52 Little Things I Learned This Year

52 Little Things I Learned This Year

10 minutes

This post was inspired by a blog post I read around this time last year.  In that post (long since lost in time I’m afraid) the author kept track of a number of things he had done over the previous year.  I enjoyed the article so much I thought I might do a similar thing, so I began to keep a journal in January 2016.

The plan was to write a single thing I learned each week, and then publish as a blog post in January 2017.  Well, here we are, and it is a large post!  In the end it developed from just a list of things I learned, to reflecting and finding a piece of wisdom hidden in my daily life each week.  I had originally just thought to post the learnings in chronological order, but I have grouped them instead.  Hopefully that makes them more digestible.

 

11 Things I already knew, but got the opportunity to learn again!

  1. Just because someone says they will do something, doesn’t mean they actually will.  It also doesn’t mean they are lying.  Sometimes, sh*t just happens.
  2. I find it quite hard to say ‘no’ – even when I intend to do so.
  3. I can still be catastrophically wrong when I estimate.  Even knowing this, and adjusting for it  (Hofstadter’s law). I remind myself:  the only time you can be sure about an estimate is when you are done (and even then….)
  4. Anyone’s unexpected, or unreasonable reactions teach us something about them.  This also applies to our own unexpected or disproportionate reactions to others.
  5. Even if an experiment is successful, we may not get the outcome we desire.  This is because success for the experiment relies on us learning something useful.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that we fix our problem.  These 2 things are NOT the same thing at all.
  6. Deadlines come.  Regardless of how good the work is that I have been doing, if it doesn’t serve the deadline, it actually classes as procrastination.  Really.
  7. People are more like me (and me like them) than I imagined.  Its good to be reminded of this – emotionally as well as intellectually.
  8. Processes that are optimised for the last customer in that process are rarely efficient or effective.  Try to optimise the system as a whole, rather than locally.  Also, switch your definition of ‘customer’ frequently.  This ensures that it works for everyone and not all the ‘compromises’ are loaded in the same area.
  9. When planning for something very important, not to factor in some screw-up time is a mistake. Having some time set aside to deal with a sizeable catastrophe that you can’t possibly predict is SO MUCH preferable to the other way around.
  10. We all live in a bubble created by the people we surround ourselves with.  If we only surround ourselves with people like us, we risk group-think and stale ideas.  Diversity among our peers may bring occasional tensions as we learn to be more tolerant of each other, but we will excel in our creativity. The diverse whole is greater than the sum of the diverse parts.
  11. Just because someone else says something is so, does not mean that it is.  Go and see for yourself.  (Proxies should be a secondary stop for information, not the primary one).

10 Things I Learned About Myself

  1. Competence combined with passion make for a hypnotic effect when you are in conversation with me.  I find inspiration in your fire, even if I have had no interest in your chosen subject previously.
  2. I work much better, and I feel much happier if I feed my inner control-freak just a little of what it likes.  It is a very small difference in the amount of prep between just enough so I enjoy riding the crest of the wave and feeling like I am chasing just to catch up. The difference in my perception however, is huge.
  3. I procrastinate.  This week, I should have been drafting one of the 3 talks I have to deliver in the next 4 months.  Instead, I procrastinated.   I did so by reading an article about procrastinating when you have to prepare a talk on procrastination for a conference.  Meta-Procrastination.  Its now a thing.
  4. Not everyone I know and love brings out the best in me – when I’m around some people, I don’t like the version of myself I become.  Is that really me too?
  5. I am really good at helping other people think and clarify their ideas.  This skill is very valuable, and I must celebrate it, not be self-deprecating about it.
  6. I walk a fine line with my need to be prepared versus my instinct to procrastinate.  Both are part of me, and each valuable in their own way.  The path between is extremely narrow and there be dragons on either side!
  7. Taking a holiday means I need to carve out time to complete stuff before I go.   I also need spare time when I return to catch up. It is not just a problem with work either.  Writing, housework, and just basically getting back in to a productive routine takes immense effort.  How come I don’t feel refreshed and invigorated?!
  8. My procrastinating tendencies hide.  I think I have them beaten, only to find they rear up, laughing at me whenever an important deadline becomes imminent.
  9. It turns out I CAN* do a whole year of incredible busy-ness, without making myself ill!  I have walked the tightrope and lived! (*Update:  Actually, no. I can’t.)
  10. All my darkest fears – that once I start playing a computer game I could lose whole days of my life – are completely and utterly true!  If anything, I lacked the imagination to understand just how fully addictive I find them when given free reign.  The question I now find most compelling however, is this:  how can I use this to my advantage?  For example, can I make exercise a compulsion?  Healthy eating maybe?  Hmm… that brings me neatly onto goal-setting for next year….

 4 Things I learned about Learning

  1. Reading fiction is not without value.  Other people’s ideas can easily spark some new stuff in your head too – it doesn’t have to be factual to do that!
  2. A little bit of inspiration can lift you when you are down.  I have noticed I get my inspiration from interacting with people.  Where do you get yours?
  3. This story:  There was a man called Eugene who had an illness that attacked his brain.  It was brought under control, but not before a small chunk of his brain matter had been destroyed.  This meant that although he had most of his historical memories, he was unable to form new memories.  He would forget everything after about a minute, however, he was able to create new habits.  This meant that although he couldn’t recognise where he lived, he could go for a walk every day and find his way home.  Even though he had moved after the illness and his house was in a neighbourhood he would never been able to recognise.
  4. Doing something for the second time is orders of magnitude easier than doing it the first time.  This is especially so of big, complicated, high-stakes things.  Remember that when you say “never again” after your first time.

6 Things I learned about perception

  1. The combination of these 3 points:
    1. People are smart
    2. They know less about your specialist topics than you think too.
    3. This can magically make you interesting….or boring.  It’s a fine line!
  2. I can do way more than I think I can – we all can.  Self limiting beliefs rob us of not only being better, but also the joy of achieving something you are really proud of
  3. Just because you know aboutsomething, don’t assume that others do too – they probably don’t.  In fact, better to assume they would love to know, if only someone would take time to tell them…
  4. People’s perception of the same event can be radically different.  Even if you both experience the same event, where one can feel satisfied, the other can feel as if part of their soul has been crushed.   Perception is more powerful than truth.
  5.  It is impossible, even if you adjust for known biases, to truly get an accurate picture of myself or my capabilities.  Occasionally, I imagine I can glimpse it, but its like trying to hold sand in my hand – it slips away as soon as I focus on it.
  6. Great customer service can offset some quite horrible experiences with a company’s product.  I find this intensely curious given my usual short fuse for poor product experience.

8 Things I learned about being Productive

  1. There will never be enough time, but time can be flexible.  I need to spend it like money, and take care of the bills… but only AFTER I’ve checked I still want what everything for which I am currently paying!
  2. When I notice that I have multiple To-Do Lists, in multiple mediums (evernote, swipes, physical notebooks) this is a trigger for me that my grip on my life is slipping!  Time to stop.  Breathe.  Cull. Prioritise.
  3. It turns out that 6 people can write a book and publish it on leanpub within 2 days.  It nearly killed us,  but it turned out great, and I’m as pleased with myself as my co-authors are with themselves.
  4. 20 seconds of insane courage can be used in MANY circumstances.  It is my new favourite way to JFDI.
  5. Ooohhh,  bullet journalling!  Kind of personal-kanban-y with lovely overtones of to-do list control.  This could well be my new thing.  I must experiment!Fits in with @RobertLambert‘s earlier advice about keeping a notebook with you at all times.  Also with Jim Rohn’s excellent advice about keeping a journal too.
  6. My productivity outside of work hours takes a serious dip during the school holidays.
  7. It doesn’t matter how busy you are you *can* still find time to squeeze more in.  However, you must pay piper sooner or later, and its a debt that you can’t escape forever.
  8. Other people’s rules are great for finding your way through an unfamiliar situation or environment.  Once you understand WHY the rules are there, your own experience and knowledge become at least as valuable – if not more so.  (Even if it tells you to break, ignore or change the rules.)

4 Things I Learned About Preparation

  1.  The thing about unforseen circumstances is that they are unforeseen.  You *can’t* know everything, so you can’t plan for everything. I am not a great believer in ‘luck’, but there is something to be said for Sod’s Law* (*not an actual law).  I built an awesome scrum master team, good and solid.  One left to pursue other aspects of their career, another was promoted, and the 3rd was poached by a headhunter (I am a little flattered 😉 ).  All inside 6 weeks.  Any one of those would be a sadness, but I did have a plan for such an event.  I did not have a plan for 3 such events, and this is ok.  Play the percentages people, and then deal with the 2% only if it happens.
  2.  Down time is essential – and not just for me.  I recently read an article about how being alone is almost how we define ‘rest’.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-37444982.
  3.  Poor preparation or planning can not easily be overlooked, even for altruistic objectives.
  4. It is easy to forget that what you find easy, having skill and experience to do something, others may find difficult.  Less experience, expertise, practice….all of these mean that someone else may take longer and struggle more than you to do the same task.   2 things here:
    1. people with less experience will be much more afraid of something than someone who knows it can be done and how to do it.
    2. Both the most experienced and least experienced can forget this fact!

2 Things I Learned About Influence

  1. Its very hard to persuade someone if they don’t think in the same way you do.  Take time to translate what you want to say from the way you think, and into something that they will find pleasingly framed.  Its really hard to do, but I suppose it depends how much you want to convince them really, doesn’t it?
  2. Manager Tools training:  wow. A perfect example of how the person telling you stories can strongly influence how you receive those stories.  You need credibility.

1 Piece of Great Advice

@Rob Lambert once gave me some of the best advice ever:  carry a small note book with you AT ALL TIMES.  You will have great ideas at really weird times, but if you don’t write them down you WILL NOT remember them later, even when you think you will.  I wish I didn’t keep forgetting to do this…its not quite a habit yet, and after all this time, it really ought to be!

And Some Other Stuff Too

  1. When one person attacks another with a weapon, regardless of who wins, it was the expert who allowed it to be so.  Being seen as the winner is not the same as winning.
  2. Co-Schedule – amazing webapp that saves me AGES when I write & promote blog posts, prep for conference talks & workshops.  It also feeds my inner control freak as I’ve learned how to make an editorial calendar (and why its such a good idea). Isn’t it great when you find a new tool that does just a little bit more than your brain had consciously worked out it needed?  *happy sigh*
  3. Did I really not learn anything new this week?  That can’t be right….
  4. I think I caught existential-itis following the brexit vote thingy.  Not sure I am fully recovered yet…
  5. Not everything is a choice.  Sometimes you have to find a way to make the best of what you have, and make peace with where that will take you.
  6. IT departments can be quite insular …  we need to be careful  we don’t over-protect teams to the extent that we separate them from reality and commercial consequences.
  7. Following Portia Tung’s keynote at Agile in the City Bristol, I have been thinking a lot about play.  Understanding this is key if you want to engage people. I’m so interested in this topic I’m off to one of Portia’s workshop events in the new year.
  8. I’m curious about how other people think, feel, & about what motivates them.  Even so, hearing all the Scrum Masters talk me through their personal victories & learnings over the past year has been joyful.  Not just intellectually interesting, but emotionally enthralling too.  It’s like a great story where you completely empathise with the hero!
  9. Traditions are a wonderful thing.   They ground us in our social tribes.  Traditions, by their nature, we build over time, and we must strive to keep them alive.  Yet ‘alive’ doesn’t mean inflexible and unchanging.  Traditions, like all living things need to breathe and grow and adapt.  This week I have seen 2 fairly big traditions over-hauled.  As a result they both reinvigorate, and more powerfully bind their respective social tribes than ever before.  Ask yourself the purpose of a tradition, and then cut away some old growth to leave room & light for some new.

 

Each of these ‘learnings’ is not an end.  Instead, each was a beginning for me.  I took many of the ideas and ran a few experiments to learn some more about the situation and to try to improve it.  Many of the individual blog posts I wrote over last year will reflect these experiments and learnings.

As ever, I aim to be a little bit better tomorrow than I was yesterday, so that those gains will accumulate and compound over time.

This year I will be continuing with this, but I’ll be including them in the newsletter each week rather than posting them in a single place like this.

Sign up below if you’d like to get the newsletter each week.

Helen.





(I use mailchimp to manage the FluidWorking newsletter service.  I will not use your information for anything other than the Newsletter without seeking your explicit permission first – Helen.)

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