All posts by Louise McGregor

I am the founder of Fantail Consultancy, created to help companies, NGOs and individuals improve their online presence. I've worked in digital at the intersection of communications, technology and business for more than a decade. And I'm still crazy about digital.

Buzzword; Swim Lanes

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 19.23.13“Have you designed your swim lanes yet?’ isn’t a good question to ask someone whose only form of exercise is swimming. My immediate thought was of a pool, with the rows of floating lane markers.

It turns out, as those of you who have trained or worked in business process design will know, that a “swim lane” in business terms refers to groups of activities in an process that belong together or are completed by the same department. It can help clarify the responsibilities within a process by presenting them visually.  When you’re trying to set up multiple and complex processes that involve a number of participants it makes sense.

It’s a helpful metaphor since swim lanes keep swimmers apart and moving in the same direction, but don’t extend the metaphor too far – swimmers in swim lanes are generally trying to beat the other swimmers to the end of the pool. In a business process there isn’t much to “win” by being the first to finish your steps in the process.

So if you’re working business process diagrams use the term, it has a technical meaning that makes sense. Avoid using it as a synonym for a department, role, or stakeholder group.

It lost out in the first round of the Forbes Annoying Business Jargon Matchup in 2012, where the eventual winner was “drinking the Kool-aid”, so apparently this term is more useful and perhaps less abused than most jargon.

Image: Day 4 Swimming | Singapore 2010  |  CC BY-NC2.0

Improving Performance Reviews

performancereviewRaise your hand if you like performance reviews! No-one?

It turns out that even people who get good reviews don’t like having them, and the workload on managers adds up to a lot of hours across a largish company. One estimate based on time spent puts the cost at 120,000 USD for 500 people. Yet it’s doubtful that we see that value out of the review process.

It’s about that time of the year when many managers are plunged into the black hole of performance reviews. It’s a fun time, particularly if you work in digital, to see how good your guesses about the year’s activities were.

There are a number of widely recognised problems with most performance management systems;

  1. Annual planning cycle, given the pace of change annual planning is too slow, and many performance systems are resistant to mid-year alterations.
  2. Annual assessment, some systems force a mid-year coaching meeting, but it’s not the frequent/continuous feedback that’s needed to create the improvement you’re looking for.
  3. Forced grading, because the results are connected to pay increases and/or bonuses managers are forced, at least in large companies, to grade to a curve in order to manage total costs. I have had an HR advisor tell me that it wasn’t possible that everyone in my team was excellent. As a perceptive team member once said “the way to maximise your income is to be the best person in a lousy team.
  4. Looks backwards, doesn’t usually result in improved performance for the future.
  5. Time spent, it’s a significant amount of time from managers and employees, with questionable value delivered. Across a company it adds up quickly.
  6. Subjective, however hard you try as a manager to be objective you’ll always get some subjectivity in the review, particularly on ‘softer’ goals your perception impacts the review out of balance

Most companies recognise the issues and there’s a lot of research backs up the concerns; a few have started trying new ways of performance management. I think the biggest issue is that it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We call it performance management, which sounds like managers will be working to help their team members improve their performance, but the reality is that it’s a tool for figuring out how to distribute a pool of money used to reward those who perform the best. Some companies try to separate the two conversations, but they remain linked in people’s minds. In one team many years ago the manager disclosed to all his direct reports how much money he had to reward them and offered options on how to distribute it. Unsurprisingly the team voted for each team member to have an equal share of the money.

We know that money is not in itself motivating yet most companies continue to with the fiction that performance reviews and ‘merit increases’ are connected to improving performance. Some companies have the courage to challenge this.

  • Accenture announced last year that they will get rid of 90% of their performance management process and replace it with something giving feedback in real time with a much simplified questionnaire to managers.
  • GE, the initiator of the stacked ranking, has changed their model for performance management to one that focuses on their goals.
  • Adobe have altered their “stack and rank” system into something that requires managers to give regular feedback at check-ins, with one rewards check-in at the end of the year to discuss targets.

In these examples the companies are trying to build a practice of ongoing feedback – rather than the annual review. Which makes sense. In some cases they’re also trying to separate the feedback/coaching process from the assessment for bonus process. Both are steps forward. If there is training and support for managers evolving their feedback/coaching skills it could lead to improved performance.

dilbert

For all the pitfalls of your company’s performance review system chances are you’re stuck working with it, so here are some helpful hints and resources;

For Managers

Prepare; with a copy of the team member’s expected goals go through your notes from your 1-on-1 meetings over the last year. Check with other managers for any joint projects they’ve been on. Ask the direct report for input. (If you haven’t been having 1-on-1 meetings for the previous year set them up now).

Assess; look for what was done well, areas where you saw the person step up, skills gained – have examples. Think about what didn’t work well, limits in knowledge or behaviour that have been exposed – have examples. Prepare for questions on next steps, training needs, and salary changes.

Discuss; Be honest about achievements and failures, give feedback on 1-3 things they really need to improve.  If the person reacts with any emotion or defensiveness understand that it’s not about you, remain firm and focused on helping them improve their performance.

Resources;
Manager Tools – amazing series of podcasts taking you through all aspects of performance reviews.

Performance Review Examples – ten tips explaining some of the pitfalls.

For Employees

Have a copy of your own goals, go through it and assess your performance. Be honest about what goals were met and your responsibility, be honest about what goals were not met and your responsibility. Note down any achievements that weren’t somehow listed or planned, things you particularly enjoyed, and assemble any feedback you’ve had from peers.

Looking into next year think about your goals, your training needs, projects you’d like to work on. If they’re aligned to the company’s goals a good manager will try to include those in the planning for the coming years.

Be prepared to give your manager feedback on how they can help you be more successful. I firmly believe that’s the manager’s number one task.

9 Things to Tell Your Boss at Your Next Performance Review.

Image: 42-15529695  |  Meridican  |  CC BY 2.0

Toy Stories

Two pieces of good news from the world of toys last week.

Barbie got a make-under

As iconic as Barbie is she’s been under fire for years for perpetuating an unrealistic body myth for girls and young women. Someone has gone to the trouble of calculating the probability of a woman having Barbie’s measurements; for Barbie’s neck measurement it’s one in 4.3 billion. For a long time doctors, teachers, parents and feminists have raised the issue of “the Barbie effect“.  She’s encountered criticism for her career performance as well, when cast as a computer programmer. Mattel have seemed reluctant to make big changes, but in 2013 sales dropped. 2015 saw the launch of some

Mattel have now launched a new series of Barbie dolls, the Fashionistas; with 4 body types, 7 skin tones, 14 face shapes and a myriad of hair colours.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 15.12.17

This is just some of the range available.

I broke the internet rule and read the comments on this article from the Guardian.  Many commenters don’t believe this is an important step, stating that dolls are part of fantasy play. Yes, of course, but the dolls are our own avatars and it’s great that these dolls give children a choice that is more like themselves.

Legoland gets a wheelchair

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 15.23.55

Lego, another toy brand that has been under fire for its designs in recent years, has launched a wheelchair that will fit any minifig as part of its “Fun in the Park” set.

It may be in response to the Toy Like Me campaign which seeks to have better representation of childhood toys with disabilities. They’re in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign right now, check it out and give them your support.

I’ve heard all the arguments about “it’s just a toy”, “kids don’t remember this stuff” and “changing toys doesn’t change the world”. To me this isn’t about creating a single memory, and I don’t believe changing how toys appear will change the world. But creating toys that demonstrate diversity could be part of a bigger change, it could widen our perception of what “normal” is, and it could be part of instilling pride in children who are outside the mainstream because they are in an ethnic minority, use a wheelchair, have glasses, use a walking stick or have red hair.

Children are very aware of the people around them and pick up on all sorts of nuances of people’s appearance. They’re also aware from an early age of when they’re invisible or excluded.  I’m sure that both Mattel and Lego have calculated the benefits of PR and profit from these moves, but I still applaud these moves to make their toys more inclusive.

 

Post Script; I didn’t have Barbie or Lego growing up, it’s the lack of Lego I regret.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; 404 Errors

What does the 404 error on your site look like?

  • Start with 10 points.
  • +5 for a search engine on the page
  • +3 points if there’s any ‘sorry’ or empathy expressed
  • +2 points if there’s a home page link
  • +1 point for any other useful link, up to a maximum of 5
  • – 5 points if the layout is confusingly similar to all other pages on your site
  • – 5 points if you return to the home page
  • + 25 points for any humour or demonstration of your brand values.
  • Lose all points if it mentions 404 anywhere on the page

How did you do?

Here’s how some of the smartest brands score, with the page that inspired me to look into this as the final example.

Etsy

10+5+3+2+0-0-0+25 =45 GOOD

There’s some empathy shown, a search bar, a homepage link, and a cute sketch connected to their origins as a sales platform for craftspeople.

404etsy

Nike

10+5+0+0+0-5-0+0=15 MEH

Very boring generic page, looking very similar to every other product page, at least they blame themselves. Nike are such heroes when it comes to branding I’m surprised that this is so dull.

404nike.png

Unilever

10+5+3+2+1-0-5-everything =0 BAD

The page is text heavy compared to others, and the search is under a link, rather than a simple search box, but they lost all points for saying it was a 404 error. It’s a correct statement, it’s just not helpful.

When I first looked for the 404 page I typed unilever.com/404 into the URL bar, and was automatically redirected to the homepage, this was the only site I found that did this.

404unilever.pngLego

10+5+3+2+25=45 GOOD

As you’d expect from the brand behind every geek’s favourite toy, Lego have a suitable graphic using Lego minifigs. There’s a search engine in the header bar, and a link to the home page. My only quibble is that the explanatory text below the image is tiny, it would make more sense to take that text and replace the “Page not found” text which is slightly technical

404lego.png

 

Apple

10+5+0+0+1-0-0=16 MEH

A totally simple flat functional page. I wanted to take points off for using the passive voice in the sentence but I haven’t.

404applesite

Amazon

10+0+3+2-0-0+0=15 MEH

Functional, only one action you can take. Amazon are incredibly data driven so the lack of any apparent thought in the design of this page suggests to me that it’s either super low traffic because people use the search box rather than type URLs, or that Amazon don’t see any opportunity for conversion to a sale from this page.

404amazon.png

Ben & Jerry’s

10+5+3+0+0-0-0+25 = 43 GOOD

Ben & Jerry’s are a fun-filled brand and it’s spread to their 404 page. Not only have they got the search engine, they’ve suggested a brand name for you to search. Very cute image that matches their text. And, now I want ice cream.

404benandjerrys.png

Siemens

10+5+3+2+1-0-0-0 = 18 MEH

I’ve included Siemens as an example as it has solved an issue many European countries face, a multilingual audience. In their case they’re a German company, but with international customers so the information is presented in English and German.

There is a small joke on the page as well, the coloured pixelated image moves, giving you the impression of a TV screen that’s lost its connection, geek joke.

404Siemens.png

Tech Crunch

10+5+3+2+1-5+0=16 BAD

I deliberately looked for these pages in a browser without an ad blocker. I understand that ads give sites like Tech Crunch the revenue to keep going, but in this case it makes it very difficult to see what I should click on. I’d suggest forgoing the revenue on this page and just helping people find their way. Likewise the most popular article list, obviously I don’t have data and Tech Crunch do, but it’d be interesting to see how many people clicked from this page to a “latest” article.

404techcrunch.png

Mashable

10+5+3+2++0-0-0+25=45 GOOD

It’s helpful, easy to read, funny and right on brand.

404mashable.png

You can check the “you’re lost” page (aka the 404 page) of any site by typing “companyname.com/anywordyoulike” into the URL bar, so mashable.com/wearefunny for example. See if you find it helpful – that’s the first test – then look at whether it’s on brand or offers some brand experience for any lost visitor.

Believe Data

Content calendarWe were sailing back to our home port and a dense fog descended. Suddenly we couldn’t see more than a boat length ahead. My father, a mariner by profession, plotted a course and steered by it, sending my brother and me forward as lookouts.

My mother was convinced we were sailing in the wrong direction, that we’d steered off course (and this was before the reassurance of GPS). “No,” said my father “you must trust your instruments”.

We made it safely home; it was an early lesson in believing data.

The amount of data produced and collected every day continues to grow. “Big Data” is a well-known, although poorly understood term. In many companies we’ve moved on to “data-driven decisions”. But we’re not always good at believing the data.

I was in a meeting recently where the most senior person in the room looked at a graph of twitter follower growth and said “I just don’t believe this data”. The data showed that goals for follower numbers would not be met. Leaving aside the argument on whether follower numbers is a good goal, the data don’t lie. If there’s a straight line of progress that won’t reach the goal then you need to change something or accept missing the goal.

It made me think about when we believe data and when we should be sceptical.

We tend to measure progress against an expected path, and in a large organisation invariably report that progress upwards in the organisation. In our plans and projections that progress follows a nice upward curve. But the reality is different, every project encounters setbacks, and the graph is more jagged than smooth.

In fact a smooth graph, where targets are always met should raise questions.

Years ago I was chatting to a guy who left his previous company after about four months. He left because the targets for the quarter were increased by 25%, and everyone met them. As an experienced business person he knew that a situation where every business unit met the stretch goal in the first quarter it was applied was very very unlikely. His suspicions were raised and he left as quickly has he could. A year later the company collapsed under its own lies. The company? Enron.

In his articles (and books) Ben Goldacre campaigns for greater journalistic care in reporting data, and better education on scientific method. He points to the dangerous habit of pharmaceutical companies in cherry-picking their data, choosing studies that support their product and ignoring those that don’t.

I said earlier that we should trust the data, but we also need to know how the data was collected, what errors might be inherent in the data collection methodology, and what limits there might be to interpreting the data. This should be part of everyone’s mental toolkit. It would help us evaluate all those advertising claims, refute 90% of the nonsense on the internet, be honest about progress to goals, and finally make data-driven decisions.

 

Image; Research Data Management  |  Janneke Staaks  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

 

 

Freelancer Tools; a timer

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 13.16.22Freelancers need to figure out how to charge for their time, you may be charging on an hourly basis or you may be charging for a particular deliverable, either way you need to estimate and then measure how long a task takes you.

There’s another reason to use this if you’re in the Netherlands; you need to prove you’ve worked 1225 hours per year in your own company to qualify for tax benefits. By keeping this all documented in your calendar you can satisfy the tax department that you have met that threshold.

I was looking for a free way to do this that would be easy to use and fit with existing tools, I found an add-on that works with Google calendar and Google docs two tools I already use.

Freelance Timer

In this screenmailer video I take you through;

  1. Installing the add-on
  2. Creating an event
  3. Creating a report
  4. Using the timer
  5. Updating a report

Because I can add links and documents to the events on the calendar I can document my timesheets to satisfy the Belastingdienst (tax department). I can also look back and see how much time I spent per client or per activity and compare it to my estimates. If it’s a regular activity I can also check back and see if I’m getting more efficient.

Hope it helps other freelancers! Let me know in the comments.

Image; Time Flies   |   Hartwig HKD   |  CC BY-ND 2.0

Catfish; Facebook Scam

I have a Facebook account, with my real name, real photo. I’ll connect to anyone I’ve met. From time to time I get invites from rather random people.  Somehow a lot the random people seem to be in the military.

Today’s invite was from John Carter. Here’s his Facebook profile.

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 11.32.36

So I did a little reverse image lookup and found an article from the Washington Post that begins.

Gen. John F. Campbell, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, has taken to Facebook with a warning: Think twice before assuming profiles you see of him on the Internet are real.

It goes on to say that his team have discovered more than 700 fake profiles. General Campbell has his own Facebook page on which he explicitly states that he has no other profiles.

So what is this about? It’s the beginning of a catfish scam, an example of social engineering.

Social engineering is a technique used in many frauds, it relies on the fraudster persuading the victim into revealing confidential information or taking action that they wouldn’t have planned themselves. Often the fraudster creates an elaborate scenario to achieve this, and may create an online/social media persona to carry out the fraud. When a such a persona is created the fraud is know as “catfish”.

Steps in the catfish process;

  1. Catfish Scam Artist is active in a Facebook community or online game, seeking vulnerable target. Often they target someone who is older, lonely, isolated, not particularly knowledgeable about technology. They’re talented and picking the most gullible.
  2. Catfish builds rapport and makes friend request, the relationship may move to a deeper friendship or even a romantic or (cyber)sexual one.
  3. Catfish sets up scenario for the financial fraud to begin, they will create a legitimate sounding need for money. Perhaps for medical expenses for themselves or a close family member. Very often the first amounts needed are small but the ‘condition’ worsens and expenses rise.
  4. When challenged the Catfish will go on the defensive and provide some evidence of their fraud such as some form of medical report, but these “documents” are fake. (As a side note I have seen fake rental agreements, medical records, financial bonds, passports and ID documentation).

Dr Phil regularly does exposé episodes, and provides ten tips on checking potential catfish.

The fake romances can scam thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars from their victims, in a further clip from the case above Dr Phil adds up the cost and gets a total approaching 200,000 USD. It is estimated that these fraud types are worth 82 million dollars in the US alone. That’s roughly a quarterly profit figure for Apple.

I’ve worked on cyber-security issues in a former job, I’m too suspicious to fall for this. I hope warning other people will help.

Creativity Inc

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 17.37.28This was the best non-fiction book I read in 2015, hand’s down. I bought it because I heard Ed Catmull speak at the Dublin Summit and liked what he had to say. I add notes as I read, and this is my most annotated book. I was texting quotes from it to a friend – who has now bought his own copy.

In part it’s the story of Pixar, but from that there are distilled lessons for business leaders of all sorts. There’s a touching afterword titled “The Steve We Knew”, which details how Steve Jobs worked with Pixar, and shows not just the level of commitment he had to the company but the enjoyment he got from Pixar and how much he learnt from them.

In someways Pixar is a special case; it’s a highly creative company with a string of movie hits. Those movies have been chock-full of technical innovation, but it’s the story arc, and the “realness” of the animation that has won them fans, earnt the dollars and won the awards. They are relentless in their pursuit of quality, and take unusual steps to achieve this;

  • On the ground research; animation teams experience first hand the real life environments they’ll need to create on the screen. The makers of Brave had archery lessons, and a chef made ratatouille for the makers of Ratatouille.
  • Honest feedback; movies go through multiple rounds of feedback on every aspect of the film, from the story itself to dynamics of animation. Often the focus is on pinpointing what is wrong rather than prescribing a fix.
  • Trust; while the process might seem messy, the direction is right and the quality story will emerge from the messiness.
  • Open Communication; anyone can talk to anyone.

This creative DNA has meant that the company was more willing to test ideas on how to work. The feedback loop on the creative output could be re-engineered and applied to the creative process and then to the company culture. The result is some real lessons for businesses.

I think the most powerful idea is that if you have the right team, then the chances are that they’ll get the ideas right. This is so often overlooked in companies where the emphasis is placed very strongly on process.  It’s backed up by the ideas of hiring people smarter than you, and people with great potential to grow.

Pixar always looked to improve, so even with a string of hit movies and good growth figures when managers got a sense that the company culture was tilting away from their vision they held a “Notes Day”, designed to collect specific improvement points for action. The day itself was compulsory, and it was opened by John Lasseter, Founder and Chief Creative Officer, sharing the feedback he’d received about his own behaviour. This radical honesty set the stage for more openness. After the event there were more than a dozen specific ideas to implement, but much of the value came from the event itself. It served as an explicit re-inforcement of the company’s open culture and commitment to honest feedback.

Catmull’s love of the company he founded, and his belief in it’s continued success shines through every page. He seems very aware of the impact of his style of leadership and his decisions and very focussed on building excellence into the company, the output and most importantly the people.

protect the future

In the final chapter called “Starting Points”, Catmull summarises the learning points from the book and adds this caveat “I know that when you distill a complex idea into a T-shirt slogan, you risk giving the illusion of understanding – and, in the process, of sapping the idea of its power”. The ideas, though, have potential as mantras for managers and employees. He talks about how imposing limits can encourage a creative response, which is true, although the story behind this that is related in the book shows that it needs to be tempered with some common sense so that the limits don’t kill your team. His comments relating to risk are instructive as well – it’s not for managers to prevent risk, but to make it safe for to take them. The attitude to failure is a positive one “It’s a necessary consequence of doing something new”. If the leadership of your company said that and demonstrated belief in it, what might you achieve? Another favourite and one that I’ve put into practice “Be wary of making too many rules”, you can spend a lot of time making rules to prevent something that almost never happens. It’s better to focus on building the behaviour you want and address issues individually.

But my favourite, one that I would put on a t-shirt is “Protect the future, not the past”.

This book is on my “favourites” shelf, partly because it validated some of the things I’ve already been thinking about working with creative professionals. I was fascinated to have a glimpse inside Pixar, the style of writing is conversational and easy to digest, and there was a lot to learn.

The Productivity Map vs the Procrastination Trap

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 19.38.44When you have a “real job” your productivity is driven largely by external demands, appointments and deadlines. When you start working for yourself it’s entirely up to you to drive your own productivity; on one hand it’s great to be free of those external demands, on the other it’s harder to maintain momentum without them. So I’ve been reading up on productivity, the consensus is that there are three elements to high productivity.

The Productivity Map

1 Clear Goals and Priorities

The first step is knowing the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve, defining what are the important steps you need to take to reach that. With your priorities defined you can move to planning.

I have a month by month set of goals, which can be broken down into activities to be completed each week, and from that I can build a daily plan.

Knowing your priorities will also help you say “no” to all those requests that can derail your good plans, here’s how Kristin Muhlner, CEO of NewBrand Analytics thinks about saying no to things at work.

This is about sustaining focus on results over the longer term, not about boxing yourself into a single path. If it turns out that priorities need to change, then change them. But make the decision and then change, don’t just drift onto a new path.

2 Plan

Set out a plan for your month, week or day. Find a system that works for you and stick to it.

There are all sorts of techniques out there, from productivity planners to the Pomodoro technique, to Get Things Done or the Seinfeld method.

Which method you use will depend on your personality and your business needs. Back when I had a company job the Get Things Done method worked because there were enough external deadlines to drive me forward.

If you need an easy way to time activities Google spreadsheets and calendar offer a free add-in that will help, I made a timesheet video guide on how to set that up.

I now use an adaptation of the productivity planner and I plan a week’s overview and then plan priority tasks per day in 30 minute chunks. I do a weekly review and plan session on a Friday morning which lets me relax over the weekend with the feeling that everything is under control (ha!).

3 Monitor Progress Honestly

Productivity is about what gets done, not just following a timetable so you need to monitor your output. Be honest with yourself, and remember that part of this is to refine your planning process. Look at what got done as well as what didn’t. Acknowledge any disruptions that put you off your game.

I check at the end of each day what I got done, and make adjustments for the following day. On Fridays I review the week and give myself an arbitrary “productivity score”.

I have a wide optimistic streak which has a big upside, but the downside is I tend to somehow thing I can do five 3 hour tasks in a day so right now part of my monitoring is around the time taken to complete tasks so that I can get better on these estimates. I am timing the writing of this post, for example, it’s not strictly necessary but in creating estimates for a client accurate time estimates are important so it’s a good skill to learn.

The Procrastination Trap

Ellen DeGeneres gives a perfect example of what procrastination looks like, I’m sure  you’ll recognise it.

If you watched it you may be one of life’s natural procrastinators, welcome to the club. There are lots of reasons we procrastinate, sometimes we talk ourselves out of the hard tasks, sometimes we just get distracted – like a cat seeing a lazer light.

Setting goals and monitoring them honestly will help you build productive habits that will edge out the procrastination habits. But there are a couple of things to do in addition to this.

1 Remove distractions

Close email and social media sites, and remove notifications. There’s nothing more likely to distract you than that little flag saying “read me, you know you want to”. Checking email/status updates is a known productivity killer.There are lots of tools to help you focus when working online.
I’ve taken the simple step of putting all my work stuff into one browser (Chrome), and all my personal stuff into another (Firefox). Of course I can still fall down an internet rabbit hole, but it is a psychological help.

2 Listen to music/Don’t listen to music

Whichever helps you focus, I know lots of colleagues who find listening to music lets them focus. Sometimes it can also be a welcome way to block out office noise in open plan offices.I prefer not listening to music, but sometimes it can help my concentration if there is a lot of other background noise.

3 Tackle the hardest/easiest thing first

Some advice suggests that you should plan to start with the easiest task or a pleasant part of the overall task. Maybe that will work for you – try it.

I prefer beginning with the hardest “biggest” task, and plan the easier or more fun tasks as a “reward”.

4 Reward yourself

A reward could be a break, a walk outside, 10 minutes of facebook time, a good cup of coffee, a trip to the gym. It could also be one of the more pleasant tasks you need to do, for example, some online research for a conference to attend. Once you’ve defined your reward you can tell yourself “I’m going to finish this blog post by 11am and then I’m going out for coffee”, it’s a good way to trick yourself into focusing.

Productivity is about outcomes, but the way that we get there is by having a system that works and building productive habits. All the research I’ve found states that you need to maintain your own health, know your own goals, plan tasks against goals, monitor output, and break the procrastination habits. For me it’s a work in progress.

Image:  Must Work Harder!  |  Dyermark  | CC BY-NC 2.0 

2015 Looking Back

2015_12 owl eyesWhew, we made it. It’s the end of a challenging year for me, but looking back some pretty cool things happened.

This is the season of lists, a quick search for best of 2015 on Google gives me “about 9,020,000,000 results” in less than a minute, which is more than on per person for the entire world. They range from the sensible Best Tech of 2015 from Mashable to  Viral Videos of the Year from Buzzfeed. So rather than add to that I’m going to highlight things that struck me during the year.

In the News

Much of the news this year has been tough, frightening, even gruelling. Some amazing things happened as well, sometimes coming out of disaster. Following the devastating earthquake in Nepal, for example, geeks banded together to map the disaster and support rescues.

Meanwhile Anonymous have taken on ISIS; masked activists are taking on real world evil using a virtual medium is a tale that sounds more Hollywood than reality and yet here we are.

In more strange news, the British public has petitioned their parliament to ban Trump from entering the UK based on what they term “hate speech”. At the time of writing more than half a million people had signed the petition, easily exceeding the 10,000 threshold needed to force a discussion in parliament.

And then there were the thousands of acts of random kindness that didn’t make the news, but did make someone’s day.

Best Hashtags of 2015

Ireland voted to make gay marriage legal in May, with many young people travelling back to Ireland in order to cast their vote in the #HomeToVote campaign.

Following the Paris attacks in January and in November the world showed its solidarity with France, by lighting up national monuments with the French Tricoleur. Despite the seriousness of the events and the sorrow of so many, the Belgians maintained their sense of surreal humour in the response to the police lockdown of Brussels in which people were asked not to disclose police activity on social media. They posted cat pictures, under the hashtag #BrusselsLockdown, scroll down to see how the police responded.

On a lighter note, a festive hashtag brought out the best and worst of literary puns.

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Biggest Social Media Fail

Surprisingly some companies still haven’t grasped that there are risks as well as benefits to using social media, or that there are ways to test or limit those risks. Here are some of the biggest fails of 2015.

(1) Starbucks launch #RaceTogether

The intention behind this was probably good, working towards better race relations in a divided society where #BlackLivesMatter campaigns were under way. But the idea of discussing race issues while you get your coffee didn’t resonate with customers and  the  reaction was swift and harsh, the campaign was soon withdrawn.

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(2) Woolworths tries to hijack Anzac Day

For those not from Australia or New Zealand, Anzac day is the day we remember those who died in wars. It’s taken seriously and the name “Anzac”, which stands for Australia New Zealand Army Core, is a protected term.

So when a supermarket chain tried to use it in a campaign it did not go well. There was significant backlash on social media, with abuse of the “meme generator” they’d installed on their site, followed by a request from the Veteran’s organisation to end the campaign.

(3) SeaWorld and their #AskSeaWorld campaign

If your company has a reputation issue then offering an “ask anything” opportunity on social media is a Bad Idea.

SeaWorld, or their social media agency, didn’t agree with that statement and launched a #AskSeaWorld campaign. The response was predictable;

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SeaWorld win biggest social media fail of the year, not just because of the poorly thought out strategy but because when the inevitable backlash started their reaction was to label people as trolls and posted responses such as “Jacking hashtags is so 2014. “. Not cool.

Big Moments

The end of Google, or rather the end of Google as we know it. Alphabet was born, as an corporate holding company allowing them to be recognised for more than their search/advertising industry.

Apple vs Taylor Swift, and she won. The music industry seems to still be transforming.

Hoverboards became a thing in the “future” specified in Back to the Future, and we all wanted one. Then some of them caught fire.

Best book of 2015

2015-12-24 08.40.35Best book of 2015 (as in that’s when I read it) was Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace. It’s a breath of fresh air, with inspiring discussions about business and leadership, a fascinating glimpse into the workings of arguably the world’s most creative company, and there are generous dots of humour. It’s so good I messaged a friend quotes from it until he bought his own copy. I will review it more fully in the New Year.

Best TED talk of 2015

A timely reminder in the season of family togetherness.

Also loved Ernesto Sirolli’s “Shut up and Listen” talk; he’s humble and charming, yet wise.

Heros of 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 10.19.40The people on the island of Lesvos who have put their lives on hold to pull people out of the ocean. Saving lives every day despite dropping temperatures. The politics around the Syrian crisis are messy and complex, but these people have got to the crux of the matter; the people are coming and they are dying.

If you can spare a donation there’s one organisation, Proactiva Open Arms, that is totally donation funded, started by a bunch of guys from Spain, and you can donate online.

Personal High Points

This was a strangely good year for travel; In my last job I met with colleagues from around the world visiting Dubai and Johannesburg for the first time. I also enjoyed some memorable personal travel; I spent time with my family, and helped my mum achieve a lifetime dream of watching a grand slam tennis tournament. In September I made it to Milan to see the World Expo, I was lucky enough to get VIP treatment there and got to see a lot in just three days. I headed to Dublin for the WebSummit, which is a sort of geek heaven. And to finish the  year I rocked up to Vienna to meet up with friends from around the world for a sort of “Un-Christmas” celebration.

A great mix of travelling for family, for pleasure, for work and for learning. I’d like to have more of that in 2016!

The biggest change for me this year is in my work. I finished working for a large company at the end of August, and in October started my own company, Fantail Consultancy, working in Digital and Social Media consultancy. It’s a scary thing to do, but also fantastic in so many ways. I get time to think about the world of digital – and sadly that was missing in my previous role. Decision making is fast, I’m learning so much, and the support I’ve had from my network is great.

So far it’s been a good decision. 2016 is going to be exciting.

This is my last post for the year, thank you for all the feedback, comments, and tweets we’ve shared this year. See you next year!

Image; Owl Eyes  |  Tim Hamilton  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0