Life / Can Do

Helpful tips to living a better life

Posts Tagged ‘decision making

You Can Do Anything … Or Can You?

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The other day my wife and I watched an episode of Saturday Night Live which had a skit that was a hilarious take on a topic that had been on my mind lately – unrealistic self expectations. See the skit at: You Can Do Anything

This current generation was raised in a culture that promoted that idea that a person could be or do anything they wanted to be as long as they believed in themselves. We’ve all been told to do what we love. Whether you like philosophy, basket weaving or Victorian glove making then you should have a career that lets you do that. There’s a problem with that line of advice and college graduates soon find themselves with no marketable skills.

In the computer programming field I’ve worked with people who had once aspired to be something else. Below is a short list of broken dreams I’ve heard:

musician, elementary school teacher, physicist, librarian, guidance counselor, music therapist, poet, park ranger, video game designer, artist

Now these are all viable careers to some extent but each of them required a level of sacrifice that the dreamers were not willing to make. At some point the need to earn a living overrides the be-anything-you-want-to-be attitude. If they really and truly wanted to have these jobs, they wouldn’t be working 9 to 5 in a corporate office.

I’ve wanted to be a computer programmer since high school so I lucked out. I am doing what I love and getting paid well for it. There were times when I considered alternate paths. For a few years I wanted to be martial arts instructor and later a fiction writer. Fortunately, I had something practical to fall back on as I soon learned the odds of making a good living from those careers were slim to none.

When my nephew was first contemplating what major to take in college this is the advice I gave him- “You can be anything you want to be … once you are able to support yourself and pay for your dream job.” He majored in business, graduated and is now doing very well for himself. He is still young and now he has the financial stability to consider other careers if he decides to do so. As it stands now, he is very happy doing what he does.

Rather than “Doing What you Love”, we should strive to love what we do. My wife has a job where she has to do deal with finances for a medium sized company. I guess she’s like an accountant or something, I don’t get it. I remember when she chose to switch jobs to do this. There was no financial incentive for her to do so as her previous job paid well and had potential for even greater opportunities. But she saw an opportunity to do something that she enjoyed while still contributing to the household.

I guess my wife and I were too poor when we entered the business world to afford to “do what we love”. We had to settle for doing whatever put food on the table and kept the lights on. Now years later, with the financial stability we’ve work hard for, we are very happy and fulfilled doing what we do.

Any career can be rewarding if you put your heart and soul into it.

As a disclaimer I will admit that I am only talking from my experience and observations. I accept that I could be wrong and would be open to hearing opinions to the contrary. As I’ve said in the beginning this is a topic I’ve only started to contemplate. I had yet to find any worthwhile references that would support my observations.

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Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Responsibility

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The group I work with had a bad quarter financially and it was my fault. We had lost an important client and failed to bring in enough new business to cover that loss. I am not a director or a manager and it is not in my job description to make the decisions that would directly affect the bottom line, but I still accept a share of the responsibility for the loss. It would be easy to believe that the results were out of my control or to blame it on the current economic conditions. I could even argue that my projects were extremely successful and the work that I did reduced costs while increasing business value. However, the truth is that I am part of a team and when that team does not do well, I do not do well.

As individuals, we have to own our part in the success or failure of the teams we work with. I am proud that the work I did may have helped mitigate the negative numbers but I regret that I could not have done more to help others achieve the results we needed.

I asked my manager about what we did or did not do to cause us to lose that client. He didn’t know. How could he not know? How could something that was so significant not be communicated clearly and to everyone?

So I am taking responsibility for something executives at the company did not care to share with me. There was no lack of communication when we were all told that bonuses and raises were going to be reduced due to this unknown failing of ours.

I will not accept this lack of communication. I will not grumble, complain and blame the higher-ups for the lack of fairness. I will keep asking until I get an answer. When I do get that answer, I will ask another question: “What could I have done differently that would have helped prevent the loss of the client?”.

I believe we were not told because the executives believed it was their own fault and not that of the employees. I believe it is shame and not malice that makes them reluctant to share the information. They have a responsibility to make the right decisions but they should not take all the blame any more than they should take all the credit for the results we produce.

I decide how much I will contribute to the success of the business. I decide if I’m going to do just what is assigned to me and I decide if I’m going to go beyond what is expected. If I am treated unfairly and my pay does not reflect my contribution, it is my decision to accept it or to look elsewhere for work. The only thing my employer really has control over is whether or not to keep me on the payroll during a layoff. I do whatever I can to make keeping me on the right choice.

I blame not just myself but everyone in my group. I blame those who do only what they are told and don’t ask questions. I blame the employee who follows a process just because it has always been done that way. I blame the project manager who is only concerned with meeting his project’s deadlines. I blame the person who leaves early because their work is done while their peers are overwhelmed with work. I also forgive them because I have done the same in the past.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will come back from this setback. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. A successful business is not one set of quarterly results or the loss of one client. A successful business is the cumulative success of the individuals working in it.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 25, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Busy, Busy, Busy

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One of the downsides to increasing your productivity is that you tend to take on more work. You become one of those “Go To” people who can be counted on to get things done. There is an urge to take it all on and show others you have what it takes. Resist that urge and only take on the amount of work you can reasonable manage.

Just recently I’ve managed to get a number of projects off the ground at the same time. These were sitting in limbo over the holidays due to lack of funding and available people. Now they have all been given the green light and are under way. The problem is that I’m involved in all of them so now I find my time stretched thin. I hadn’t planned on having them all going at the same time, but I’m now a victim of my own success.

In past years, what I would do is push a few ideas forward knowing that it would be unlikely all of them would pan out. There is so much stalling and red tape in a big corporation, so you need to get things promoted early and keep pushing until they get the right amount of approvals. I’ve since had some projects that went extremely well, so now when I propose a solution it moves forward.

It’s a given that I have more work than I can reasonably handle. The only solution is to delegate and hand off what I can to others – something I have been historically uncomfortable doing. You know the old saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. I don’t believe that but I do believe if you want something to go according to your vision, you have to do it yourself.

Once you hand off work to someone else, their vision of what it should be starts to alter the end result. That is as it should be and woe to the person who tries to force his exact vision on other people. Others may follow the basic idea but they are bound to put their own take on it. If you don’t allow for others to add their own ideas, you will end up with a disengaged worker bee, not a collaborative creator.

So I have to accept that I need to share the vision of the project with others and work with them to produce excellent results. Still, there is something in me that mourns the loss of control.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 17, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Aspects of a Successful Life

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How to improve the quality of your life?

We all desire a happier and more rewarding life. In that we often strive to improve specific details of our lives – get a better job, own a bigger home, spend more time with our friends and family, get in better shape, and so on. While it is important to work on these focused goals, it is important to take a step back and look at our lives as a whole and determine if our individual goals contribute to our long-term happiness. It is easy to assume that a goal such as striving to get a better paying job is something we want, but we may find that we are just following a pre-programmed path set by the expectations and influence of others or even the media. It would be a tragedy to struggle for years to achieve a goal only to find that is detracts from you happiness instead of contributing to it.

Big goals and small tasks

Once you take a step back and consider what you want to achieve in life, the complexity of the problem can be daunting. When faced with a large goal the best thing to do is attempt to break it down into smaller more manageable goals. You may need to establish another levels of goals below these as well if they are still too daunting. Once you have a list of goals, you will need to determine that actionable tasks you need to achieve those goals. Even then if there are tasks that appear too big to tackle, you can break those tasks down into smaller sub-tasks. There is no limitation on how small the tasks should be. They need to be small enough so that you feel that you can easily accomplish them. This is just a high level overview on the process of goal setting and tasks. We will expand upon the topic of goal setting in a future article.

Mind, Body and Spirit

The first step that I take when editing my life goals, is to consider the three main aspects of my being that I want to improve which are mind, body and spirit. While the more pragmatic may feel that this is little too “new-agey”, I want to assure you that I will strive for practical advice based on both quantitative and qualitative research as well as my own personal experience. The word “spirit” has religious connotations, but in this context this word encompasses the topics of passion, drive, motivation and purpose. The concepts of mind, body and spirit are very useful when setting goals. In practice, however,  most goals will address more than one of those. Though exercise is often considered a way to improve the body, it also improves the mind and spirit as well.

Maintain skepticism

Most of the advice I will provide on this site will be based on work done by others. For years, I have researched the fields of self-improvement, productivity, business and anything else that would help provide the answers I had been looking for. I will continue to research in my endless mission to improve my life and the lives of others. In those years my life has had many challenges and I attempted to apply what I’ve learned to those challenges. I’ve achieved great things as a result. I’ve also found that some of what I’ve learned was faulty or incomplete. I don’t begrudge those who shared that faulty information as I believe most offer the best that they know and it was up to me to find my own answers.

I will do my best to share what I’ve learned but it is important that you remain skeptical to my advice or the advice of anyone else. You have to find what works best for you, but to do that you need to consider what others have to share. If you figure out a better way of doing things, I ask that you share that with others.

Nobody has all the answers. We often see experts publish a book one year only to produce an expanded edition some time later. Were they holding out on us? I don’t think so. The publish a new edition because they’ve gained more knowledge, more insights and have had more time to apply their ideas in the real world. I’m sure they also get feedback from others about how their advice didn’t work as they expected and that they needed to make changes to meet their personal circumstances.

It’s up to you

Not only do I not have all the answers, I still have many more questions of my own to figure out. Still, I am absolutely certain that if you try some of the ideas I will share with you, you will learn ways to improve your life. When you do experience success, it won’t be because of anything I’ve shared, but rather due to your own efforts to apply what you’ve learned.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 8, 2012 at 11:23 am

Productive Disagreements: Revisted

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In a recent article I discussed the value of a good argument that received an interesting response from another blogger who writes the excellent management blog, Manage Better Now. Here’s what that person wrote:

The best ideas that I have ever seen implemented were born out of conflict. Be polite and professional, but a passionate heated discussion gets the blood flowing and stimulates new ideas. I welcome conflict, but you have to make sure everyone leaves the meeting as friends (or at least as close to it as they were before the meeting).

I have to admit when I wrote the article it was intended to be somewhat of a lighthearted piece – a quick read intended to provide new insights. However, the comment above made me think and inspired me to add more to the topic.

The statement about making sure “everyone leaves the meeting as friends” is an important point that should have been part of the post. At the time I wrote the article, I felt that the value of maintaining mutual respect was implied, but upon reading it again I can see how it could appear to promote conflict for conflict’s sake, which is not what I intended. Conflict that does not produce value for one or both parties is just sadism.

An argument does not always involve direct conflict at least not in a personal sense. The word “argument” has a number of different connotations. I fear that most people normally associate the word with the ranting produced by dysfunctional relationships.

As a person who has worked for years as a software developer, I have many fond memories of arguments that produced great results. Some I “won” and some I “lost”, but in both scenarios, to the benefit of our clients.

An unproductive argument can occur when a participant is not given the opportunity to state their case. People with strong personalities have a unconscious tendency to overlook those who are more reserved and less outspoken. They may feel that if a person had something important to add, they would speak up load and clear. That would be a valid point, but there should be consideration toward encouraging others to share their ideas.

I had a boss, let’s call him Frank, who yelled at me during a meeting after what must have been my 5th attempt to jump into the conversation. “Tim! If you have something to say, speak up! Don’t wait for permission because you ain’t gonna get it.”

Years later, Frank and I were in another meeting where he was arguing against rewriting a piece of software that I believed was at the end of its life cycle. I had to make my arguments against his line of reasoning. He was saying the development costs would be too high and I argued that maintenance costs over time were much higher. I stood my ground and even had to talk over him to present the facts. In the end, I had the math to back me up so I won the argument.

After the meeting, I was having mixed emotions about standing up to a person who was my mentor for so many years. As I was sitting in my cubicle mulling this over, Frank came up to me and patted me on the back. He was proud of what I did.

A corporate environment is not, in and of itself, a cold, heartless place. It is the people in the organization that can make it cold. We must remember that a corporation is an intangible concept that requires people to make it tangible. When those who lead an organization, lead from a sense of purpose, with dignity and respect for others, they create an environment that builds employees who create value for the love of creating value.  I was not fearful of arguing with a person who had authority over me because I was arguing for the benefit of our company and our clients and not for my own selfish reasons. In the group that I work with, the person with the best ideas implicitly has the authority to promote those ideas, even if they conflict with others higher up in the organization.

This blows the minds of new recruits. They come in expecting the same old command and control mentality they’ve witnessed at other companies (or even in other departments within our company). But when they see themselves being asked for their opinions, and experience their ideas being taken seriously, it can be a little daunting. When you are person working in the trenches, you are not accustomed to being held accountable for your ideas or decisions. They may be thinking about what might happen if their idea fails or if they are called on to take on a bigger role than they were ready for. They should consider the consequences of their ideas because that is what leaders must do, but a leader must also have the courage to take risks for something they believe in. You build leadership skills by leading when you are not ready for the responsibility.

When an employee’s idea doesn’t pan out, the consequences are usually minor and mostly self inflicted. At most, they may need to face questions about why they didn’t consider all the possibilities before spending resources on something that wasn’t feasible. In general, most good companies will reward failure especially when it was an attempt to be innovative with a reasonable level of risk.

I have a motto that I’m sure I borrowed somewhere : “Fail early and fail often”. For every 5 great ideas, only 1 will live up to its potential, but that 1 great idea that does succeed, will more than compensate for the other 4. For this to be true, the person or team has to know when to call it quits on something that isn’t working. Even those that fail to pan out, may eventually turn into something if given time on the back-burner. But don’t waste effort on a lost cause hoping for that spark of insight sheds new light; it will only come when you have put the idea aside.

Some of my proudest moments are when I convinced management to cancel a project early on, before costs got to high to quit. Trust me when I say that arguing against your own idea, is one of the hardest arguments to win.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 5, 2012 at 11:05 pm

What is the Worse That Can Happen?

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You may have all your ducks in a row. You have a great plan for that big project. You dotted the “i”s and crossed the “t”s and triple checked all your assumptions. Despite all your efforts things can still go wrong. If you didn’t plan for the unexpected this can cause frustration and anxiety which can only make matters worse.

It is important to have a plan for all those things that can go wrong and even for those things that can’t possibly go wrong. The very fact that you have a plan B (or C or D) will help keep anxiety under control.

Risk management should be an integral part of your planning process. This can apply to life events as well as business projects. If you are planning a wedding you may consider an alternate if you can’t get the caterer you were hoping for. If you a launching a new product to the market you need to consider what to do if a competitor at a trade show displays a similar product with more features.

A few months ago the company I work at had an issue with one of our systems. It was the middle of the night so we scheduled a conference call. After roll call we assessed the situation and everyone started brainstorming solutions. I interrupted the conversation and told the group that our team had a plan for this situation.

“Before we spend too much time on this, I have to let you know that we already have a plan in place in the event this occurred.” I said.

“You have a plan? But how could you know this would happen?” Someone asked.

“We didn’t know but we planned for it anyway.” I answered. “I’m sending you all the document which will outline the steps to route the files to an alternate service and around the component with the issue.”

There was a few questions most of which were already answered in the document. In the end it took us 30 minutes to resolve an issue that would have taken hours otherwise. Anyone in the IT field will know that every system has a contingency plan but usually they involve time consuming restores from backup and some manual re-entry of data.

In this situation we had a plan for each component failure to avoid the brute force approach. It may seem like a lot of extra work but actually it was done during the development and testing of the systems. We would play the “what if…?” game during the project.

“What if component A stops working?”

“We can route to the old system which use the same code at that step in the workflow.”

“Yeah? Let’s write up the instructions for doing that and include that scenario in our testing.”

It is much easier to come up with plan before a situation arises when minds are calm and you have all your notes handy. Trying to formulate a plan during the middle of a crisis situation is like trying to fix a flat tire while the car is moving – it is very complicated and dangerous and there is a risk that the situation can get a whole lot worse.

There are two kinds of people in this world. People that drive into a parking spot and people that back in. I’ll leave it up to you to consider why backing into a parking spot is the preferred approach.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Happy New Day!

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I made a commitment not to treat New Year’s Eve/Day as a special day. Don’t get me wrong, I celebrated with my family as per tradition – I’ll take any excuse for a celebration. I just didn’t plan on making any life changing resolutions specifically for the new year.

What do I have against resolutions for self improvement? Nothing. In fact, I think committing to improve oneself is a great concept. But if making goals once a year is a good thing, then setting goals more than once a year is even better. In this case, more is better.

And it isn’t just the setting of goals that is important, it is the commitment. By associating the commitment with the new year people will often give up as soon as they notice that they’ve failed to follow through. It’s like they’ve missed their window of opportunity and the spell has been broken. I suggest that we associate commitment to failing. If we make a habit of making resolutions whenever we fail then we give ourselves a chance to start over.

Another thing to remember is that when you set goals on a specific day this is based on your world on that day. Unfortunately the world is not a static place. It moves and it changes. You met set a target but that target may decide to make a run for it. You constantly have to reassess where you are in relation to your goals and their relative importance to you. You may commit to working out 3 days a week and then find that your child is in a play on one of those days, well … you have to make compromises.

So go ahead and make your commitments and start working on your goals. Just remember that if you slip and fall, you don’t have to wait for 2013 to stand up again.

Hope for the New Year

I do have high hopes for 2012. I’m not just being optimistic – I believe we are ripe for big changes. I knew when 2011 started that it was going to be a challenging year but before any big change there has to be a shake-up.

I think the best things about 2011 is the notion that we can do better. And we can do better, not just as individuals but as an global community. I’m a citizen of the United States but I also consider myself a citizen of the world. In the past few years, I’ve been seeing a shift in how the average person feels about people in other countries.

When miners in Chile became trapped people in my office were acting as if this was occurring in the next town and we all cheered when they made it out.

When the earthquake hit Haiti, there were very few who didn’t shed a tear and give what they could.

When Japan suffered both an earthquake and tsunami the outpouring of support and sympathy was overwhelming.

No longer does our compassion end at country borders.

The year 2011 brought us challenges and turbulence but is also gave us hope for a better future.

For that I’m thankful.

Written by Tim ThinkAuthor

January 1, 2012 at 8:00 am