the areas that I had struggled with and, to some extent still do struggle with, are pacing and non-words.

I speak fast, especially when nervous.  I can also be a quiet talker.

In the course of the class I became much more aware of controlling the non-words (Um, ah, uh, etc), more aware of pacing and the value of a pause, a moment of quiet to gather your thoughts.

At the end of the class we were video taped again and when we graduated, with certificate and all!), we received the tapes of our opening speech, several that we’d done in the middle and our final speech.  The difference in that time was pretty striking.

I’m not nearly as concerned at the notion of talking with a group or even one on one with a stranger as I used to be and I credit that class, along with time and practice, with helping me to be a better speaker.

And, the far and away best recommendation from the above article is to record yourself and review it while practicing your speech.  Pay attention to non-words and pacing.  Look at body language and work on eye contact.  The latter two won’t be natural when practicing alone, but it’s still useful.  And, best of all, if it is  possible, record the presentation itself.  You may find it a bit cringe-worthy, but the feedback you’ll get from that will be invaluable.

The Most Recession Proof Jobs

Get Rich Slowly enumerates the most recession-proof jobs in the current market, as chosen by some experts.

Let’s see how I’m doing.

Per Expert #1:

1) “Engineering, because the abandoned U.S. industrial base will need to be re-tooled.”

7) “Computers and high technology, one field in which the U.S. continues to lead.”

Per Expert #2:  Well, I’m pretty hosed there, unless I hop over to IT or networking.

Expert #3: Nope, nothing I do plays well in a recession according to this opinion.

Expert #4:

2) Software design/development

11) Project management

Interesting article and I didn’t see anything in there to make anyone feel that they were not at risk.  So, buckle down and be indispensible!

[Via: Lifehacker]

The Cost of Paying Attention

Mike Elgan over at InternetNews wrote an interesting article about what he calls Work Ethic 2.0.  In it he argues that hard work is dead, replaced by the ability to function in an environment actively working to rob us of the ability to focus our attention.

This resonates with me as it seems the Internet breeds more and interesting ways to pull us away from focusing on things.  Even taking aside the Internet, which I believe still offers real benefit, despite the shiny lights and noises, the same applies in the workplace, and add in additional sources of attention grabbing.

One of the things I’ve appreciated as I’ve moved from Development to Management to customer-facing roles and back is that each offers different levels of opportunity to focus.

In my experience, a developer often has a fixed set of requirements and a fixed schedule.  There is always the possibility that a high-priority customer issue or business opportunity will come up and upset that apple cart, but largely, the opportunity exists to go heads down and focus.

In one of my other roles as a Customer Applications Engineer, it was on the opposite end of the spectrum: almost entirely interrupt driven.  The ability to plan larger, longer term projects existed only in and around meeting the immediate demands of customers.

Somewhere in the middle is the management role.  Trying to manage a set of Developers, themselves focused on the individual tasks while I, as the manager, try to keep them focused and minimize the disruptive interrupts, but having to choose to let some by as necessary.

The challenge in that role is to focus on the needs of the team to meet the goals of the company to make money and be successful, while trying to serve as a guard on the Developers time.

It’s an interesting problem, especially in light of the plethora of interrupt mechanisms that exists in a moderns workplace.

I’ve worked in environments where the interrupt mechanisms included all of the following: email, phone, IM, in-person visit.  That doesn’t cover the hallway or bathroom, which also offer opportunities for added interrupts.

The ability to focus in light of all of those challenges will be, I think, an increasingly important skill to cultivate in a environment that increasingly demands our attention be split when we most need to focus.

Printable Calendar

David Seah over at has published a great compact printable calendar for the last few years.  They are great for project planning, especially when it comes time to figure out Releases or to help figure out that a deliverable 8 weeks from now lands on a critical resources vacation time.

I usually carry one around in my notebook and mark it up until it’s time to print out a new one.  Very handy.

He also has several other useful tools worth checking out that I’ve used in the past, all part of his Printable CEO series.  Specifically, I’ve used the Emergent Task Timer and Emergent Task Planner.  Check them out here.

Here is the link to the calendar.  Note, it does require a spreadsheet program like Excel, but it works as well in free options like OpenOffice.