✅ Reading challenge

For another year in a row, I’ve achieved my goal of books – one a month during 2017 was a follow on from 1 a month plus 1 in 2016, a step down in number but a step up in difficulty. I only just achieved it, the final tick by virtue of combining an iron, some creased bedding and an audiobook.

So here are some of my thoughts on each of the books I read this year. There was a definite theme, just as there is most years, of self improvement rubbing alongside amusing stories – perhaps something which should shift a little in 2018.

  • The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever
    All aimed at helping you to identify and conquer the ‘advice monster’, this is a good reminder of exactly what behaviours are the best for helping other people to reach their best – and most importantly, how to avoid just doing things yourself. A particular flaw of mine as I get busier is to abandon coaching and begin doing – so it’s a timely reminder, and one that I’ll try my best to heed.
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
    Probably one of the best ‘business’ books I’ve ever read, and insanely useful in identifying how a ‘team’ works and where you can make improvements. Highly listenable as a result of the style – a story with a point. Give it a listen on your commute this week, and then set about deciding which of the characters you see in your day to day.
  • The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything
    This one is a follow up to the last. Trust is an essential part of being a team, and this was all about it. Insightful, not because i said anything particularly new (although there may have been a few bits that have slipped my mind) but because it performed a kind of mental defragmentation on stuff already in my head. Sometimes you just need something to draw in the lines between thoughts.
  • The Million Dollar Blog
    This was actually terrible. I bought it in an airport bookshop out of curiosity and boredom. I mean, I am pretty certain I was not in the target market but even taking that into account doesn’t create enough excuse points. I hope whoever next opened the drawer in the Airbnb I abandoned this one in wanted to become an influencer.
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls
    I lovd David Sedaris. I got the audio book version of this so it was much more like an extended version of his Radio 4 show, and just as good. A lovely escape from reality and a lovely reminder that everyone’s life is just that ridiculous.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Managing Emotions to Make a Positive Impact on Your Life and Career
    This, again, didn’t really tell me much and my memory of it is patchy. That’s because I read it (almost in full) on the same day I had reason to question my own emotions because later that day I learnt what a 6.7 earthquake feels like. Emotions are a pain, because they’re more primitive than rational thought and – therefore – refuse to abide by a calendar or to understand that what you’ve just been talked through is actually right. And they don’t let you to believe a Greek hotelier that a building that has huge cracks in it is structurally sound.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do
    I picked this one up off the shelf in Waterstones because anything that has the balls to sit in the self help section of Waterstones proudly shouting ‘fuck’ in slightly glossy red letters deserves my attention. Particularly in Hampshire. I already consider myself quite good at not giving a fuck, but I am also quite good at occasionally completely forgetting about that and freaking out. I could work on my consistency, in other words.
  • Stop Talking, Start Doing Action Book: Practical Tools and Exercises to Give You a Kick in the Pants
    This didn’t really give me a kick in the pants. Sorry.
  • Managing Activism: A Guide to Dealing with Activists and Pressure Groups
    It was this book which inspired my project for my CIPR Diploma project. I’m still fascinated by the idea that the only tool we have as communicators to respond to activism is engagement (earlier and earlier, if we can) – and yet as we persist with this model, activists are becoming more entrenched and less interested in engaging.
  • Peas and Queues
    I am not entirely sure I realised what this was when I added it to the list of books I wanted to read this year. I was expecting something intelligent and perhaps also slightly amusing, and I did indeed get both of those things. I am just not convinced that the format worked – it felt forced, and most all it felt like the format was an excuse for the the topic being worthy of discussion.
    Well, I don’t think anyone should be remotely embarrassed to say they find closing doors on people is a way of asking them to leave or to feel the smug satisfaction of knowing that it’s only the rolls at breakfast that should ever be cut with a knife. It’s a book for people who sit seething at their distant relatives and friends at dinner tables – and that I have been doing for years.
  • Peggy and Me
    Another interesting look at life from Miranda. Serious, yet light hearted. Another book that I couldn’t face on paper, lest I miss a joke. Well kind regards to you, Ms Hart, and great thanks. May you continue on your journey to national treasure.
  • Black Box Thinking: Why Some People Never Learn from Their Mistakes – But Some Do
    Wow. Some of the tales in here: life, death and why aviators are fabulous (I’m marrying one, so…) We are all terrible at learning from mistakes, biased towards seeing only our own successes and finding that reason why things didn’t work. And yet, despite all doing it we somehow let ourselves and other people get away with it. I think this hit home for me because I was reading it at the same time as I was finishing up on my CIPR Diploma work. My thoughts were on objectives, measurement and how to measure success. No one wants to fail, but it is only through failing in a new way each time that we can learn. It’s definitely worth a re-read from me, and a read from you. But, of course, I could be wrong…

So there it is. This year I’ve set myself the same challenge of reading 12 more books across the 12 months. I love reading, but I also struggle to make time for it so for me 12 serves a nice function of being large enough to make me feel like I read, but small enough that I probably won’t fail and invalidate the whole purpose of this thing.

What could I do better next time?

I do believe in making changes though and writing this post led me to realise that my target, while SMART, wasn’t quite as SMART as it could be. So, this year I have not only set myself a target number of books but an actual target of which books they are.

So, I’ve started 2018’s look back post already and you can find it – and follow my thoughts on the books I’m reading here. Perhaps knowing you’re watching will spur me on to read more often? Let’s find out together.

How did I do on my other goals?

This post was part of a series of posts organising my thoughts about how I did last year. You can also find out how else I did with my goals of 2017 in my other posts on the topic here, and sign up below to get an email whenever I post something new.

And finally, check out my aunty’s post from on her blog A Year Of Saying YES , where she reveals the tool I used to plan my 2017 (and my 2018).

The future of television, they said

Like any self-respecting gadget enthusiast, when SkyQ arrived at my house last May I was excited to find out what new and exciting ways I’d be watching television, to find out how the platform would develop over the next few months and what excitement would arrive.

A few days after it was installed, I was pretty impressed. What Sky had done with SkyQ was take a ‘breaking change’ approach. Sometimes the compromises of modifying something which has been around for years, and which, remember, itself built on top of something even older, are just no longer worth it. They’d done good: a modern interface, and using fancy technology to make satellite more like analogue used to be: multiple feeds from a single cable.

Sky pitched the future was fluid viewing – moving from room to room, device to device – and on demand driven. It even had YouTube, and much to Tim’s annoyance that the TV Guide moved several more button presses further away than was comfortable. It supports Ultra HD, can do picture-in-picture and the ‘planner’ is now shared across boxes.

What Sky has actually done with SkyQ is built everything, from the ground up, with the same philosophy they’ve always had.

It was, to be frank, all of the things those of us who’d been paying attention wanted Sky+HD to be. But 18 months later, it still feels the same.

Sky Q is more about delivering the same thing, in a really slightly different way, and being able to charge more for it than about any future of television. It was about renting, not owning, the box, and about doing just enough that the people, who haven’t already, don’t stray to Netflix.

Some bits are amazing: the expansion of Watch From Start with on demand meaning tuning into a TV show 90% of the way through is no longer a problem, being able to download content to your phone or tablet and take it away is great, and knowing that no matter what box you sit down at you’ll still be able to watch that show you recorded is marvellous.

But: content discovery is still awful, on demand still insists on ‘downloading’ before it will play and the apps are so crippled with rights management that even they are clunky, awkward and frustrating to use.

And then there’s the experience: Sky use LoveDigital to work with ‘shared dish’ set ups, and Love Digital made my experience of getting set up unforgettable through sheer incompetence. Since then, they’ve been back to replace the equipment they fitted twice, and once more in between those two to add a booster that, it turned out, had made things worse.

I became bessie mates with Jodie-Ann in their Croydon call centre, and she was never anything but polite and friendly, but ‘fluid’ was not a description appropriate for the process I experienced.

LoveDigital irritated the landlords with their ‘sales pitch’ call to get permission to do the work, and managed to make normal terrestrial television unwatchable for the other seven flats in the building for about three weeks.

The first nine months were plagued with pulling out power cords after a box had gone unresponsive and deleting unwatchable recordings made so either by a box in the cupboard upstairs that wasn’t working, or software that had gone a bit glitch.

Sky Q isn’t the future of television. 18 months in, I’m convinved it was a life support machine for Sky’s existing business model being sold as a totally new one and launched months before it was ready.

Do you really need to know that I’ve read it?

For as long as I can remember now, the people who message me have been able to see that I’ve read them.

Back in the first few minutes of using iMessage there was a pop up which asked for permission to send them and, hhaving come from a BlackBerry where it was standard fare, I couldn’t think of a reason to decline.

I wasn’t alone. The vast majority of the people I talk to on iMessage have their read receipts turned on. It’s pretty safe to assume that if someone is messaging you from another iPhone then you’ll likely see if they’ve read your message or not.

The situation is pretty similar on other apps too: What’sApp defaults them to on (and hides the off), even Twitter’s Direct Messages let you know when someone has read your message.

But that’s a little strange, when you think about it. Because the only people who thought it was acceptable to have ‘read receipts’ turned on for email were weird distant relatives, and y’know… that person at work.

So I’m starting a revolution.

Earlier this month I turned ‘read receipts’ off globally. No one knows the difference between me reading a message and deciding not to respond, and me (as is usually the case) losing interest and forgetting to respond until it’s so late as to be awkward if I actually did reply.

Nothing terrible has happened, and I’ve not even had a “why have you turned off read reciepts message of doom” from anyone. I feel liberated.

Technology is amazing, but it’s also run primarially be people who need to keep you engaged with their thing. My life is improved drastically by the ability to control all of the lights in my house from my home, but I can’t find any way that sending read reciepts to anyone and everyone is helping.

So I stopped them. Sometimes, even if I love you a lot, I just don’t have any words left. I’ll reply later; maybe you can too?

Checking in

At the start of 2017, I followed my aunty’s advice on how to get stuff done – I wrote a ‘prioritisation plan’. As the nights begin to draw in and I start to wonder where the time has gone, now seems like as good a time as any to review how things are going.

I’m terrible at reflecting: by which I mean I’m very good at doing it – but usually, to my own detriment. I’ve a mental list of things for each and every day where I’d say I wasn’t up to scratch. I’ve always thought that a good thing – because I focus on turning those reflections into actions, lessons or things I’d do better next time. It’s a system that has served me – mostly – well.

Relfecting on concrete objectives and priorities, though, is something I’m far more used to at work than at home. Before this year, I’ve never had (see: made) the time to set out what I wanted to acheive from a year and then got on with doing it.

I’ve always known the destination I wanted but, as anyone who has ever gone on a car journey with me can attest, the exact details of getting there are significantly less well understood.

So, I have been thinking of my prioritisation plan as sort of like a ‘Google Maps’ for my life. And much like when I’m following instructions from Google Maps, my conclusion from reviewing my progress was a steely determination to get to the destination but perhaps a few wrong turns along the way.

I’ve had definite wins: starting to save for a house, reducing my slightly exuberant spending on coffee in Starbucks, saying no more to short term in favour of long term and finishing off my CIPR Diploma in Public Relations.

In other areas I’ve let the business of life lead me astray, but a review is a good time to get things back on track and with four months left of 2017 I’m pretty certain I’ll be able to look back on the year and mark it a success.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu / Unsplash

And I think that’s the lesson in all of this really, and the reason I wanted to write this post. I get incredible satisfaction in my work life from hitting goals, delivering projects and crossing items off from my to-do list but I’d never thought about translating that to life life.

While I was at University, I set myself 3 goals every 90 days – but they were always focused on work and education, never on what I wanted for me.

But having prioritised my life, written down some specific goals – and prioritsed them – and then kept the sheet somewhere I saw them every day for 9 months I’ve not only managed to achieve what I wanted, but also get the satisfaction of knowing that I did.

I’d say that was a tick for the inferred opposite of ‘say no more to short term’.

If you want to try out prioritisation planning for yourself you can find the guide I used and a handy blog from Karen to tell you how to fill it out here.

Do you have a template or shall I create something?

I can’t be the only one to have noticed that this is a question that comes up a lot, in communications – and I’m torn on the right answer.

Should I feel bad that I’ve made everyone think I’m too busy to do my job and advise them, or should I feel bad that I haven’t provided them with a template already?

I see the my role, and that of all in house communications ‘people’, as being an advisor – but, of course, many of our colleagues in other departments see only the tweets, the website updates and comments in the media when something goes particularly well or badly.

So from that perspective it stands to reason that when someone wants a communications plan, or a press release or whatever else, they should be able to pick up a template and write it.

And yes, they should – and it’s part of our role to make sure that the templates we do have are put together in such a way that they also can, but we also, surely, have a role in arguing that good communications isn’t ‘template’ communications.

It’s not only that every problem is unique, but also a matter of perspective in a profession which is highly context-dependent.

Would a template with the headings ‘Objectives,’ ‘Strategy’ and ‘Tactics’ and ‘Outcomes’ really be all that much use anyway?

A communications plan written from a single perspective, whether from a template or not, will never be quite as good as one written with input from someone whose job it is to know about things happening across the organisation, knowing the political context and – probably – having ‘been here before’.

The value of a communications professional should not be tied up in producing templates for colleagues, but instead in helping our colleagues – with real problems, needing high quality and effective communications strategies – solve their problems.

Or at least that’s why I go to work each day, anyway. Tweet me @picnarkes and tell me whether you agree – and how you address the ‘Do you have a comms plan template?’ question.