Welcome aboard your flight to the Future of Work

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome abroad Your Work Airways on this flight from the Present to the Future of Work.

Flight attendant or stewardess talking on intercom

Photo Credit: iStock Photo

Before we take off there are a few preparations I’d like to run you through to minimise anxiety and maximise possibility on your career journey.

You might note that our plane is not yet fully built, such is the uncertain nature of the flight you are taking. Don’t let that deter you from the things you can control and organise.

Our Captain today is flying with a compass rather than a map. We fully expect we’ll have to make multiple course corrections as we navigate changing conditions. We have a heading rather than a specific destination. You are going somewhere; you’ll probably know where only as we get closer.

At this time please stow away your luggage or present it to the crew to be taken away. It maybe baggage from your past that will no longer serve you where you are going. Prepare to give up or lose some things.

We anticipate turbulence. When the seatbelt sign comes on, we recommend you stay calm and remain in one place. When things get agitated, there is a temptation to Do Something. Sometimes that best thing you can do is Be Still. Turbulence typically will pass. If you are experience a sense of disequilibrium, know that this is simply a phase as you adapt to a new reality – you are not going mad. There are strategies you can learn to respond and recover from such a state graciously: ‘Mind like water.’

When the seatbelt sign is off, you are invited to get hands on and involved in shaping our flying experience. Our passengers don’t get to be passive spectators – the future is what we make it.

A normal flight would advise you to locate your nearest exit to be used in case of an emergency. You could do that – it can be prudent to have an exit strategy. However, there is a risk that an exit strategy lessens your disposition to take a leap of faith and embrace uncertainty. Like a turtle, you might only make progress if you stick your neck out.

If oxygen masks should appear (or something that seemed to fall on your head) from above – be sure to look after yourself before attending to others around you. If you are struggling to cope, then your needs come first. And remember to Breathe: In, Out and repeat. Oxygen is a fundamental resource for your whole wellbeing.

Reach out for help – your crew are there to help you. You’ll need to identify your own crew. Look about you for a special group of those who you can trust and who will support you with encouragement or a kick in the pants as you might need. Make sure they know they are your crew and you have expectations of the role they will play for you. Consider being the crew for someone else – we all need help at different times.

Should the plane need to make an unexpected landing in unknown conditions, know where to locate your life vest – as you have defined it. When indicated, put it on ensuring it fits your situation. If necessary blow a whistle to attract attention of others who can assist you; your courage to alert them of your predicament is an invitation for their compassionate action.

Unlike normal air travel we won’t be insisting on Flight mode for your communication devices. We recommend openness to variable flows of information and communication as you venture to the future. Something insightful may appear – keep an open mind. To take a break from the information flow, simply disconnect.

Fires have been known to start from excessive decision making. We desire this to be smoke-free flight so we encourage you to lessen decision fatigue by making upfront decisions wherever you can for routine things. Preserve your decision-making abilities for the novel things you have yet to learnt about or resolve.

While there are activities we discourage in the toilets, we admit they are a great place if you need to shut other people out for a time. It’s okay to hide in silent solitude. Silence can be useful if it keeps you from broadcasting an anxious version of yourself into your web of special relationships. It may be a time to listen to yourself and check in with what your inner voice has to say.

This is a flight in which we’ll be figuring stuff out as we go. It can be helpful to write things down, especially when a lot is happening all at once. Whether in the seat pocket in front of you or on your person, consider keeping a notebook so your mind is free to deal with the unexpected, rather than busy trying to remember stuff that could be written down.

On this flight we expect you will need a diverse offering of refreshments. Some of you have boarded with a hunger for knowledge to sustain you on this journey. Others are thirsty for insights to fuel your decision making. Ask for what you need and give yourself suitable time to absorb the full nutrient value. Take a course, digest a book, or savour the goodness of a mentor.

It is our pleasure to provide in-flight entertainment; this consists of an excellent view of the emergent and surprising. It is sure to affect you with a range of emotions as you move through phases of comedy, drama, horror or thriller. We don’t recommend the history channel; your future is an adventure awaiting you in a forward direction – it’s a fiction awaiting to be realised.

For those curious about the future of work, at the top of our inflight recommended reading and viewing list is Lynda Grafton speaking at TEDx on How to be ready for your future and her book, The Shift: The future of work is already here

It’s time to put away things that you don’t need right now – have what you can in order. Know where to put your hands on things quickly; keep large items stowed away for when they are needed.

On behalf of Your Work Airways I’d like to congratulate you on launching yourself to face an unknown future of work. It promises to be unpredictable.

Helen Palmer, co-founder of RHX Group, has not followed a traditional path in her career, nor does she intend to. It’s been her personal experience that she’s made career plans, then life happened and things went in a direction that wasn’t anticipated. As a consequence she’s fascinated by the emergent and serendipitous approach to life and work. She’s been thinking about ways to help others navigate the future of work, given the ambiguous possibilities and opportunities if there is courage to take that journey. And for good measure, she likes to inject humour and originality into her work.

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Organising your time honestly and flexibly (with a digital diary)

Our work time is regulated by hours, weeks, and months. Organising our work activity temporally (that is, by time) is a challenge that can be conquered with a diary (of the datebook kind, not the daily record of experiences). With a digital diary, it becomes easier to manage an emerging or changing schedule, such is the nature of modern work practice that attempts to include inherently changing acts of creativity and innovation.

When I was an employee in a large organisation, our digital calendars were visible (with some concessions for privacy) to other staff members. As a dedicated user of the calendar, I often found others commenting that according to my calendar, ‘You are so busy’. I was bemused and wondered: Were people with empty calendars considered to be ‘not-busy’?

Tom Peters (in his “Mother of all Presentations”) says: ‘You ARE your calendar. You ARE how you spend your time. Calendars NEVER LIE.’

The technique explained in this blog is about making visible how-you-spend-your-time, and enabling flexibility to better manage what, where and when factors of your activity.

Managing your temporal space

From Shutterstock

My diary is my temporal space made visible. It enables me to map my intentions about time. I create and shuffle around blocks of time to firm up what my schedule will look like, while also experimenting with what it could look like. With a digital diary it’s particularly easy to drag and drop entries; and to append extra information to capture the meaning I have given certain entries, for example: Tentative, (In) CBD. Then my diary appears clean, and (re)organised – no whiteout or erased pencil lines in sight!

Putting entries in my diary gives me a schedule to follow for the day. While my days might not have a regular routine, I am assured a degree of order as important things needing my attention are factored in.

Many of my entries are not appointments with others, but simply an entry for me to work on a specific activity. Rather than work from a general To-do list during the day, I work from my calendar schedule of activity. Many of these activities have an associated and specific To-do or next-action list which is my exclusive focus during the allotted time.

Entries in my diary are an agreement with myself about what I am going to focus on, and help me to focus on one thing at a time. I’m not a fan of multi-tasking, but on occasion my thoughts are scattered and I free them from the leash, within a boundary of ‘Planning’ time or ‘Admin’ time – simultaneous chaos and order!

Making diary entries also enables me to more accurately forecast how much time activities will need, particularly those that are spread over multiple days, and to ensure sufficient time is reserved. In addition, I can better evaluate when to sequence individual activities in context of other things, e.g. other activities, my location, and my anticipated energy level or attention capacity.

While not an Activity per se, I’ll often add entries to my calendar for deadlines or time-sensitive milestones. Because I am following my schedule for the day, it’s handy to have time-sensitive things co-located with my actions, in case I need to re-evaluate action priorities.

If you are following an Activity-Time Budget, you could assign colours to each Budget category and apply these colours to the items you have in your diary. With a quick glance you’ll be able to see how well your projected budget matches your actual budget. (See Calendar 2 below.)

Being honest about your time

Every day we have activities that use time (and attention and energy) but are not typically accounted for in our calendars. Some examples of ‘invisible’ use of time: travel (on foot, by train, parking the car); general administration (filing, processing correspondence/incoming email, paying bills, etc); reading (correspondence, articles); preparation for meetings; processing note; preparing task-lists; lunch breaks; etc. (Hopefully you’ve created your own Activity-Time Budget that allows for such time.)

Start to put this time in your calendar. Particularly when entering linked activities. For example, after creating a Meeting entry, add Travel time to either side of the Meeting entry. Or, when creating a Meeting entry, add entries for Prep/Reading time and Note Processing time in close proximity to the meeting entry. See examples in Calendar 2 below.

There are two screenshots of my sample Calendar here. Calendar 1 is the typical calendar of most people, and reflects the events or appointments I have that involve other people – often because the appointment is linked to their calendar, or because it’s important to be ‘on-time’ for these. Calendar 2 extends Calendar 1 showing the activity of ‘invisible’ time, as well as colour coding to align with an Activity-Time budget (and no, I haven’t explained my colour coding – it’s meaningful only to me.)

Calendar 1 (Partial)

Calendar 2 (Complete)

Scheduling serendipity (or Planning for the unplanned)

While I am advocating filling a digital diary with entries, I am not advocating filling every waking moment with scheduled activity. Leave space for the unexpected that might better deserve your attention, or for spill-over when you’ve underestimated the amount of time needed or things have emerged with unanticipated complexity.

You might need to schedule ‘contingency’ or ‘open’ space in your calendar, simply so you (or others if you are sharing a calendar) don’t mistake it for Free-to-schedule-any-Activity time.

Dov Frohman (with Robert Howard) in the book, “Leadership The Hard Way: Why Leadership Can’t Be Taught—And How You Can Learn It Anyway“, advocates scheduling ‘day-dreaming time’ where you engage in “loose, unstructured thinking with no particular goal in mind”. An approach they recommend for dealing with complexity and ‘fuzzy’ problems.

One of my students shared this technique: she schedules a calendar entry called ‘Lucky Dip’ – the time is reserved but the activity is unknown. She has a bag in which various activities, both delightful and necessary, are written on strips of paper. When the appointed time arrives, she dips into the bag without looking, selects what she will do, and does it.

Another type of time you might consider scheduling is disconnected time, i.e. time when you don’t access the internet, read your email, look at Twitter or other social media sites. A practical way to support day-dreaming time!

Organising your temporal affairs effectively means you can utilise your time wisely and for greatest benefit. Effective use of time requires knowing what you spend your time doing, as well what you don’t spend your time doing. Hopefully the suggestions in this blog can help you better align your reality with your intentions.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Planning and guiding Professional Enrichment

To plan how I might develop into a more satisfied and effective knowledge worker, I asked: What would enrich my professional life?

My first responses were predictable: knowledge, skill, experience, and resources. With deeper reflection, I also saw the role of relationships, collaborations, energy (mental and emotional), attention, awareness, perspectives, and discipline. These all contribute to my value and viability as a knowledge worker.

Traditionally, purposeful action to develop oneself professionally starts with a Professional Development Plan. I already had one of those, but the traditional content didn’t strike the right chord for my values of knowledge work, and valuing knowledge work and knowledge workers.

So in the tradition of reusing knowledge, I did a conceptual Save As, and made some changes to transcend the concept. Enter, the ‘Professional Enrichment Plan’.

Planning for Professional Enrichment (PE)

The purpose of actively enriching one’s Professional life is to
– have a positive affirming work experience
– improve the quality and quantity of knowledge work
– nurture the person (the ‘engine’) that does knowledge work
– enhance an individual’s professional value and practice

What’s Professional Enrichment about?

In addition to traditional content like Attending training courses, or Being mentored, PE is:

  • Activities that have no inherent professional productive value, or no clear goal or specific destination. e.g. Exploratory, experimental activities like tinkering; Social activities like chairing social club.
  • Meaning! Activities about making meaning, having meaning, and sharing meaning in the professional space. Meaning is the source of our beliefs and actions.
  • Conditions and opportunities to generate serendipitous encounters and discoveries.
  • Creative activities that replenish mojo and energy as part of my professional schedule, e.g. Attending art or music exhibitions; Decorating my workspace; Playing golf
  • Mental rest, and change of scenery within the professional schedule.  e.g. Honouring digital and professional Sabbaths; Working from surprising locations like  art gallery or park.
  • Activity and schedules that best honour own temperament and strengths, e.g. Planning in morning, executing at beginning of the week; Partnering up to draw upon other’s expertise
  • Nurturing self holistically in all aspects (body, mind, soul and spirit), e.g. Meditation before and after challenging meetings
  • Activities that are difficult or not possible to measure yet have intangible value , e.g. Cultivating meaningful relationships; Mentoring colleagues
  • Accessing a diversity of resources for inspiration, insights and information, e.g. Blogs, social media, podcasts, seminars, books, newspapers

Professional Enrichment Method

The objective of developing and executing the Plan is to enrich work with purposeful activity in acquiring, cultivating and sharing knowledge, experience and perspectives.

1. Create – Reflect what enrichment and growth you want; Define some activities to achieve this; Document these in the Plan

The Plan is emergent and dynamic. Entries to the document are made pre and post activity as they are a mix of the ‘planned’ and ‘serendipitous’.

2. Use – Draw on the Plan to determine regular and ad hoc activity to schedule; Do the Activity; Reorient self to the Plan, when professional life seems to be chaotic and without order.

Treat the plan as a declaration of intention to act.  For me, scheduling PE activities happens on a weekly or monthly basis, when planning how to spend the PE time allotted in my Activity-Time budget.

3. Update – Review the content of the Plan and make updates (change the purpose or activity; Add to the activity; Refine the measures);  Record progress in the Plan

Professional Enrichment Plan – Template

The main content of the plan is formatted as a table with the headings: Purpose (WHY), Content (WHAT), Activity (HOW), Measures/Evidence (HOW MUCH) and Status (HOW FAR).

Purpose
The reason for some purposeful action; the outcome of acting.
Verbs to describe purpose include Gain, Lose, Enhance, Be, Experience, Sustain, Create, Extend, Produce, Contribute, Prepare, etc

Content
A short description of the content area for which you seek enrichment.

Activity
Actions that will achieve the purpose.
Examples include watching podcasts, attending seminars, writing blogs, following blogs/tweets, corresponding, reflecting, playing, meeting others, experimenting, attending meetings/seminars/courses, reading books, establishing and building relationships

Measures/evidence
Whatever is meaningful evidence to track and evaluate progress.
General measures might include:
Quantity – Count of the number of knowledge products created, knowledge events completed, etc.
Quality – Estimate of the degree of fitness for purpose
Impact – Estimate of the degree of difference achieved (gap between before and after)

Status
Whatever is meaningful comment about your progress to date.

Sample Content
Here’s a extract from my real plan: Professional Enrichment Plan Extract.

May you have a more enriching professional life!

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.