Saturday, 29 January 2011

That's Un Oeuf! The Revolutionary Time Management Technique

I have written previously about the Pomodoro technique.

After a lot of research and some earnest experimentation myself, I can now offer a more scientifically validated time management technique which anyone can easily implement.

I have named this revolutionary system 'That's Un Oeuf!' (TM). 

The 'That's Un Oeuf!' system is guaranteed to boost your productivity and increase your wellbeing through the simple expedient of a kitchen timer shaped like an egg.

Here's how it works:

1. Buy your Oeuf-shaped kitchen timer.  It MUST be shaped like an egg to have any effect. 
2. Have a clear objective for this particular Un Oeuf.  Be clear what you want to achieve.
3. Set the timer for precisely 22 minutes.  Start working through your Un Oeuf.
4. If you become distracted, simply notice that distraction and bring your attention self back to the present moment and to your objective.
5. Once the timer sounds, GET UP AND WALK AWAY.   It is critical to move at this point.  Get a cup of tea, do 2-3 minutes of cleaning, tidy something, do 10 press ups, walk to the printer.  Whatever.
6. Repeat in blocks of up to 4 Un Oeufs.

After this, take a more extended break, moving around, doing e-mail etc.  I often do household chores in this period if I'm working from home or I go and have a chat with someone if I'm in the office.

I recommend doing 12 Un Ooeufs a day, and the rest of the time should be doing e-mail or calls, meetings and more relaxed or creative tasks.

The science behind this approach is overwhelming, but if you want some primary sources here goes:
Please let me know how you get on with the revolutionary 'That's Un Oeuf!' Time Management System, I would love to hear your experiences.

But for now, That really is Un Oeuf.

Thursday, 27 January 2011


Mindfulness is more than a passing fad.  It is at the cutting edge of scientific research into anxiety, stress, depression, OCD, pain management, work performance and resilience.

Dan Siegel is at the forefront of this research and if you don't have time to read his excellent Mindsight, this is a useful alternative.  

I think this is absolutely relevant to career changers, but then I think it's relevant to all of us.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Desert and the Dune

I've just been in the UAE doing some leadership training right in the middle of the Liwa Desert.  

Here are some photos.  The final photo shows one of the enormous dunes outside the hotel.... (cont'd below).


At sunset, people would climb up the dune and sit and watch the sun set from the top (there are people doing just that in the photo - but they are tiny!).  The dunes were so large that it was hard to make out whether the people were moving when you watched them.  You had to look away and look back to discern any progress.

That to me is redolent of career change work.  It can be a long and arduous business.  Sometimes, it's hard to know if you are moving forward.  So much work seems to be involved, and at times so little seems to be being achieved that it can feel like a whole lot of work for nothing. 
Yet as with the dune walkers, consistent, regular action, does make progress.  Each action, each moment spent in reflection, adds up to another step, and the steps add up to progress.  I have clients who right now are working on their career chenge project and feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.

Yet for the most part they are still chipping away, being willing to feel uncomfortable.  It can be hard to discern their progress at first glance.  But from where I am, I can see it.  And I know that very soon, when I check back on them, they will be enjoying the view from the top.


Thursday, 13 January 2011

Hemingway - The Sun Always Rises

"We stare at our computer screens cataloguing our lives unaware that every important decisions has been taken by one goal: the avoidance of pain. We look out of the airplane window reviewing our belief system and realise that it’s an anti-belief system, a rejection of our values. 

How did I get here?
We don’t see the consequences of one bad decision – I’ll eat this, I won’t go for a run tonight, I’ll take this job and pay off my loans, this job will give me confidence.  But each decision makes it less likely we’ll do the ideal, and the effect mounts".

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Career Change 2011 - Step 2: Who Are You?

The question of who 'you' are is a tricky one.  After all, there is no stable 'you', only a collection of relatively stable skills, traits, preferences abilities and experiences which are interpreted by our minds to be 'me' or 'I'.

Run that by me again... There is no 'me'?
 If you doubt that the idea of a self is a fiction, then consider the case of extraversion.  Imagine you have a strong preference for extraversion in social situations.  Is there any situation where you are the opposite?  For most the answer is yes.  Or, consider the idea that you are loyal.  Is there ever a case where you have been disloyal? Intelligence and personality are important and are fairly stable, but they do not override choice.

As career changers, it's important to accept this caveat, because otherwise we risk boxing ourselves in, and not thinking anew about our lives and careers.  (As an aside, if you are seeking career change, by definition you are seeking to think anew).

I prefer to have clients consider which aspects of their personality do they choose to hold stable, in the context of work.  Given this as the introduction, I enthusiastically endorse exploring 'self' using psychometric tests.  The key with psychometric tests is to find those which have what psychologists call good external validity.  Validity refers to the idea that if you know one thing about your personality, does that allow you to predict anything else out there in the real world?

Myers Briggs, Insights and other Jungian type personality tests often have very limited validity.  You are far better off choosing one which measures the 'big 5' personality measures, such as the NEO-PI.

If you want to start this for free, one of the best free resources can be found here.  
What To Do:
  • Take the test
  • Read the report
  • Think about which parts of the report feel true or valid to you, or which you 'choose' to make true in future
  • Think about what this says about the kind of job you want, and the criteria you want to apply to your career decision
  • Note down any significant criteria that come from the exercise and keep in a safe place - we'll be adding to those criteria
  • Sit down and have a biscuit a pint a refreshing piece of fruit, in line with your New year's resolutions.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Hodgson - A Failure Not Of Management But Of Meaning

A friend of mine asked me what I thought of Liverpool's sacking of Roy Hodgson.  My first instinct was feeling for sorry for a patently decent man who no doubt tried hard to give the club what it really needs: direction and leadership.

The exact question was whether Hodgson was a victim of the "grass is always greener" mentality?  Possibly, but just as likely is that Hodgson was simply doing what most of us feel compelled to do: make the most of our opportunities, test oursleves in new and exciting situations and, to climb Maslow's hierachy.  Hodgson was self actualising, but was not given enough time (in my view) to take others with him.

I am arguing that Hodgson should have been given more time and I am arguing that it was natural for Hodgson to take the job.  However, I also believe that Hodgson was always the wrong man for the job.  And the reason for this is to do with meaning.

Like any great institution, Liverpool Football Club is defined by its values.  It stands for community and passion, uncompromising defiance and above all a sense of anti-establishment.  It is the opposite of modern football in so many ways.  Sky culture is anathema, as is awarding huge contracts to players who have no sense of the history and values of the club.  

Put simply, Roy Hodgson was too establishment for Liverpool.  He was too southern, too reasonable, too  unconfrontational.  'Hodgson for England' was far more than a witty protest, it was a damning indictment.  Hodgson is not one of us.  He is good enough for England, but not us.  This is why when I went to see the Reds on New Years day, only 35,000 were there. 

His appointment was therefore a failure not of ability and skill but of values and meaning.  Rafa was loved because he was an outsider.  Stubborn, proud and acutely aware of the values of the club. Spanish, but one of us.  In contrast, Roy disconnected the fans from the club, just like the owners before him. 

Liverpool is are crisis for two reasons.  The first is they have been chronically underfunded in comparison to their competitors.  But the second is they have been run by people who do not understand its soul.  

Of the two, it is the second which is more damaging, but far easier to overlook.  Dalglish is a step back in the right direction.  But his job is as much about what happens off the pitch as on it.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Your Career Change in 2011 - Step 1: Facing the Present

January is my busiest month for career change clients.  So many of us reappraise where we are heading in life at the turnb of the year.  And frequently, we don't like the answer.

So where to start?  At the risk of wearing out an already tired cliche, career change is a journey.  And any journey begins by understanding where exactly we are in the first place.

So what exactly is the issue with your current career?  For example, my clients present to me with different problems.  Most often they:
  • Can't move into the area they really want to get into
  • Hate their job but don't know what else they could do
  • Fear change even more than they hate their job
  • 'Just wonder' what else might be out there (read: are screaming at the meaninglessness of their current jobs)
  • Feel overwhelmed by the choices that seem to be out there and unsure of how to choose between them
  • Have lost confidence in themselves / are struggling with anxiety, works stress, even depression
  • Just simply feel stuck and like they're going round and round in circles. 

Some people also feel more than one of these, some may even have the full house.  But identifying where you are is an essential first step.  Facing up to the reality of the present moment is one of the fundamental principles of psychological flexibility

I am asking you to find a place which is quiet and still.  Think about your current situation in all its nuanced complexity.  Then, some of the key questions you may wish to consider at this stage include:

  • What precisely is wrong with your current job (list the reasons)?
  • In each case, what would be better or preferable?
  • When have you experienced better or ideal working conditions?  What were you doing?
  • What would happen if nothing changed?  How would you feel, both in the short term and long term.
  • What are the emotions and thoughts you are feeling about your career?  List them.

I think it's also a good idea to do a number of psychological tests, to establish a baseline of how you're feeling.

My tests measure levels of engagement, wellbeing and psychological flexibility.  If you provide an e-mail address then you can re-take the tests as many times as you wish and compare the results over time.

In addition, Martin Seligman's tests are also excellent.  Log in and complete the PANAS, Authentic Happiness Inventory and Approaches to Happiness Questionnaire at a minimum.

The final, and most important suggestion I have is to write a 3 pages autobiography of your life so far.  But to get that, you have to e-mail me!

So step 1.  Facing up to the reality of the present moment, as it is.  If you can do it, you are on your way.


Monday, 3 January 2011

Your Career Change in 2011

Imagine you were tired of your current house so you decide that 2011 should be the year where you move.  The first thing you might do is work out a budget - a price which you feel you can afford.  The second thing you might do is draw up a list of criteria which would guide the decision of which house you want to buy.  

These criteria would likely be influenced by your current living arrangements.  For example, you hate your commute, so you decide that something nearer the station would be better, and so on.  But the criteria would also (presumably) be influenced by the kind of life you want to lead in future.  For example, you might envisage having children and prefer a bigger kitchen or garden.  Your criteria therefore reflect the values you wish to hold important in future.

Your budget dictates the nature and extent of the compromises you must make in relation to these values, but you will always retain control over the most important ones.

To help with the complexity of the decision, you may spend a lot of time researching possible options, or you may employ an estate agent.  Either way, you will likely brace yourself for a lot of time and money spent making the right choice.

Now imagine you are changing careers in 2011.  A career is, according to nearly all research, absolutely critical to our wellbeing.  Using our strengths more frequently at work predicts greater happiness, resilience and creativity.  Having more control over our working lives predicts lower rates of stress, coronary disease and better productivity. Yet despite this, the way most of us go about our career change involves very different processes to buying a house.

We rarely draw up a list of criteria, for example.  We rarely get clear on what is essential to us and what we could compromise on, and we rarely seek professional help.  Instead we scan the classifieds.  We brush up  our CV.  We become a bit passive.  We drift.  The only external advice we ever seek is with people who try to 'match' our 'personality' using expensive tests which tell introverts to become librarians and engineers and extroverts to go into sales or politics.

Meanwhile, we feel the pain of rejection far more than when buying a house, so we allow our doubts to inhibit our thinking.  And that's why most career changers in 2011 will end up back where they were, and career paralysis will set in.

Of course, arguing that people should use professional help to make better career decisions may sound self interested.  And at some level, it is.  IT'S MY BLOODY BLOG.  But I believe in what I do and I know I can help most people make better career decisions.  As a psychologist, I know the many cognitive traps and biases we make when we try to do this alone and I can help prevent these. And as a human, I really give a shit about this stuff too.

That's why I want to outline some very simple steps that can be taken to dramatically improve the chances that your 2011 career change will work.  My career decision making has been designed to counteract the automatic thought processes and cognitive  biases we are all prone to.  What it offers is not the ideal job, but  a conscious decision which brings meaning and purpose and a sense of control.  

Too many people drift into a career and then stay becalmed in those safer waters.  Time ticks on, and eventually the question must be: is this what you want for your life? 

If your job isn't meaningful to you then I think you should read this blog in 2011.  Life is too short to be spent drifting when you couold be choosing.  You wouldn't do it if you were moving house, you would act with purpose to change.  Why should it be any different with your career?


More Advice on Behaviour Change

This is good and complements my previous post very well: