How to write better personal work goals

As managers, we require our employees to set goals, and then we measure them against those goals during annual performance reviews. While this is common and sounds reasonable, the goals often end up disconnected from real performance.

This is a waste. (Managers: it’s okay to nod your head in grim agreement.)

Why does goal-setting fail, and what can we do about it? Well, I connected a few dots recently, and have a plan. It requires us to rethink the shape of the goals themselves.

How workplace goals typically fail

This is a real 6-month goal from an employee from about two years ago.

Maintain weekly focus on defining billing business rules.

Not bad, right? Seems do-able. There’s a time-frame. The action is simple: to maintain focus on the topic. It basically means get work done on it every week.

But here’s the thing: That goal failed, but by no fault of the employee.

Instead, that project to work on business rules was scuttled by management (okay, I confess: I did it). So, according to the preset goals for that period, I would mark the employee as having failed that goal. Well, I couldn’t in fairness do that! So while I didn’t penalize the employee, the goal itself became worthless.

I trust that other managers out there agree that this is not an uncommon situation.

I’ve found that my employees’ goals fail most often in these two ways.

  1. The goal is based on a project, but the project changes or is even canceled.
  2. The goal requires another person’s action, but that other person doesn’t take the action.

Is it always a simple dependency problem? Not purely. There are other factors, such as the goal being too large to get done or too generic to measure. In that case I shrug and make my best estimation as to whether it was met.

Another problem is that goals sometimes aren’t that important. We dumb them down to something that we’re sure will happen anyway, but it ends up having little to do with the most important work.

Why would we do this? It’s a play-it-safe reaction to being beaten up by all the previously failed goals. Name it: dysfunction.

But should I gauge an employee’s performance based on unimportant goals? Of course not. That’s small-minded, desperate thinking, yet our typical goal-setting systems prod us into those sorts of goals.

So, let’s see this from the angle of sports goal-setting.

Since 1990 I have been a competitive pistol shooter. Goals are pretty important—and effective.

In that sport, I use two types of goals: achievement and process goals.

My achievement goals are based on scores, and are obvious. For example, at the next match, my goal is to shoot at least a 2430. When I shoot a 2440, I know that I’ve achieved that goal. Easy to track.

But what can I do to make that achievement happen?

That’s where process goals come into play. For this, I point to Lanny Bassham’s Mental Management program outlined in his book “With Winning in Mind.” The book is worth reading, especially if you compete in most any sport.

Couched in the methodology from Bassham, let me explain a process goal that I use when target shooting.

In preparation for firing a shot, I plan and visualize the shot, then I do it. Here are some details.

  1. Gun is on the bench, and I’ve already settled my stance and grip.
  2. I look down at the gun, glance at the rear of the gun and see that the bolt is forward.
  3. I focus my eyes on my gunbox, which is with me at the shooting bench. I’m probably seeing a cut-out X-ring, and a step-by-step shot plan I’ve taped to the inside of the box.
  4. I close my eyes, tilt my head up just slightly, and breathe in and then out, fairly deeply.
  5. As I’m breathing I visualize the gun raising, my eyes finding the sight picture, I see a good sight alignment as the gun is rising, as I start to exhale I settle the gun so the sight picture is aligned to the target at which point my breathing pauses. I confirm that my middle and ring-fingers are putting pressure straight back into the grip while my thumb is lined up parallel to the barrel towards the target. At the pause in breath, I continue maintaining solid sight alignment to the slow count of 1-2-3 as I’m applying smooth, straight-back pressure to the trigger. I don’t get to 3 because the gun has fired and I know it is a good shot.
  6. Then I open my eyes at the end of an exhalation and act out what I just visualized. (If I get to three, I put the gun down and start that shot over.)

So, my process goal is to do that for every shot. It’s an easy-to-do goal that I control, and it is up to me to do it each time. When I do, the results are unmistakable.

That’s the key. When I have the discipline to do that process goal for every shot, my overall performance goes way up. It’s a behavior that I can control that produces a result. This past summer I shot my best 50 yard slow-fire score ever, a 97 out of 100, doing that.

What if I can use that kind of process goal at work?

I was re-reading Bassham’s book as I was mulling over these ideas, and came across a section where he writes:

A habit that separates the top five percent of competitors who win from the other 95 percent who just play is the practice of carefully setting goals. Most people never set them. No surprise there. However, every major corporation sets goals. Every government sets goals. Every builder who builds has a blueprint. Every banker has a written contract on how the borrower is going to pay back the loan. But among individuals, normally only the super successful ever bother to set personal goals and plan their work. (“With Winning in Mind,” Lanny Bassham, pp. 65-66.)

So I wondered to myself, “You’re doing alright professionally, do you set goals?” And it dawned on me that I do, all the time.

I just never think of them as goals. This was the Ah-ha! moment.

So, for illustration, here’s what I already do.

My 2013 Strategic Objectives

Near the end of the year, I review my own annual strategic objectives and identify those that I have for the coming year. I do this in order to maintain a clear head about work.

  • UX: Mature the UX team’s expertise
  • UX: Improve the sustainability of UX @ CE
  • Company: Ship (That one word to me means delivering valuable updates to our services for the benefit of our members. But in notes to myself, I just write “ship.”)
  • Company: Learn to manage the business better
  • Company: Prepare CE for future growth

I know these are not attainable on my own, but I expect of myself to influence our corporate progress towards those objectives more than one might imagine. They are generic enough to leave the tactics open, but clear enough to me that I can look at any period of time and tell if I’ve seen the rate of improvement that I’m okay with.

I’ve done this same thing for 2011 and 2012, and I’ve seen the benefits for the company, although from the outside it must be difficult to see the connections.

These annual objectives provide me some needed focus and an ability to feel like I’ve actually made a difference. Without that, I’d be pretty grouchy.

My Process Goals

When I read that section in Bassham, I suddenly realized that I already have process goals, but I’ve never thought of them as goals. I just know to do them in order to be effective at the level I expect of myself.

Photo of my notebook showing a prioritized daily list.
Using a daily 6-item list is one of my process goals. A simple, thin, pocket-sized notebook is extremely handy for this. I’ve found it better than using apps on my iPhone.

My most frequently used process goal is this:

  • Every day write in my small notebook the top 6 things that I will get done that day.
  • Prioritize them, 1–6.
  • Think of how and when I need to prepare for each item.
  • Keep that notebook on me and refer to it as a guide for my day.
  • Check the items off as I do them.

I use another process goal when I’m sitting in a meeting and I know the presenter will ask for feedback at the end. This too is easy: I use my notebook to jot down reminders of the feedback I want to provide. It’s basic, but effective. Here are two benefits.

  • I can say “I have three concerns.” When conversation ensues over point 1, others already know to bring it back around for point 2 and 3.
  • I don’t waste others’ time as I stumble over my words and try to remember what I was going to say. My memory is frail, and this technique overcomes that.

Are process goals SMART?

If you’ve ever talked with an HR person about goals, no doubt you’ve heard of the SMART acronym. SMART goals are:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • relevant
  • timely

My process goal of using the daily list may, in fact, be the most SMART goal I’ve ever had at work. It is specific, measurable (just flip through my notebook to see the success rate), achievable (it is easy…I just need to have the daily discipline to do it), it is definitely relevant, and by its very nature it is timely.

Whoa. Now that acronym actually makes sense.

And while it isn’t on the SMART checklist, these process goals are activities that I don’t have to rely on anyone else for. If I don’t do them, it’s nobody’s fault but mine.

What if goals can be expressed instead as habits?

So, like thousands of others, I’ve been through BJ Fogg’s 3 Tiny Habits program, and I actually use that lesson on how to form habits. The daily list is one thing I’ve used the 3 Tiny Habits program to help me do better. So, before I considered these to be process goals, I just considered them to be habits. These process goals are also habits.

If you haven’t yet, go through Fogg’s program. Process goals may make a whole lot more sense and you will have the knowledge to actually train yourself to do them. I’m going to predict that most good process goals, which are probably better as daily processes, could be implemented as though they are habits you are trying to form.

So, given this insight, how have I applied this?

I’ve talked with my staff about this approach, and we’ve updated some of their goals to follow this pattern.

Here’s what amazed me: In the very first week I saw improvements in performance and morale. For example, one of my staff wrote this process goal, “Every day, write down one thing I’m proud of.” I believe this simple goal improved this employee’s morale and it has spilled over to others, myself included.

But has the quality of work gone up? Difficult problems are solved by people who can easily think laterally as well as vertically, and a person’s emotional state has an effect on this. More stress means less lateral thinking. So, yes, I’m sure the quality of work has gone up.

Further, this kind of attitude can be trained over time and will help others want to work with this employee. Who wants to work with someone who doesn’t appreciate the chance to do quality work? I know I don’t.

How can you implement this change in setting goals?

Write process goals for yourself. If you are a manager, have your staff do this.

Process goals are:

  • Easy to do
  • Quick to do
  • Done frequently (e.g., daily)
  • About how you work or think of your work, not about the outcome
  • Done by you alone, so that you alone are responsible for doing them

I’ve listed a few examples in this post. Have others? Feel free to share them in the comments on this post.

I’ll close with another quote from Bassham: “The BEST years of the BEST players are rarely foreseen in advance. Why? I believe it is because the elite are not thinking about outcome. They are thinking about process.” (62)

This blog is 10 years old

Hey, I just realized that I’ve been blogging for ten years now. That’s some kind of milestone.

From hand-crafted to Blogger to MovableType to WordPress

Back when I started in 2003, it was really a learning experiment on my part. I was a consultant at the time, and felt that I needed to get first hand experience with blogging as a medium in order to really advise my clients when they would bring it up.

So, the options in 2003 were fewer. I started with just writing raw web code. Then I went with Blogger. After a couple of months, I switched over to MovableType and stayed on that platform until the very end of 2008. Really, MovableType was great, and I only reluctantly left it for WordPress, which I’m still on.

Why did I leave MT? Because the upgrade process was a pain. I often had to allocate an entire morning to upgrading the core MT software on my web server, and WordPress allowed me to upgrade in under 1 hour.

Today upgrading WordPress is even faster, typically taking only the click of a button. (I have automated daily database backups, so my content is safe if the install should fail.)

Now, on each platform migration, my blog posts suffered. I have yet to see a clean content export and import, and if you were to look at some of my really old blog posts, you may wonder if you’re not seeing the whole post. You’re not.

So, what are the most viewed posts?

At this time, here are the top 5 blog posts on my site, by views over the past 30 days.

  1. How to Write Release Notes (1577 views, published in March of 2010)
  2. How to Aim with Iron Sights (1379 views, published in October of 2009)
  3. How I use utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign from Google Analytics (812 views, published in November of 2011)
  4. Signing and Encrypting E-mail on Mac OS X 10.6 Using Self-Signed Certificates (310 views, published in December of 2010)
  5. Small-caps, web text, and CSS (175 views, published in April of 2011)

One observation: “how to” articles get read more than personal anecdotes. Not surprising, right?

Will there be a 20-year anniversary for this blog?

Presuming I’m still alive and that blogs are still a real medium, probably. Now I probably won’t be posting with any more regularity than I have been for years, and the quality of the posts will continue to be hit-and-miss. And a theme for the blog? Not likely. This is just a personal blog, and remains a bit of an experimental place for me.

What has been my biggest challenge? Not being able to write about what I do at work as openly as I would like. I would have some great material, but the risks of disclosing proprietary information and upsetting my colleagues have stopped me, and will probably continue to do so. Oh well.

Thinking: Taxonomy of shooting ranges

I’ve been overwhelmed by feedback from a side project of mine, rangelistings.com, and am working on upgrading it so that site visitors can make some updates on their own without having to go through me.

It’s great how even seemingly little projects like this raise information architecture questions so promptly.

Wait…what the heck does “access” mean?

When I started this project a while ago, I didn’t question much of the data I was harvesting. I just wanted some data to test a theory about the utility of a geographic perspective on shooting ranges. It was just an experiment, done as a bit of a hobby over the course of some weekends. One piece of data for each shooting range was labeled “access” and the data was primarily either “public” or “private.”

Well, upon actually using this information, I find the public access or private access to be too ambiguous. Does “public” mean state-run, paid for by tax dollars? If a range is in a gun store, which is itself a private enterprise, is the range private or is it public because anyone can use it? And besides, what do we mean by “access” in the first place?

The useful data can be more clearly represented by asking “What sort of requirement is there for access to the shooting facilities?” When I state it that way to represent what I mean instead of simply “access,” then I realize more clearly how “private” and “public” are inadequate words.

Looking over the data and thinking about my own experiences at various types of ranges, this is what I’ve come up with.

  • Membership required (like at many Sportsmen’s or Conservation Clubs)
  • Pay a fee for range time (like at some gun stores or commercial shooting facilities)
  • Free (like at some state-run shooting ranges)
  • Unknown (because right now I only have private/public values)

The exact wording can be tweaked, but the notion is in there and is far more useful than the current private vs public value.

Gah! What a mess of a labeling system.

Meaning and words overlap. Case in point: when I list shooting facilities, many of them resemble shooting sports (like “trap” which can describe a range as well as a shotgun sport).

Which should I list? How do I tell the difference between a sport and facility? How do I prompt the user community to stay with the right taxonomy? (And what do I mean by “right taxonomy?”)

Which words describe the possible shooting/firing ranges themselves at any sportsmen’s club, gun store, or other shooting facility? Those are the words I need.

Why not list the shooting sports themselves as a primary organizational scheme? Here’s why. Because very often people just want to grab their gear and head to a range to shoot. That isn’t organized into a predefined shooting sport, like trap shooting or action pistol. No, that’s just heading to the range to shoot. That’s pretty normal.

However, many shooters also want to know if they can do a specific kind of sport, and a description of the range itself can help answer that question. For instance, I’m a bullseye pistol competitor, so if I see “Outdoor pistol, 15 feet” as a description for a shooting range, I know that won’t do for my sport. If I wanted to practice some defensive pistol shooting, it would be okay. However, if I see “Outdoor pistol, 50 yards,” than I’m going to be pretty confident that I can practice my sport at that range.

The point is, some decent descriptions of the physical ranges themselves should provide an appropriate amount of information to be useful for a wide variety of shooters’ interests.

So, it should be easy to come up with that list of terms, right?

As an initial audit, as of today, Oct 28, 2012, this is what I have in the rangelistings.com website.

  • Airgun
  • Archery
  • Indoor Pistol
  • Indoor Rifle
  • Muzzleloading
  • Outdoor Pistol
  • Outdoor Rifle
  • Pistol Silhouette
  • Rifle Silhouette
  • Skeet
  • Sporting Clays
  • Trap

And any specific range listed can add a note. The most common note indicates the distance and the second most common type of note indicates the number of firing positions. For instance, “Outdoor Rifle (500 yards, 10 firing points).” For someone looking for a place to shoot, that bit of information is quite informative.

But I’m not really settled on that, despite the fact that I have data on close to four thousand ranges already using that taxonomy.

My primary concern with that set of terms is that it may not be complete. For instance, I don’t see Cowboy Action as an option. Nor do I see Five Stand for shotgun. Both of those are, to my knowledge, specialized range designs.

But is that getting too specific?

I’m also concerned that some people may want to check off a bunch of those options with the thought of “Well we have an outdoor rifle range, and a person could set up some silhouette targets on it, so I guess I should check Rifle Silhouette too.” But that isn’t how I’d prefer people to think of it. My thought is that the range should already be set up for silhouette shooting, with metallic silhouettes already set up and/or available, and possibly with a target reset cord.

Perhaps there should be a general purpose outdoor pistol and a general purpose outdoor rifle. Then if a range has more specialized facilities, a person could choose to list those.

I’m a member of the Saginaw Field & Stream Club in Michigan, and we have a pretty cool Cowboy Action range, which is used only for that sport. We also have a standard 50 yard pistol range and a defensive pistol range. Given the current taxonomy, we could list it like “Outdoor Pistol (50 and 25 yard covered firing points, Cowboy Action course, and 15 foot defensive pistol range).” That’s informative and flexible. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, if I go with that notion, doesn’t the same thinking apply to the shotgun sports? If so, then it seems like I might not have separate items for Skeet, Sporting Clays, and Trap like I do now. Instead, I would just say something like “Shotgun (trap, 5-stand, and sporting clays).”

The conundrum here is that there very well may be value in having itemized those types of ranges. The point is that I’d prefer to have a consistent granularity in terms, and it seems to me that right now I have a mixture.

Which level of specificity is the most useful in light of the purpose of this data set?

And now I put my thinking on pause, the taxonomy questions unresolved.

My new .22 target pistol, Marvel and Springfield Range Officer

Over the past couple months I’ve worked out the kinks on a new .22 target pistol, and I figured I’d share the details.

The new gun: Marvel Unit 1 conversion on a Springfield Armory Range Officer frame

.22 target pistol: Marvel Precision Unit 1, Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 frame, and an UltraDot red dot scope.
My new .22 target pistol: Marvel Precision Unit 1, Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 frame, and an UltraDot red dot scope.

After much consideration, I decided to go with a Marvel Precision Unit 1. That is a conversion unit that you use to turn a 1911 into a .22 pistol by replacing the slide and using different magazines.

The Marvel has a good reputation, it is known to function reliably, and is getting to be famous for its accuracy. Mine came with a 5-shot test target fired at 50 yards. The test group measured 0.81 inches. That really is excellent, considering that to my eye the X-ring on the 50 yard slow fire target looks to be 1 & 11/16 inches. Bottom line: it’ll hold a group tighter than I need it to hold.

I ordered the Marvel unit with an extra magazine, the iron sights, and a scope mount rib. Altogether, including shipping, I paid about $600.

Speaking of shipping, it took a long time for them to get me the unit. I placed the order online on April 5, 2012 and it shipped to me on June 12, 2012. I was definitely not thrilled with waiting that long, but I understand they’re busy.

So, between then and now, here is what I ended up doing.

I shot the gun first with the iron sights. They are good target sights, and I shot fine. However, I’ve been curious about shooting a red dot, so I picked up an UltraDot and put that on top. My 25 yard Timed and Rapid Fire scores didn’t change, but my 50 yard Slow Fire scores seem to have improved. I’ll stick with the dot a little longer and see how it goes (although I’ll continue to shoot iron sights on my .45).

For the lower I’m using a Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911 .45 ACP that I purchased very late in June. Since then I’ve put in a short match trigger from Cylinder and Slide (required some hand-fitting), a reduced-power hammer spring (24 pound ILS spring from Wolff), and tuned the sear spring. The hammer and sear already looked really good.

The stock trigger on the Range Officer was not great. It started at around 5.5 lbs, and had a little bit of creep in it. The break was crisp, which I like. After fitting a new trigger that has a better length for my hand and carefully filing the trigger and a little bit of the trigger channel, the trigger movement is now quite smooth, and down to a nice 2 lbs. I also set the over-travel stop so the trigger won’t move any more than it must.

At Camp Perry during the second week of July I asked at the Marvel table for any tips on reliability and the response was that it should all work fine, but a lighter hammer spring may help if there are issues with loading new cartridges. I did in fact have a few of those issues, and so I put in a lower-powered ILS hammer spring. I fired 80 rounds this afternoon after replacing the spring, and had not a single problem.

So, what’s left? Well, I have a pair of Nill grips on my Clark Heavy Slide 1911, and I like the feel. I may get a pair for this gun too.

Also, I need to pick up another 1911 sear spring so I can tune it to 3.5 lbs for when I put the Range Officer slide back on the gun for shooting .45 ACP. Two pounds is too light for a gun with that kind of recoil, in my opinion.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with this set up, and I’m looking forward to competing with it.

Props to my old gun, a Ruger Mk II .22 pistol

I’ve been competing in Bullseye Pistol matches since 1990, and have used the same Ruger Mk II pistol for that entire time. Over half a dozen national pistol matches and many local, state, and regional competitions, not to mention countless hours of practice, I estimate that I’ve put a quarter of a million rounds through the gun.

The Ruger still functions, but after 22 years of heavy use, it’s pretty worn out. I’ve had to replace numerous parts over the years, including two firing pins, a firing pin stop pin, and the recoil spring. The gun is loose, and it feels loose. Could it be tightened? Maybe. Regardless, it’s time for a new gun, and I’ll keep this Ruger as a back up.

The gun has been re-blued, and it is high time for another re-blueing. It is down to bare metal where my fingers and the heel of my hand grip the gun.

Props to the old Ruger though, it will still shoot clean targets (clean means 100 out of 100 points). I’m impressed that it still maintains that precision.

Excluding a site in a Google search

Want to get search results from Google that aren’t from a specific site? Put a minus sign to the left of “site,” as in this search query: “reliability of wikipedia -site:wikipedia.org”

The minus sign in "-site" is the trick to excluding a website from Google search results.
The minus sign in "-site" is the trick to excluding a website from Google search results.

This morning I found myself thinking about that perennial question of the reliability of Wikipedia. This time it is because my older daughter (she’s in junior high) is forbidden to use Wikipedia articles in papers for school, but she wasn’t given any other recommended suggestions from her teacher. So my observation is that she is now more likely to use online sources that are actually less reliable than Wikipedia.

Teacher: Your bias against crowd-sourced and curated knowledge has driven your students to find non-curated “knowledge.” Grade: F.

Better idea? Teach students to evaluate the credibility of online sources, and allow them to use Wikipedia articles if they are deemed sufficiently trustworthy. Mark down the grade if untrustworthy articles are referenced. This would teach a real research skill, and be more educational than just pointing to the Google search box.

But that’s a rant, and not what I learned.

I first did a Google search for “reliability of wikipedia,” and found a whole bunch of results. But they were mostly from Wikipedia. I looked at a few interesting Wikipedia articles on the topic, but wanted to see what websites other than Wikipedia had to say about this.

And there was my challenge. How do I do that same search but exclude results from wikipedia.org?

Well, I already knew that you can type site:domain.com into the search field to just search a specific website, so I tried site:-wikipedia.org. That didn’t return any results. So I tried another approach that did work, putting the minus sign to the left of “site,” and it worked like a charm.

reliability of wikipedia -site:wikipedia.org

There. I learned something new today.

LinkedIn UX groups, data and questions

Doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of user experience groups on LinkedIn? I’ve joined a few of them in hopes of staying up-to-date on topics, but after joining a couple groups, I quickly realized there were many more possible groups, and they all started looking pretty similar to me.

Why would I join this group versus that one?

Some are tied to specific organizations, like the Information Architecture Institute, the Interaction Design Association, or the Usability Professionals Association. Or like the Boxes and Arrows group, related to a specific industry publication. If you are a member of such an organization, joining the matching LinkedIn group probably makes sense in some way.

Some are focused on narrower subjects, like the Agile Experience group or mobileUX. If you have a narrower interest and find a group that fits, perfect.

Some differentiate by being localized. The UPA Israel, for instance, or London User Experience Professionals. Cadius is a group for UX people who speak Spanish. I think that’s fantastic.

But then we have all those other groups that ooze together, subject-wise. I’ll bet each has its own creation story, but at this point, the differentiation is slim.

Don’t these top 5 UX LinkedIn groups sound similar?

  1. User Experience
  2. Interaction Design Association
  3. UX Professionals
  4. UX Professionals Network
  5. User Experience Group

The second item is the group for members of IxDA, but the rest are simply professional groups for UX people. I’ll bet if you mixed together all the content and members of those groups you would first see a lot of repetition in members and topics, and second, I’ll bet you couldn’t separate them back into their original groups without a key. What does that say about these groups?

Some data on these groups

For what it’s worth, I’ll post some data I harvested while trawling LinkedIn this afternoon. (Why did I do this? Am I mad? No, but I’ve been sick all weekend, and in my addled state, cataloging some LinkedIn groups was the most obvious thing to do.)

The following data is merely what I found this afternoon. It is not comprehensive.

Chart showing membership rates of about 40 user experience groups on LinkedIn.
Chart showing membership rates of about 40 user experience groups on LinkedIn as of March 11, 2012.

Want a little more information? You can download an Excel spreadsheet I used while gathering this information. The worksheet includes columns for ID, Title, Membership, Parent Group, Created date, Type (e.g., Professional Group), Owner, Coverage (e.g., Earth, Greater London, UK, etc.), Language (didn’t fill that in), and Organization (e.g., IxDA).

Here’s the Excel file: User Experience (UX) groups on LinkedIn, March 2012 (.xslx)

Too many groups!

In closing, I think it would be easier and less time consuming to stay up-to-date in the field if there weren’t so many overlapping groups. What if some of these groups merged? Would people get too upset about that?

(Now for more tea and expectorants.)

Attitude-adjusting pointers for professionals

Over the years, others have shared a few attitude-adjusting pointers with me about work. They’ve stood the test of time for me in a number of different jobs. Here they are.

1. Remember, you don’t need this job. You need a job, but not this one.

In my first full-time, salaried position, my boss shared this nugget of wisdom with me. (He shared the next one too.) I had to chew on this one for a bit, repeating it to myself in different ways for it to sink in. But once it did, it changed how I looked at my job.

The biggest change is that it removed a fear. I didn’t fear losing the job, because, after all, I didn’t need this job. With that gone, my attitude shifted to where I was willingly giving my time to the job. It was my choice to work there, so in a way, it gave me back some power, emotionally. I wasn’t dependent on the job, and I wasn’t begging for the chance to do that job. Instead, I had the freedom to focus instead on what I needed to in order to get the job done.

It also has helped me to not worry about the inevitable politics of an office, and instead more clearly relate to the people I work with. It helps me better respect my colleagues as the human beings we all are.

There is a simple, yet powerful, proverb that stands hand-in-hand with this pointer: “Do you work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men.” Attitude-wise, taking this proverb seriously means that I crave honor from God, not from my boss, coworkers, clients, or employees. This has been profound for me, and I encourage all who read this to take this proverb to heart.

This first pointer is probably the biggest of these for me.

2. If you want to seem invaluable, find a problem and solve it. See a vacuum? Fill it.

This one is obviously simple, I think, but sometimes I wonder if it just hasn’t occurred to people. If you want to be valuable, do something valuable. Keep your eyes open for that thing that clearly needs doing that you have a shot at doing, and figure it out. If it happens to make sense with your job description, great. If not, just do it anyway.

3. A secret part of your job is to make your boss look good.

This is an interesting one because it still applies when you aren’t happy with your boss.

How do you do this one? You give your boss credit for good work, good decisions, whatever, to others. You don’t have to overdo it, but keep it in mind. Also, I’ve been in situations where I’ve been asked to help prepare a presentation or a proposal for my boss, and even though I may not be the one delivering the presentation, I can try to make sure that my boss will seem  organized, coherent, and smart.

This pointer is helpful because, by making this part of my job, it forces me to check myself when I have a bad attitude about the person I report to.

4. Bring an alternate idea along when you bring a critique. (And if you can’t, then think twice about offering your critique.)

The point of feedback, of critique, is to make something better. I get the feeling that people forget this, and think that the point of critique is to look smart, to make someone else look dumb, and to thrill in the dark joy of shredding someone else’s work.

So, if the point of critique is to make something better, doesn’t it make sense to point out a problem and immediately follow it with at least one idea to overcome that problem? Maybe it isn’t the idea that will be chosen, but by offering that idea, you make yourself a collaborator with the person who receives the critique. You offering an idea can spur more creative thinking on the problem. Plus, offering an idea is brave, because your idea can now receive critique. If all you ever do is critique but never add ideas, you’re probably a coward and are making things worse, not better.

Closing

I know there are all kinds of other thoughts on work that I have, and I’m sure many of my blog readers have their own life lessons to share.

Please comment with your reactions or additions!

UX and Project Mangement cross-over article from Interactions magazine

A Taxonomy of Models Used in the Design Process by Joanne Mendel in the Jan + Feb 2012 edition of Interactions magazine is pretty interesting.

At Covenant Eyes we’re continually in the churn of Agile development, and integrating user experience work can be challenging. We’re figuring it out, and have definitely made some breakthroughs, but this article has provided another perspective that is helping me think about timing of user experience work within the loose phases of work that a typical project runs through.

It isn’t a stretch to layer the phases of Discovery, Reframe, Envision, and Create over a project’s lifecycle, and so tying different models for design work in each phase provides an opportunity to reflect on how we’re doing with matching up appropriate design work.

I’m asking my team and our project managers to read through it, and perhaps we’ll get a chance to discuss it together and consider if we can use some of the ideas to do better work.

Downsizing my mattress

Relative sizes of twin, full (double), queen, and king mattresses.
Relative sizes of twin, full (double), queen, and king mattresses.

My current mattress is a little too soft for my bad back’s liking. And it’s just too big. I’m decidedly single at this point, have never been too tied to possessions in general, and so for me my queen mattress is just a nervous tick on the side of crazy. It’s time to downsize.

So, I wanted a picture of the relative sizes of standard mattresses to help me think through this. Tada, OmniGraffle to the rescue. Picture attached. (I realize they look like sticky notes. Mildly funny to me.)

Mattress type Width (inches) Height (inches)
Twin  39  75
Full (Double)  54  75
Queen  60  80
King  76  80

Looks like a full-size mattress will be in my future.