Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is your work meaningful?


I recently finished reading an excellent book about success - Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote about meaningful work in his book, because he saw that successful people have role models for their success, and often that is a parent who is engaged in meaningful work.

You probably had a parent who was engaged in meaningful work when you were growing up. I'm going to give the example of my Dad , who has been done meaningful work his whole life. In my life he has had two different jobs - firstly as a captain of a container ship taking cargo from Australia to Asia, and then as a pilot guiding ships through the Great Barrier Reef.  I will use Dad as an example to explain what meaningful work is.

Mum and Dad on their wedding day in Sydney, 1978. Dad  is wearing his merchant navy uniform.

Dad has autonomy in his work - as a ships’ pilot he goes onto a ship by himself, goes up to the bridge, and expertly advises the ship’s captain on what route take to avoid the myriad of reefs and shallow passages.

Dad has complexity - the reef is constantly changing, with the bottom of the sea is not a constant depth with the sand moving all the time. He has to use all his experience at sea and knowledge of the reef, while trying to communicate on the bridge of the ship, often with at least three different nationalities present. He has to get home after weeks away to complete a bunch of paperwork as he is technically running his own business as a pilot.

He also sees the connection between effort and results. Ships are successfully guided through the reef. Captains of the ships he has piloted thank him for his assistance. He is invited back to pilot cruise ships and US navy ships.  He is paid for each ship that he pilots.

Dad giving a speech at our wedding in Israel, 2011
So let’s say that you grew up in similar circumstances to me - you got a good education, went to good universities, and then went out and got a good job as a doctor or a lawyer or a financial expert or something like that. Well we thought we'd get great jobs and do meaningful work like our parents. But somewhere along the way we realised that our work wasn’t what we thought it would be.

Suddenly we were told that the world of work has changed, and we’ll probably have many different jobs in our lifetime, not just one like our parents. And often we will be working in large organisations where we have no chance of seeing the impact of our hard work. And a lot of the time our heads will be occupied not with some challenging problem in our field, but in trying to figure out some organisation change that makes it impossible to focus on our work. And most of the time we just sit at desks and send a bunch of emails anyway, only some of which are ever responded to. And autonomy? Well our only autonomy in those offices is looking at Facebook, which reminds us that we are autonomous individuals with friends that don't have to do what our boss says.

Now I'm realising that there is a huge number of people like me - late 20s or 30s, educated and on the hunt for meaningful work. And the exciting thing is that there is more opportunity and variety of work available to us than ever before. We don't have to work in a large company. We don't have to work for nothing in a small company either. We can do our own thing, create what we want, and find success. Now is the time of the micro-company, the freelancer, the self-publisher, the teacher and the online business owner.

Go us!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Accountability

Now I have some goals articulated, I need to work on accountability. I need to keep on track, to work towards my goals, not get distracted in the small things of life.

The problem is that I am easily distracted by a mind that wanders all the time through thoughts and ideas, so that while I'm writing this here I've had about 10 ideas for things to do and explore that I've written on the weekly planner that sits beside me. I've also been checking my nails to see if they need filing. And I've thought that I need to fix the blank white wall in front of me by filling it with inspiring things and images. And in that time I've written about 200 words, which I will need to edit and make readable for you all.

Everyone works in different ways, and it's a matter of you figuring out what works for you. I need to have 5 lists of things that I need to do. Amit needs only one list that he just does. I need to break down all my list items into minute steps so that I do not get scared by an item and then avoid doing it. I need 20 minute timers to tackle tasks I don't want to do (but need to be done). I've tried doing away with lists and timers and going with my heart, but it never really works. I forget important things, stress out, and go around in circles doing unnecessary things.

Take a dip into our lives now with my first video on being an entrepreneur! You can see what Amit and my work stations look like, and take a peek at our to do lists, and see what is outside our window. Enjoy!


A few links from the video:
The weeklyplanner from Kikki.K – it comes with lots of tear-off sheets 
Books that inspire:
Screw Work, Let’s Play: How to do what you love and get paid for it, by John Williams 

Accountability – sharing your goals with others
Amit and I just started having morning meetings, where we write our lists for things to do today and also discuss any issues we are having with what we are doing at the moment.

Once a week we're reviewing our major goals and how we're progressing towards them for the year. This works because we're open with each other about any doubts we have, and provide honest feedback.

There are other ways of being accountably to your goals.

One idea is a weekly check in – you can email a few close friends or loved one (or even post a list to Facebook!) with the list of things you aim to do that week. And at the end of the week check in and say what you’ve actually done. Of course you need to make sure that you give yourself a reward if you complete everything you said you would (like a piece of cake, drinking wine with friends, a walk in the park, or something similar).

Another idea is creating a small mastermind group that meets weekly to help each other achieve their goals.

Mastermind groups exist all over the world and help people with accountability by creating a support network around helping each other succeed in their business and goals. There is lots of information on how to start your own mastermind group, but the basic idea is:
- a group of 3 to 5 people
- working on achieving something for themselves, like creating a business
- committed to meeting once a week
- in person or via skype etc.

This site gives a nice run down of what a mastermind group is and how it works 

How do you stay accountable to your goals? And what do you think of my video?? (I noticed that I stumble over words when I'm trying to focus the camera...)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Do you really want to travel for work?


People say to me that they really want a job that involves travel - like being a lawyer or accountant that just happens to have frequent interstate and overseas work. I ask them why on earth would they want that?

Getting paid to travel for work is downright exhausting. Instead of getting up and going to the office, you have to get up at 4am, pack your bag with everything you might need and be super organised, get to the airport and go through the mind-numbing security and airport check in. Wait in no man’s land with crappy places to eat and shop before getting on a cramped plane, getting to your destination, taking a cab to a generic hotel room, and then having to spend all you time in that new location/country with work people who you wouldn’t hang out with under normal circumstances.

You might get a day off to explore the city, but how much can you really see in one day? By the time you get home after a few days you're totally exhausted, have mountains of work and email to do, missed your partner and friends, missed your regular exercise and classes and meeting your friends, and have to unpack your bag and do the pile of washing you have amassed on the trip. It is not that fun, it's not cool; it's exhausting.

You might briefly see a new place, but at the end of the day you are alone in a hotel room, and that is just depressing.

Travelling for work can sometimes be ok

There can be good things about travelling for work, and those good things depend entirely on how nice your employer is, and if your colleagues happen to be your best friends I suppose.

I had a good run at my job in Australia - I would travel every 3 months or so with work all over Australia and my boss would not mind me spending the weekend once I was there.

On Friday I would check out of the 4 star hotel, work from the local office for the day, then check into a backpacker’s hostel in the evening, and start exploring. I went scuba diving off Rottnest Island near Perth, spent a long weekend on an amazing tour of Uluru, Kings Canyon and Kata Tjuta, saw a Xavier Rudd concert in the rainforest of Kuranda, scuba dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and saw friends in Melbourne for a weekend. All without paying for the airfares to get there.

I was indeed quite lucky - I had a nice boss that thought it is better for me to explore more of my country, and it didn't effect my work. I got to spend more time with my colleagues in the local offices. I saw more of my incredible country. If you have a boss like that, and work in a company that understands flexibility, then you are lucky, and it's not so bad to travel that way.

What you REALLY want is the time and money to travel

The best kind of travel is when you get to choose where you are going, and when, and who with.

And if you have a location-independent business, you can work on a project from an apartment in Buenos Aires for a few days to earn money, and then get to go out and meet people you want to spend time with. There a people right now renting apartments in Bangkok for 3 months and working, then moving on to Berlin for a few weeks – they work along the way in their location-independent business, and explore the world as they do so. It must be distracting to be working in such diverse environments sometimes, but I think I would be incredibly motivated to make it work to maintain such an exciting and inspirational lifestyle.

 THAT IS the way to travel.

I'm writing this from my parent's in law's apartment in Hod Hasharon, Israel, after a huge Saturday lunch. Later this year I'll write to you from a hostel in Cape Town, South Africa. Next year I hope to be writing to you from beside my parent's pool on the Gold Coast in Queensland. And after that, well, who knows... Here are some ideas I have for where I’d like to work from:

  • an apartment in Paris
  • a boat in the Galapagos Islands
  • Sharm El Sheik on the Red Sea in Egypt
  • a B'n'B in the Trossachs in Scotland
  • an onsen in Japan.

I think about these places and I get so excited, I start thinking about how we will find cheap airfares, find the perfect short-term apartments, eat delicious food, see beautiful landscapes, meet interesting people, and constantly be inspired by what surrounds us. I've learnt more about myself, people and the world travelling than I have in any other way.

Where do you want to work from in the world?

Me at Uluru in 2008. Yes, I am holding a beer.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My goal for 2012: Create my Location Independent Lifestyle

Whatever your dreams are, you’d better start taking them very very seriously
Barbara Sher in her book Wishcraft. 
If I’m really going to be an entrepreneur in 2012, I need some real goals to make my dreams a reality.

I found this goal setting guide on Live Your Legend, and it’s really helped me clarify what my goals are, and my motivations. It’s nice to have it all written down now (I made a spreadsheet of my goals, because I like having things on one page, and I just like spreadsheets).

My goals fell into 5 areas: Work, giving back, health, travel and family and friends. I’m going to write about my work goals; because it’s the area I’ve made the biggest change in over the last year or so.

My goal for 2012: Create my location independent lifestyle and live without a boss

What is a location independent lifestyle you ask? It’s creating an income from anywhere in the world. It’s usually an online business. It’s for people who want to start something of their own, live without a boss, and work from anywhere in the world. Location independent people are also called digital nomads, mobile bohemians, or remote workers.

The idea really appeals to me because I want my life to be full of travelling, I love it so much. I also want to be able to create an awesome career that I can take with me, wherever I live in the world. This is especially important because my life will always be divided between Israel and Australia – and it always will be.

I’ve been on a journey these past few years that made me decide that I want to live without a boss, and create my own business.

My journey to living without a boss
I was working at a large research organisation in Australia for three years before I moved to Israel. I enjoyed working with people that were making a difference to Australia's future through science. But I felt like something was missing. I was rarely seeing the impact of my work. I thought about studying something, but I could never decide on one thing. I was interested in so many things - business, project management, development studies, more science communication studies - I really had no idea.

I arrived in Israel in 2010 thinking that this was my time to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. The problem was I was thinking too big - I was trying to figure out what was the one thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life that would make me happy and fulfilled? What was that one big thing I was meant to do in the world? I went round in circles and never came up with an answer, so I just went and got a job.

I got a job surprisingly quickly. I was writing grant proposals for Israeli scientists. It sounded good; it was something I could do because of my science communication background. But I didn’t enjoy it. I had little passion for a job that was mostly project management and administration. Combined with working conditions that were not what I was used to in Australia, as well as low pay (a one-third pay cut compared with Australia!), it turned into a huge burden that I had to shake off. I resigned and left after a year.

I did learn a few things in that job though.

I learned that life is too short to work in something that is unfulfilling.

I learned how to work hard. I’m now going to work damn hard so I don't have to go back to working for an Israeli company. I know that not all companies in Israel are like where I was, but why would I take the risk of suffering when I have other options!

And I learned that enjoying my life was more important than a regular pay check. I had done a bit of freelancing for my previous employer before I started working in Israel, and knew I could earn an income I could survive on by reducing my spending. If you think about it though, I’m sure you could think of something you can be paid to do to keep some money coming in…

After I quit that job I started doing freelance science communication work for Australia. It's interesting work, with nice people, good pay, and I get to sit at home in my cosy apartment with freedom. I enjoy the freelancing, but would like to add something else, and create a portfolio career for myself – one that combines a few different business that help satisfy my need for variety in my work. I’ve realised that I don’t need to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life – I just need to figure out what I want to do next.

If you want to know more about being location independent, there are a couple of good blogs to check out:

Chris Guillebeau with The Art of Non-Conformity (great book btw)
John Williams with Screw Work Lets Play (also a great book!)
Marianne Cantwell with Free-range Humans
Crobett Bar and a good article by him: 10 Digital Nomads to learn from

Jumping in the Gilboa, Israel.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Productivity plans without goals = failure


Last week I posted about productivity. It was going to be my week of productivity. I did a few things I wanted to do. I failed in my goal to only look at Facebook twice a day. I am addicted to Facebook and found many reasons to adhere to that goal, so I’m going to consider it a hopeless cause for the time being.

I had neglected the reasons why I’m not productive in the first place, which Seth Godin (a very awesome marketing guru) pointed out in a recent blog:
The reason productivity improvements don't work (as well as they could)  
Getting Things Done (GTD), 18 minute plans, organized folders... none of them work as well as you'd like. 
The reason is simple: you don't want to get more done. 
You're afraid. Getting more done would mean exposing yourself to considerable risk, to crossing bridges, to putting things into the world. Which means failure. 
The leap the lizard brain (the primitive part of your brain) takes when confronting the opportunity is a simple formula: GTD=Failure. 
Until you quiet the resistance and commit to actually shipping things that matter, all the productivity tips in the world aren't going to make a real difference. And, it turns out, once you do make the commitment, the productivity tips aren't that needed.  
You don't need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.
There are two key things I need to do before I can be really productive:

1. Recognising what I’m afraid of. Why don’t I want to get things done that I need to do? What scares me about achieving what I’ve set out to achieve? These are hard questions to answer, it is  hard to be so honest with myself. But I’m pretty sure it’s around fear of failure, not being successful, people not liking what I do, etc. Nothing new in the field of psychology there, they are just your standard fears that I’m sure most of you have.

2. Committing to goals. I need to articulate what my goals are. I need some tangible goals. I was going to list the things I’ve committed to, like writing this blog, doing exercise, and writing 750 words every morning, but Amit pointed out that I haven’t actually said what my goals are, apart from that 2012 is my year of being an Entrepreneur. And that is only a theme, not a goal. So next week I plan to have a few goals articulated and committed to for the year.

What is holding you back from being productive?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Adjustment Week: my excuses and productivity plans

I’m going to call the week that just past my adjustment week. Because I need an excuse for not actually achieving that much. The first few days of the week I battled some mild jetlag after a 32 hour long New Years Eve (thanks to flying against the clock from Seoul), tried not to freeze in our drafty apartment after being in the Aussie summer for 5 weeks, and generally tried to not feel too much culture shock being back in the Middle East.

These are my random achievements of last week: I booked a flight to the UK, planned a driving trip around Scotland, researched safaris in Africa and summer music festivals in Europe, and did about four hours of paid work. I also did a bit of research for our entrepreneurial adventure. I looked at Facebook 500 times. I sent out my first ever e-newsletter using MailChimp. And I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which is about successful people. I was not a successful person this past week (unless I’m planning to build a career in travel planning. Which I’m not).

Amit, on the other hand, went to the print shop 17 times to prototype the package design for the product we’re launching (more on that later), taught himself how to use Adobe Illustrator, designed his first ever company logo, built a website, followed up leads for photography work, thought up a project to launch Kickstarter (which he also became obsessed with), and was generally productive. Note to self: be more like Amit. Fortunately he sits two metres away from me so I can follow his every move.

I am going to be productive this week. I’m not even using any qualifiers in there like ‘trying’ or ‘planning to’. I have to make this happen.

So to help me with that, here are some tools I’m going to use:
  • Scheduling periods of time each day for completing my ‘to do’ list, and doing this process each morning
  • Looking at Facebook only twice per day (I was going to say once, but I know I won’t be able to manage that) 
  • 20 minute micro-blocking: a technique where you set a timer and commit to doing only one thing for 20 minutes. This really works for me because often I’ll avoid starting something, particularly something a bit boring, or scary. Committing for only 20mins though is not so scary, and once I have done one 20min block, I often keep going. And along comes productivity. I learnt about this technique on the 30 Day Challenge last year.

What productivity techniques work for you? I obviously need all the ideas I can get!