Author: Steve Prentice

Steve is a writer and expert on workplace productivity with a specific focus on the integration of people and new technology. He writes for a number of high-tech magazines, and is also a published author, a speechwriter and a ghost-writer of other people's books. Visit www.steveprentice.com for more info.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced changes on our society that have never been seen in our lifetimes. People in North America have lived their lives seeing localized skirmishes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and even riots, but these have always been isolated incidents. They have all had a demarcation zone, outside of which life continues normally. You have to actually go back to the Second World War and the Great Depression to observe life being uprooted and restricted universally.

And we don’t like it.

This is change on an incomprehensible scale. Change presents uncertainty and uncertainty breeds fear. The instinctive response to fear is to go to ground – to return to the nest, and to turn to that old, unthinking fight or flight reflex that immediately activates when a threat is present. This helps explain the rush of toilet paper buying that accompanied the first few days of the pandemic news settling in. People had to do something. We can’t run away from this thing. So we instinctively feel the need to stock up on what instinct tells us. This is exacerbated, of course, by seeing others do it, because panic is contagious. It spreads even quicker than a virus, wrapping people up in a reflex of self-preservation.

As we observe everything we know shut down and turn away from us, the fear compounds. Not only is this a strange and unwelcome way of living, it also has direct impacts on all of us, our jobs, our family members and our ability to pay the bills. These are real fears certainly, and this is no time for political leaders to either sugar coat them, distract them or ignore them.

Change management is one of my areas of specialty, and if there’s one common theme about change, it’s that no one likes change being forced upon them.

But there’s something else to consider. Something that will really help. Facts. Facts help manage fear. Each person operates with two sides to their internal selves – we have an emotional side and a logical side. The two are always jostling for supremacy, and emotion always wins. That’s why when you think about some of the large decisions that you have made in your life, like maybe buying a car or a house, or even choosing a school or a job, your choice will likely be based on what feels right. You will use your research and understanding of the facts to back up your decision, but ultimately, it’s what you feel that counts the most.

So, emotion wins all the time. And the most powerful emotion of all is fear.

Fear motivates us to stay safe and protect our children. Fear makes you stay away from food that doesn’t look right, and to keep away from large animals that can do you harm. This type of fear is leveraged to some degree in advertising, making you instinctively worry you are not a good parent if you do not buy this brand of detergent, and you are not a cool person if you do not buy this brand of car.

Obviously, fear is not comfortable. That’s where facts help. Facts help neutralize fear and replace it with a sense of purpose and well-founded optimism. Consider some of the facts of this current lockdown and social distancing measures now in place.

  1. They are temporary. There will be an end to them. Life will return to normal or close to it.
  2. They are being done to get ahead of the rush of patients. This is a treatable disease in most cases. People are not dying in the streets like the bubonic plague. The lockdown is designed to slow the spread to ensure everyone gets the help they need. It’s like a movie theatre on opening night or assigned seating at a concert. Instead of managing a surging crowd of people, you get them to form a line – a queue.
  3. Science understands this virus. Treatments and antivirals are already being created.
  4. Korea, Singapore and China have shown it can be done. The social organization needed to mitigate the damage has now been proven.
  5. People are recovering.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The Second World War was a time of similar scale disruptions, with the added threat of actual bombs and rockets falling from the sky. It bears mentioning that there are a lot of people currently suffering the same thing right now in many parts of the world.

But the scope of the Second World War was almost universal. Anyone living in the countries where the war was being fought, experienced rationing, limited physical movement, and interruption of careers and jobs, to say nothing of all the loved ones lost. Winston Churchill was a master at using the media of radio to deliver words of comfort and advice. In other words, speak to peoples’ emotions first and logic second.

One of the best of these was “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

The practical beauty of this phrase as a crisis management tool for the masses is huge. First, it’s very short and memorable. But it is also in the moment. Whereas most phrases of reassurance focus on a fixed point in the distance, the phrase “Keep Calm and Carry On” helps deliver a reinforcement of a new normal. As a people, we can learn to acknowledge and then suppress those feelings of fear and then adapt to a new normal. A way of living the same life even if under new conditions, for now. Keep Calm. Carry On.

This is doubly important for what was happening then as well as what is happening now. There is no concrete finish line in sight. If the current outbreak and its related difficulties were guaranteed to be over and done with sixty days from now, people would be in a far better place. We can dig in and get through when there’s a finish line in sight.  But when there isn’t, the fear reappears. A fear of the unknown. And once again this triggers the instinctive need to conserve energy and resources to better survive an unknown threat. So then, as now, the mantra of keeping calm and carrying on replaces that of saying “just hang on for sixty days,” as a way of normalizing this new existence.

The 3:00 a.m. Panic Attack

Profound changes in schedule, such as no longer commuting to the office, or getting used to being at home with your partner and/or kids much more than usual is likely to disrupt your physiology as well. When the people who are driving you stir crazy are the ones you love rather than simply your office co-workers, destressing becomes vital.

It is helpful to find a place where you can walk and take deep measured breaths. Even if you don’t do yoga or meditate, the importance of deep breathing should not be overlooked in times like this for a simple physiological way to cut down on your stress response. As Esther Sternberg, research director at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine says, “A much more effective and quicker way of interrupting the stress response is to turn on the vagus nerve, (an extremely powerful nerve that controls a range of responses in the body), which in turn powers up the parasympathetic nervous system.” Basically, she says, “Deep-breathing turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response.”

This does not solve your situational problems of course, but it helps manage your response to them, which in turn allows the thinking areas of your brain to take over, rather than being sidelined by that fight-or-flight reflex.

Remember also that worrying at night is worse than worrying during the day. At night, especially around 3:00 a.m., your body is trying to focus on repair. It lowers body temperature by a degree or so and focuses its energy on rebuilding from the wear-and-tear of the night before. In fact, the colloquial name of this period, long known as the “dead of night” is quite apt in that you will be at your lowest metabolic ebb of the entire 24-hour cycle as breathing, pulse, and digestion all step down a little to allow your body an opportunity to redirect its resources toward repair.

If you wake up at 3:00 a.m. the worries of your world will seem much larger than they do in the daylight, because you, as a person are weaker, smaller, and more vulnerable than you are during the day.

Sometimes it helps to know that. If you wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a blind panic, about work or money, remind yourself, “there’s nothing I can do about it at this hour. Everyone else is asleep now too.” Then, if you need to, write your thoughts down using pen and paper near your bed. Try not to use your phone for this, since the light of your phone screen will further ruin your sleep chemistry. But write it down so that you can give your brain permission to let go of that thought, knowing it’s safely stored on paper.

Doing these things, like deep breathing and writing down your 3:00 a.m. thoughts will not alleviate the problems, but they substantially improve the way you approach them, by stick handling your body’s own fight-or-flight reflexes away and replacing them with clear thought.

The Phases of Change

People go through emotional phases when things happen to them. You might be familiar with Elizabeth Kübler Ross and her five stage model for grief, also known as the Kübler Ross change curve. When faced with a loss or a profound negative event, humans pass through five discreet emotional stages quite predictably.

  • Shock and Denial – where we refuse to admit such a change has happened to our state of normalcy.
  • Anger – a fight-or-flight reflex rooted in fear that is pure emotion without a rational counterbalance.
  • Bargaining – a desire to restore normalcy by using the human emotion of hope.
  • Depression – in recognizing the changed state for what it is, but still under the power of emotions to feel justifiably negative about it.

Finally,

  • Acceptance, in which the emotions of shock have largely exhausted themselves, and people start to face the reality of the change, both emotionally and logically.

This type of emotional sequence happens every time a negative change is imposed upon us. It’s unlikely that lottery winners go through this, but for changes that disrupt the norm in a way we don’t want, we will all go through this.

It’s important to recognize there will be an end to this. This pandemic will pass through the current crisis phase and will settle down to become one of the many enemies that our biological selves must deal with, along with influenza, measle and e-coli. It’s part of living on this planet. We will get to the point where science and our infrastructure will catch up, hopefully with minimized loss of life. People will continue to do work and commerce. Those whose jobs have stopped for a while, will start up again.

You as a person will likely pass through these emotional stages and if you are now in any of the first four, I think it helps to know that you will emerge from the emotional turmoil as well.

That’s why I feel the phrase, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is just so useful right now. These are not comfortable times. Things have changed that we did not want to change. But we will persevere. Take in some air from outside and breathe it in.

Keep calm and carry on.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Keep Calm and Carry On. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model

The coronavirus pandemic is now shining a light on the work from home concept. Organizations large and small are sending their people home, either as a preventative measure, or while they disinfect their buildings. Working from home, once seen as a concession or as a luxury, is now coming to the fore as a leap forward. Why? For the very same reason it has been largely ignored over the past decade: trust.

For much of the past decade, the work from home model has relied on a laptop computer and and email connection. This meant that knowledge workers could do much of their work from their own kitchen table or home office, checking in on occasion, but working largely in isolation. This has not been its most greatly appealing feature. And one of the reasons for this is trust. Managers will ask, how can I trust that my employees are actually working and not watching TV? But this attitude is perfectly human, but perfectly wrong.

It’s a human thing to do because people still bank a great deal on face-time. It is assumed that if people are at work, they are actually working. Although most of us know that is not entirely true. Entire TV series, like The Office, reflect the realities of office life. A great deal of time is spent not working, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes du to the need to socialize, and sometimes due to the hard fact that the human brain and body cannot work at full production for hours on end. We zone in and out based on energy levels, sleep, hunger and the natural rhythms of the human body.

Eve the most diligent and dedicated professional, pounding out material hour after hour on the keyboard will end up with substandard work sooner or later if they don’t take a break.

Smoke breaks, coffee runs, even meetings and training days are great opportunities for people to take a vacation from work while at work, and the addictive call of social media is always just a flick away, whether hidden temporarily on a browser tab, or on an employee’s phone. No one can truly prove they have put in 8 full hours of work in an 8 hour day. It just isn’t possible.

But still, the idea of someone working from home in their jammies, just doesn’t seem like real work. So  here are five reasons why managers should relax and let at least some of their people work from home as part of ongoing management and future proofing your company.

  1. Not trusting your employees is not healthy. Leaders and managers take all types of courses and consume all kinds of books dealing with leadership and team management. To then turn around and dismiss the work from home model as being untrustworthy because people might not actually be working reveals a mistrust that will permeate an entire team. If our manager doesn’t trust people to work from home responsibly, what else might this manager have problems with? Leadership and trust go hand in hand. People need to trust their leaders and leaders need to trust their people. When this doesn’t happen, and things revert to command-and-control, the good people leave. The old expression has never been more true. People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their managers. In this age of increased career mobility, where having three or more employers on your résumé per decade is no longer a bad thing – but actually a good one – it is no longer a issue or daring an employee to quit. It’s about daring them to stay.
  1. Trusting your employees is very heathy. Whether it’s a work from home thing or something else, like delegating work, or giving people free reign to run their projects their way, a clear demonstration of trust is a powerful way to build loyalty and productivity. Most people take pride in their work. They look to their managers for opportunities to grow and develop. They want to show what they can do. Most people, when given the chance to fly free, will return to the corporate perch because that’s where the freedom comes from. Demonstrating trust in an employee is like the adrenaline for a project. Establishing a culture of trust again reverberates through the entire organization. It’s not just for the work from home people.
  2. So what if a work-from-home employee does watch some TV? Or goes and takes the dog for a midday walk? Or stops by the store to go pick something up? That’s part of life, and it’s the same type of break that employees do at their workplace already. Knowledge workers are paid for the application of their knowledge to tasks and projects. They research, they write, they plan, and they do. And unless the project at hand is a crisis event that must be resolved in an hour, a responsibly measured break within the workday actually supports high productivity by focusing it into the hours when a person’s mind and body are best attuned to it. When it comes to knowledge worker, metrics of work is not the hours spent sitting at a desk, the way sweatshop workers are assessed to this day. The metrics must revolve around quality, accuracy, promptness and relevance and these are better handled on a responsibly managed flexible schedule.
  3. Access. So, what about the meetings? The spontaneous interactions in the hallway? The office chats and feedback? These things are fundamental to team management and office life. But now they are just as available, even remotely, through applications like Slack, Zoom, Skype Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex. Video conferencing is no longer just for formally scheduled boardroom meetings. They are available whenever and however – the perfect visual version of the intercom.
  4. Finally, the people who are able to work from home effectively are definitely the ones you want to keep on your team. They are motivated. They know how to get things done. They know how to manage their time and their technology. And in many cases, thanks to the fact there is no commute, they are able to deliver more than a day’s worth of work per day even with a lunchtime walk with the dog included. When this is rewarded with trust, you stand to retain the best of your disciplined and motivated employees simply by letting them work where and how it fits their life better.

Of course, not all employees are suite for work from home. Many like to interact with their colleagues and may find work from home to be too isolated and quiet. OK, so those people are best staying at the office. During crisis times such as the current pandemic, they will need some training on how to do it effectively.

Many managers fear that one bad apple who will sleep through the day and abuse the trust and privilege that work from home offers. Yes, those people exist, but the reality is they exist in the office as well. But they know how to hide it. It becomes a strategic management choice as to whether to forfeit the entire remote work operation and its benefits on account of such individuals.

Finally, there is the comfort level among managers and team leaders. Many people grew up professionally during a time when remote work did not exist as a viable option. So it does not seem right, or feasible that people can get work done from home. It is difficult to shake off those preconceptions. Yet when one looks at what knowledge workers actually do, their time is often spent between keyboard work, meetings and email, all of which can now be done – including the communications part from anywhere. Private, focused time is easier to get when you are in the privacy of your own home, yet direct, fluid conversation is also available in video and chat form whenever its needed.

It’s not about replicating the office experience – it’s about redefining what work is. What productivity is. Frankly professional work is about quality and output, not time served. Even if you bill hourly, your capacity for maximizing productivity and profitability comes from a balanced approach to work and life. Even those professionals who are able to bill out at hundreds of dollars an hour know that if the quality isn’t there, sooner or later the customer is going to question that bill.

Here are a couple more things to think about. According to a recent survey conducted by CareerBuilder nearly 80 percent of American workers say they’re living paycheck to paycheck. Many people in the workforce have little backing them up. Not all of these workers are knowledge workers, of course. Many belong to the service industry or manufacturing, or places where interaction with customers in a central place is essential. But for those we call knowledge workers, who can do their work equally well from anywhere, the opportunity to work from home even some of the time provides an economic benefit in the best of times, and may be a life saver on days where absence would be the only alternative. Snow days or teachers strikes for parents, or days when you are sick, even with normal colds or flu.

But in addition, it must be noted that people of all ages are becoming aware that work, as essential as it might be to life, is a different beast than it was 20 or more years ago. Professionals are growing used to life online – many have grown up with it, others have grown used to it. But the ability for work to be done anywhere at any time is far more attainable than at any other time in history, and it’s an attractive part of the entire employment decision.

As such, the decision to not only encourage working from home, but to develop it as a skill can be seen as a highly proactive and timely investment in the future of any organization. An idea whose time has truly come.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Five Benefits of the Work From Home Model. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. or search for it on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, etc. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Know

How do you know what you don’t know? What does that even mean, and why is it important to your business?

For centuries, people have been trying to get other people to hire them or buy their services. That’s what commerce is. In any form of commerce, knowledge is power, and this is doubly or quadruply true today. Whether you work for a department of a large company, a small start-up, or maybe you work for yourself, what you know about your industry, your competitors and your customers is vital. But so, too is the information you don’t currently know, information that you don’t know you need to know, or maybe you don’t want to know.

Let me give you an example to make this clear.

A few years back I was giving a speech at a convention of physicians. We all need doctors of course, but it is a common understanding that part of a physician’s so-called bedside manner, that air of confidence that allows them to communicate with their patients, is based on the fact that they are supposed to know all they need to in order to make an accurate assessment and a successful prescription for recovery. No one wants to see a nervous physician.

At this particular event,  I was about to give a speech on the impact of social media on the physician-patient relationship, when one of my two hosts for the event stopped me and asked if I was planning to mention a certain website, and if so, to please refrain from doing so. The site was a FaceBook page dedicated to healthcare system horror stories in the geographic area I was speaking in.  The page – which no longer exists – clearly stated that it was not in any way a hate page against hard-working physicians, nurses or other healthcare workers, but simply a place to commiserate and share stories about wait times, hallway medicine and other discomforts of the healthcare industry.

The host who asked me to refrain from mentioning this page was keenly interested in not tainting the event with negative stories about the healthcare industry. But the other host disagreed and said we should discuss this story. How else can our audience, comprised of physicians know what they don’t know?

Knowing what you don’t know seems like such an esoteric term. But in this age of data it is both more more important than ever before and also easier. Research no longer requires physical actions like visiting a library or holding focus groups. The data – all of it – is out there, and technologies like AI and machine learning – even simple Google News Alerts help bring it right to your doorstep.

Another healthcare related story helps drive this home. I was once consulting to an association that focuses on the management of hospitals and other health care institutions. They wanted to rebuild their social media presence and asked for me to help with the RFP process for website design. During the course of the needs analysis and market research, we decided to try to find out what the general public wanted to know about their hospital system. In other words, what did the association not know about their customer base? It turned out the most common question people had about the hospitals in their region was not about specialities or even wait times. It was “how much parking cost.” That’s what people really wanted to know, and that really came out of left field for the association. They had no idea.

So how do you find out what you don’t know? And how do you find out what you don’t know you don’t know? A good example might be going to a meeting at a client or customer location. If you don’t know how to get there, you know you don’t know that, so you consult a map or you program their address into your driving GPS app. But what if this customer was also comfortable meeting by video, saving you the trip both there and back? If this is not made clear, then you don’t know the option exists, and you don’t know to ask.

You don’t know to ask. Now that’s a Vital Soft Skill

When people talk about the future of work, one of the predominant must haves is soft skills. As artificial intelligence and other technologies eat into the hard skill sets that have supported any of us over the past few decades, it’s soft skills that will turn out to be vital for a career. For example, a cybersecurity specialist in IT must learn the skills of negotiation and influence in order to be heard at the C-suite table. Employees need to understand critical thinking and prioritization to manage workloads and distinguish real messages from phishing scams. Managers must develop emotional intelligence and active listening skills to better understand a highly mobile workforce that is already attuned to the audience-of-one mindset.

Add to this list, the ability to know what you don’t know. It’s a soft skill. It’s information literacy. It’s almost a sixth sense. But it’s very easy to do. You just have to know what questions to ask.

To understand what I mean by this, think about how people try to find out stuff they don’t know. If you run a business or a store or a department, you might conduct a survey or an interview. But in many cases this type of investigation is framed by the questions you ask. And even if you keep things as open as possible, for example offering people a text box to type in their thoughts or an open, flow of conscsiousness statement, they still know that the source of the question is you, and that is going to frame and skew the outcome.

A new and better source of unknown knowledge, then, is unstructured data that comes from an external source and that is not affiliated with you. The health system horror stories example I shared earlier/above is a case in point. Ostensibly created by someone as a community discussion not aimed at any one healthcare facility in particular and certainly not initiated by one.

Twitter is a great source for this, in my opinion. Once you get past the vitriol, hatred and junk out there, there are still many worthwhile people actively talking about things going on in your industry. This is unstructured data. It’s free-flow commentary that is not guided or influenced by leading questions.

So how do you find it? Keyword searches and Google news alerts seem like the most obvious route, and indeed an ongoing practice of farming the internet for keywords is vital. But this, too, is prone to the subjectivity of the words you choose, which is why a policy of diligent social media surfing is also valuable.

If you follow a specific subject matter expert on Twitter, it’s likely this individual will provide valuable information. But look around. Read the comments made by others. Pay attention to the recommendations of others to follow. Watch the hashtags being used. These all expand your awareness  to other organizations or industries that may seem totally unrelated, but from whom valuable insight can be gained.

Here’s a third healthcare related story that illustrates this. I was once teaching a group of paramedic supervisors about team dynamics. The conversation moved to the topic of the speed of response and safe driving techniques for emergency vehicles. The flow of the conversation led me to remember a tweet I had seen about a pilot project that delivered defibrillators by drone, complete with two-way audio and  video to help someone save another person’s life even before the paramedics arrive. This discovery was something I had stumbled across while doing separate research and then mentally filed away. It was by chance, yes, but I still had the presence of mind to note that this item of news would be important to my ongoing knowledge and value as an expert.

The point is, information is available all around us, but  knowing where and how to find it requires stepping away from the traditional index or table of contents and moving towards intelligent gathering of information.

Here’s a non-healthcare related analogy: some people call it reticular activation, and others simply call it the purple Jeep syndrome.

Imagine you decide to buy a new car and the model you decide upon is a Jeep. But not just any Jeep a purple one. As you entertain that decision, you will start to notice that quite a few people are driving purple Jeeps out there. Where did they come from? Did central casting just send a bunch of people into your personal movie to throw you off your game? No. The answer is those people and those Jeeps have always been there, but now your mind has been turned on to them, you will suddenly start to notice them. That’s reticular activation.

The same goes for information gathering in the great data ocean. You can’t always know what you’re looking for exactly, but a tuned in mind is better able to identify patterns, keywords, relevant ideas and potential jewels than can a stressed and distracted one. This, again is information literacy.

The Johari Window

If you’re looking for a physical tool to help you figure out what you don’t know about your business, your customers or yourself, try using a Johari Window. This is simply a construct of four squares, laid out two by two, with each one focusing on information known or not known to yourself and known or not known to others. The top left square is easiest to fill out: things you know about yourself, and things others know about you. Then close by, you will have squares for things you know about yourself but that others do not know about you, and also things others know about you but you do not know about yourself. Then, in the lower right corner, the ultimate black hole: things you don’t know about yourself AND things that people do not know about you.

If this is confusing, check out this Johari Window that zoologist Barbara G. Evers has created using a story line we are all familiar with.

Image courtesy Barbara G Evers – from her Eclectic Muse blog series. (Click to visit)

The point is knowledge comes from reticular activation pared with passive social media discovery. It stems from a desire to know what we don’t know, and an awareness that such knowledge is out there to be found in unstructured data – paragraphs of text and tweeted commentary

A customer returns desk, the traditional dark corner of a retail store is no longer a place of shame – it becomes a goldmine for the store to learn what they don’t know about the customers who still shop with them. Similarly, scanning a person’s LinkedIn profile before meeting them in person or online, may reveal previously unknown connection points – a person, a university or a job, that gives you something in common – something to connect with.

So, in an age of information, it remains more vital than ever to know that there is more to know, but that finding it truly is more of an art than a science.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Importance of Knowing What You Don’t Know. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

The Calendar Crisis

What is a crisis to you? Usually when people think of the term crisis, they think of a bad event – a point where something is going to break. People can have an emotional crisis or a financial one. A city or company can have a leadership crisis. A country can have a civil crisis like a revolution or an environmental or industrial one.

In all cases, they represent points of urgency in which the boundaries that help keep normalcy normal are becoming stretched to the breaking point.

In day-to-day life, we can also face workload scheduling crises. These may not sound as significant or tragic, and of course they usually are not. But they still represent a breaking point and an urgent need of repair.

In its simplest form, a scheduling crisis takes its meaning from the world of project management. We are looking at a new, unexpected task that comes out of nowhere, must be taken care of right now, and as such imposes itself upon your already crowded calendar, forcing you to put other tasks aside until you take care of it.

This type of crisis might appear as one of the following:

  • a meeting that suddenly gets called
  • a new request from your boss or a customer
  • someone calls in sick and cannot do their part of a project that needs to be done today

None of these things sound terribly bad. This is not an issue of workplace violence or a cyberattack, but they are related. Because when an unexpected thing hits your calendar, a few things happen.

  • First, yes, you have to react. And reaction triggers a mild fight-or-flight response that tends to move people towards doing things without clearly thinking them through, just to get them out of the way
  • Second the new, urgent task forces other work to be pushed to the side, yet that work still has to get done, which causes a ripple effect across the rest of your calendar and generally spills out into personal time
  • Third, it sets a precedent of normality – an ergonomic inflation that forces you to accept that this is how things are. Just more and mor stuff to deal with, without pushback or delineations in place. This only leads to an inadvertent complacency and a willing to continue to do the same – to accept workload crises without question, and just deal with them.

That’s not ideal. It’s the reason why we accept so many emails and so many tasks. We accept the unexpected because, as humans we are hard-wired to react, and proactive planning does not come naturally to us.

But every time one of these unplanned events comes at you, it upsets everything, not just your work, but your diet, and even your sleep cycle. It’s a disruption that comes at great cost.

Let’s Take Stock

One of the things project managers do a lot of is quantify. Count. They count everything. Every task that goes into a project. How much time and how many resources they will need and for how long. It’s part of project planning. So, let’s quantify the calendar-related crises that have happened to you.

How often does a crisis happen to you? How often does an unplanned activity force its way in to your nice, organized day? Once per day? Once every couple of days? Once per week? And how, long, on average, does it take for you to handle this crisis? Remember a crisis could be anything from a network crash to an email requiring you to drop everything and do something.

Now, Let’s Plan For Them

If, for example, you recognize that every day, an unplanned event – a calendar crisis happens – something that forces you to shove everything else aside to handle it – then you what you actually have there is an expectable activity. If you can expect an unplanned activity to happen every day, then yes, you can expect it. And that gives you proactive, conscious power. Instead of dreading it, hoping against hope that it won’t happen, you can plan for it. You can even enter it on your calendar as a recurring activity: 12:00-1:00 every day: crisis of the day.

Now let’s be clear, of course no-one expects the crisis to happen exactly at 12:00 each day, but the point is, you set the time aside for it now, you budget time for it, and when the crisis actually happens, you can drag that block up or down the calendar face to where it’s needed. By creating this appointment as a real appointment, even before it happens, this helps defend your calendar from becoming overloaded, and hitting that critical path where work spills over into your evenings and weekends.

Think about how restaurants work. They can expect a lunchtime rush, so a smart restaurant manager is going to make sure there are enough staff on hand to handle the peak volume. Similarly, the kitchen staff will have enough food ingredients to satisfy the customers’ requests, and they will have pre-cooked a great deal of the foods – pastas and potatoes etc. anticipation. This is called being prepared. Even when no-one can guarantee how many people will enter the restaurant that day.

When you think of it, it’s also how private parking spaces work. Imagine who much more effective it is when you know you have your own parking space, at work, or maybe in your condo building, or better yet, at the mall. The space is put aside and everyone else must steer around it.

By planning for your crisis of the day, you reserve time in your calendar for it. You create a parking space for it. A tangible block of time. A block of time that says – to you and everyone else, “one hour of today is reserved for the unplanned event that know is coming.” This gives you enormous leverage to defer or negotiate the other activities of the day – meetings, travel, research and so on. If you do not reserve the time for this unplanned event, that time will automatically fill with other stuff, and there will be no space for the unplanned event to fall into. By blocking that time on your calendar now, you are reserving an hour of your day, which can be applied to whenever it is needed, with other tasks moving around it like a game of Tetris, even to be negotiated and deferred to tomorrow. Or later. Or never.

Having this pre-planned space means, when the crisis occurs, you will also have the mental acuity to handle it efficiently. Thinks always unfold better when you come at them with a cool, unflustered, fully fueled mind. There is an expression that says, a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. Well, a calendar crisis is simple an appointment you haven’t met yet. An appointment that does not yet have a name, but for which time and space has been reserved for it to pull into, as part of the expected – NOT unexpected – part of each day.

The Postmortem

The other thing about unexpected events, though, is why they are there at all. If you have to put aside something in order to handle an unexpected other thing, why does this unexpected other thing exist? What brought us to the point of having to address something unexpected.

Despite what I have described above about putting aside time for the crisis of the day, there will still be times when yes, despite the best of intentions, something comes along when you have to just drop everything and take care of it. It happens. But as the Dos Equis most interesting man in the world might say, “I don’t always say yes to unplanned requests, but when I do, I always ask for a postmortem.”

A postmortem. An after-action review. In project management, this is known as the closure phase. In short, I will say, yes, I will help you with this emergency, but once it’s over, we must discuss it. Why did it happen? How did we let it happen? What can we do to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

We can learn from our mistakes. If we forgot to proof-read a document before it went to the printer to be bound in a book, why was that? What can we do to make sure we don’t forget the proof-reading task next time? If my boss drops a report on my desk that he or she forgot to give me last week and now it’s last minute, what can I do in the future to head these types of snafu’s off at the pass. Maybe a Monday morning huddle with the boss to discuss what’s going on this week? This, by the way – this act of proactive management with the boss should never be perceived as a critique. It’s called managing up and is a crucial skill, one I will be giving time to in another episode.

Firefighters, athletes, performers – all kinds of people take the time to review their work after the fact. It’s the best way to ensure continuous improvement and to stop these types of mistakes from happening again.

Crises happen. It’s part of life. But unfortunately, we humans have been designed to be more willing to react than to pro-act. Effective management of crises is a pro-action. Schedule time for them if they are a regular part of your day and insist on follow-up and improvement if they are rare or infrequent.

As I mention many times, time management is made up of two words, the second if which is management. Management is not about coping with what IS, it’s about scripting what should be. And the more you can do that – the more you can proactively write the history of your future, the less you will get caught up in unexpected events – the calendar crises.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled The Calendar Crisis. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

Why is Cyberhygiene So Hard?

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Why is Cyberhygiene So Hard?

Just a couple of days ago, I received a text from my 75-year old mother. It read literally as follows: “I just received a message from Netflix saying an error had occurred during my last payment. Please verify you [sic] payment method by following this link. I followed the link, but it is asking for information regarding my credit card. Do you think this is a scam?”

She followed up with a second text where she highlighted the fact she noticed the grammatical error of “you” instead of “your.”

Of course, I texted her back immediately and told her this was a scam. “You didn’t click on anything did you?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “but I only entered my email address and password. Was that OK?”

And so, I spent the next hour on the phone showing her how to change her Netflix password, and admonishing her once again about the danger of clicking on these types of messages.

Why does this continue to happen? Why are people still being seduced by stories of millions of dollars belonging to a Nigerian prince that needs to be parked in your bank account? Why do people click on badly written notifications of frozen bank accounts, missed courier shipments or job applications? Why is the most common password in use still PASSWORD123?

It’s because criminals are getting progressively more sophisticated while honest people generally are not.

Bad guys relentlessly focus on devising new ways to steal. That’s their primary occupation in many cases. But ordinary people have other pressing matters to attend to. Emails. Meetings. Groceries. The Kids. Phishing is a distraction crime, and people have too many things occupying their minds. It’s still easy for the phishing emails to slip through no matter how badly they are spelled.

In the case of my aged mother, there is also the notion of trust. She comes from a generation in which there was some degree of trust based on a common and more localized culture. In the 1960s and 1970s, before voice mail and robocalls, it was likely that anyone who called your home phone had a direct relationship with you. To answer it was a common courtesy. A habit that is now exploited by scammers every day.

Some of them don’t even need you to answer the phone. Do you get mysterious hang-up calls from distant countries like Albania or Chad? These calls are intended to get you to call back, curious as to who the caller might be, and as soon as you do so, an elaborate long-distance chargeback scam kicks in.

Online, the key issue is data. Hackers will do anything to get in, because once they do they have access  data of all types.

Lot of end users dismiss the threat or go blissfully unaware that a threat even exists. Let’s look at both of those for a moment.

First, dismissing the threat. “My company is too small to get hacked,” you might say. Or “I’m just a junior employee, I don’t have anything of value.” There appears to be no motivation to get strict on password management or cyberhygiene when the stakes seem so low.

But they are not low. They are incredibly high.

Every company and person is connected to every other company and person through the internet. As a criminal, I could easily pair up a common password, like Password123 with low tech approaches such researching your mother’s maiden name on Facebook to correctly answer a challenge question. Or if I was more sophisticated, I could use more brute force attacks like credential stuffing to overwhelm a company’s IT defenses. Software based attacks often take place once something has been allowed into the system, through a phishing email or an infected USB drive.

Every additional piece of data that an organization can collect from you – a home address here, a challenge question answer there, a medical record all pull together to form a stronger and stronger collection of pieces of data about you, and also about people connected to you, which is basically anyone and everyone.

Humans should never dismiss a small indiscretion as being insignificant. For example, re-using a password that you used on a different account a couple of years ago might mean nothing to your busy, distracted mind, but data is data. Someone out there is busy hammering away at your accounts with every piece of data about you they have been able to obtain, and just like inheriting a collection of unlabeled door keys, if you try every one of them, the odds are, one will connect.

Complacency. Ignorance. Optimism. These are dangerous things to have when all of your security is at stake.

Even though you personally are obviously not a hospital or a nuclear power plant, a simple infected document inadvertently sent to an HVAC contractor – a contract for some work at your house, for example, can easily infect the contactor’s own systems. If this contractor’s next job is working on the HVAC system at a nuclear power plant, the infection propagates. Yes, these large places have extensive IT and cybersecurity resources, but it’s always a cat and mouse game, as frequent data breach stories in the news will attest.

When was the last time you change the password on your home Wi-Fi router? Do you know how much your home assistant software, your phone, or your new big screen TV are listening to you? Do you know how easy it is for hackers to gain access to your new smart doorbell or nannycam – not only to steal data but to listen in and in some cases communicate with family members?

Password Manager

What brand of password manager are you using? Most people will look blankly at you when you ask them that question. To me that’s like someone saying, “What’s Ebola?” basically, as the expression goes, if you’re not part of this solution, you are part of the problem. And yes, Ebola can happen anywhere.

So, a lot of gloom and doom here? No not really. So much of this is eminently preventable. Criminals might be everywhere, but they are also very lazy. They want the easiest way to break into something, and basically, you are it.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to ensure the sanctity of your passwords by using two strong tools: a password manager and Two Factor Authentication.

A password manager is a software app like LastPass or Sticky Password, that generates passwords for you. These are long strings of characters, numbers and symbols that you could not possibly memorize and that bad actors could not possibly guess. Every time you log on to a website that requires a log on, the app will help you generate a password or replace the existing one. It will never create duplicates. Where do these passwords get stored? Not on your computer, and not on the servers at the app itself. Not even in transit on the wires of the internet. The password only reappears when you, as a logged-in user of the password go and visit a page where a password is needed. The password manager sends an encrypted message to an encrypted file on your computer, and only then will the actual password reconstitute itself from its encrypted state. It’s a little like alchemy and is more involved than the way I describe here, except to confirm that your passwords do not actually get stored anywhere. They get scrambled, like scrambled eggs and will only re-appear when your circumstances allow it.

The point here, as with much of what I write and speak about, is that the technology and techniques for effective cybersecurity exist. But it’s people that get in the way. Yes, it’s a hassle having to change your password every two weeks, but there’s a reason why that has to happen, and and app like LastPass makes it easy and effortless, and much more secure

The same applies to Two Factor Authentication or even Multi Factor Authentication. This technique is becoming just as vital as password management software since it broadens your defenses by an order of magnitude. IN short, Two Factor Authentication, called 2FA for short requires a second password sent to a second physical device that only you have. In most cases, that is your phone.

Whenever you are given the opportunity to use 2FA, take it. Yes, the few seconds of delay required waiting for the passcode to appear on your phone is worth it. It’s like putting a deadbolt on your door.

Why is Cyberhygiene so hard?

Cyberhygiene is a hard because it demands two things of you: time and comprehension. In a age of instant satisfaction, a delay of mere seconds can be enough to make an online consumer abandon a shopping cart or happily ignore the warnings and log on to public WiFi unprotected. Or click on “accept” to every Cookies warning that every website now presents. I mean have you ever read the terms of those things? Of course not.

Secondly, learning how to create secure passwords has a perceptual barrier. It appears difficult so it is passed by.

I it is easy to assume that as an individual you are too small, too insignificant to be of interest to a cybercriminal. But you would be wrong on two counts. Firstly, your personal data, including name, address, social security number and everything else, can be used by thieves open credit card accounts, buy houses, or create fake identities to be used in an infinite number of ways, and second, you, I, and everyone else is connected to everyone else in a global game of six degrees of separation, meaning we all become conduits to security breaches and crime at even the largest and highest levels.

If you want to boil it down to three simple rules, I would propose these three.

  1. Use a password manager for everything that you connect to, including home devices.
  2. Never answer the phone unless you know who it is. Phone scammers need you to answer.
  3. Never click on any link that comes to you through email, even if it looks legit. If it’s something that might be a real transaction, go to the source directly – log in to your account through the website and password you have on hand, but never through the email itself.

Cyberhygiene is both a learned physical skill and a mindset, and both are vital to your existence both on and offline. Just like stopping off to get gas for your car, it’s something you have to do in order to keep going.

If you have a comment about the show, or a question you would like answered in a future episode, please, let me know. You can drop me a line through the contact form at steveprentice.com, and you can follow me on Twitter @stevenprentice (spell out) and on LinkedIn – just search for CoolTimeLife – no spaces, just as just one word. If you like what you hear, please subscribe and leave a review.

The theme music for the CoolTimeLife was obtained through PodCastThemes.com.

Until next time, I’m Steve Prentice. Thanks for listening.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Why is Cyberhygiene So Hard? If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool.

When people think about managing time and becoming more efficient, they almost always look at their calendar and ToDo lists to try to figure out how to work faster and how to prioritize. These are good thoughts, certainly, but they miss out on half of their workload problem. It’s not just the work you have to think about – it’s people.

At the end of every request, problem or opportunity, there’s a person waiting for something. Whether it’s a project you have to complete, or a text message you just received, somebody is waiting for something, and this can cause you stress. No one likes to feel rushed or pressured.

Time management is really about people management. It’s about managing expectations, keeping people satisfied by addressing their fear of the unknown, building a personal credit rating, and learning how to exert influence. Let’s look at all four of these.

1. Managing Expectations

A recurring theme in the Cool-Time approach to time management is proactivity. Proactivity means taking charge of an activity or an event before it happens, and consequently affecting the outcome in your favor. Now think about every time someone sends you an email. What are they doing? They have sent something to you and are waiting for a response, for satisfaction. Until they get that response from you, they won’t know what’s going on, and they won’t know when you will reply. This is why many of these people might send a follow-up email that asks, “did you get my last email?”

But what if they have been taught – by you – that you only reply to emails after 1:00 in the afternoon? If they know this about you, then they now have a frame of reference. Even if they send you an email at 9 in the morning, they will know not to expect a reply until after 1:00. They will be – to some degree at least – at peace.

By proactively managing peoples’ expectations, you will be able to carve out more time for yourself and lose some of that stress along the way. Managing expectations means being proactive – making sure people know what to expect from you. How can you do this?

  • By telling them. When you talk or communicate with someone, make sure to remind them about your policies.
  • By using your out of office assistant in email and embedding it in your voicemail greeting.

Anywhere and anytime you have the opportunity, take a moment to proactively inform the people in your life when where and how they can expect a reply from you.

Don’t expect that they will get it the first time. People need repeated notifications for the message to get through – that’s why you see the same ads so often on TV.

If people wonder why you suddenly are replying to emails almost by appointment, you can always blame the changing times. Things are getting faster, times are not what they used to be, and you and your company or department are trying new best practices to do more with time.

The bottom line here is this: you can manage your own time and tasks better by first managing the expectations of the people who are waiting for you.

2. Addressing the Fear of the Unknown

People have an innate fear of the unknown. Imagine you are back in high-school, in first-period gym class, out there on the soccer field on a frosty morning. The gym teacher comes over. You hear one of the two following commands:

“Go out there and give me 12 laps around the field,” or, “Go out there and start running until I blow this whistle.”

Which would you rather hear?

Most people say they would prefer the 12 laps, because it is finite. They know when it will be over and can pull together the resources to get through the effort in front of them.

This shouldn’t be taken lightly. It addresses a fundamental instinctive need that all humans have, to know whether a situation will be a danger. Gym class might not sound so dangerous, but in this scenario, it’s all about knowing how much energy you can spare. Knowing it’s just 12 laps gives you a finite measure – a challenge you can get through.

When you proactively take the time to manage peoples’ expectations, tell them when they can expect a return call, when they can feel “safe” again, you are doing much more than being organized on your end. You are influencing people by speaking directly to their instincts.

3. Bad News Is Better than No News

This is a subset of the Fear of the Unknown principle. Imagine you are running late for a meeting and your phone battery has died. You’re walking – almost jogging – along the sidewalk as fast as you can. You spot a payphone (a rarity these days, I know). Should you stop and call the person you’re meeting, and therefore make yourself even later? Or simply keep your head down and keep on walking?

The answer is to make that call. Even though you’re running late, bad news is always better than no news. That’s because people can start to make other plans or at the very least stand down from their state of anxiety once they know what’s going on.

4. Cialdini’s Six Faces of Influence

Robert Cialdini is one of the foremost experts in influence and he wrote a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He describes the six faces of influence that each get people to do what you want them to do, by approaching their psyche in different ways. Those six faces are:

People can either fear you, or they can like you. In almost all cases, liking lasts longer. Robert Cialdini, in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, identifies six ways that you can exert influence over someone. These are:

  • Reciprocity: you give something to me, I feel obliged to give back. This is typical if someone has done you a favor, or if you receive a free sample of something, you feel obliged to buy it.
  • Commitment and consistency: developing and sticking to habits or people that we know and have become comfortable with. People are attracted to consistency because it gives them a sense of comfort. The way you dress, the way you speak, the way you conduct yourself – if you were to change these things radically from day to day, people would not know how to relate to you.
  • Social proof: we decide upon the correct action or opinions based on what others are doing. If I ask you to recommend a good restaurant or a good accountant, if I act on your recommendation, you have influenced my actions through social proof – in other words, another person’s opinions are sufficient to sway my choice.
  • Authority: we believe in and react to the authority of another. I’m the boss. Do this work or you’re fired. You can’t get much more influential than absolute power. But this does not always lead to the type of progress you might be looking for. People don’t tend to put their heart and soul into working for tyrants, which can lead to errors, absenteeism or people simple leaving.
  • Scarcity: we act now out of the fear that the opportunity might not exist in the future. This is used a lot in advertising. “Buy now! Supplies are limited! Weekend blow-out sale! These types of messages try to influence you into buying by making you believe you will b missing out if you don’t at now.
  • Liking: we like to work with people we like. This is by far the most effective. People like to work with those who have shown them respect and who make them feel good.

The bottom line here is that influence is about getting people to do the things you want them to do. It’s more than that, actually. It’s about getting people to want to do the things you want them to do.

Think of the times you have been waiting for someone else to get their work done or show up to a meeting, or on the flip side of this, getting them to leave you alone whether you’re at work, or on personal time. This is all more likely to happen if you can use the tools of influence, most specifically Liking and Reciprocity, to allow them to want to do this.

How to Deploy an Influence Strategy

It has been said by many experts in this field that the secret of success is to spend most of your time in your business, but a certain amount of it working on your business. This is a direct application of the 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of your time doing effective, profitable work, but spend some of the remaining 20% doing things like networking – managing relationships, marketing yourself, listening to others. All of this might sound pie-in-the-sky that add to your existing workloads, but in actual fact, its about building a personal credit rating that helps cut back on work requests, especially those unplanned crises, or simply the pressure of having people bothering you for answers or delaying you because they have forgotten about your deadlines.

People who like you are the people who will find opportunities for you and who will support and guide you.

Influence is about getting people to do what you want them to do. Sure you can command them if you have sufficient authority, but the better approach is to leverage peoples’ natural human desire to collaborate. People are tribal by nature. They want to be part of something, like a group or a team, and most people like to be led by a leader they can believe in.

Influence seems more like an art than a science. It is based on human relationships and interaction. To become more influential:

  • Understand the power of body language. People will tell you more through their body language than they will with their words. You can tell when someone is really engaged, nervous, even lying, by reading their hands, eyes, voice and posture during conversations. But you, too, can use body language as a tool of influence by consciously being aware of what your hands, eyes, voice and posture are telegraphing about you, AND avoiding sending mixed messages through unconscious body language.
  • Practice and demonstrate active listening. Active listening means using your knowledge of body language to demonstrate engagement and interest when you are talking to someone. This is not just about hearing their words; it’s about giving them respect and dignity during the discussion. This in turn translates into greater loyalty and drive from the people you are talking to. Once again, people like to work with – and for – people they like. And his comes largely from a sense of being respected.
  • Network internally. Networking is about getting to know people by taking the time to meet them. At first glance this might seem like a waste of time, especially with all those emails and other tasks you have on your plate. But by budgeting a small amount of time per day to network, to manage by walking around, to talk and to actively listen, you will develop a personal credit rating that pays off. How?

People will read and reply to your emails and work requests more promptly, prioritizing you above other people. They will be more motivated to get their assigned work done more quickly and efficiently. They will be more motivated to show up to your meetings on time.

In short, they will be more willing to do they things you want them to do, through the power of influence.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Influence as a Productivity and Time Management Power Tool. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill.

Whenever I give a presentation or a speech, I always start out by giving the Twitter hashtag for the event. This is not merely an act of housekeeping – it’s also a teaching moment that starts with crickets.

Yes – the sound of silence – a room full of blank faces when I ask the assembled audience how many of them use Twitter as a daily tool of professional development. Out of a room of a few hundred, I might get a dozen hands that go up. So, I ask why, and the answer is usually, “I have nothing to say,” or “There’s already someone on our department who does the tweeting for us, or even Twitter is passé. It’s Instagram now.”

Those are good answers – in fact there should only be one person in charge of tweeting on behalf of a company or department. And social media outlets like Instagram have their place. But that overlooks two of the three main benefits of using Twitter. People assume it’s just for outbound activity, sending notes and opinions out to the world. But that’s only useful if you have an established audience. That’s why celebrities and politicians use it.

But there’s a far more valuable use of Twitter that often goes overlooked, and that has to do with inbound information. When properly tuned, Twitter is an excellent tool for keeping up to speed on what’s going on in your business – the facts and development you need to know.

Yes, Twitter is awash with garbage and hate. That’s very sad and says a lot about people in general. But inbound Twitter is an ideal tool for lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is just what it sounds like. You keep learning every day of your life. That’s not a new concept, but for many of us, such an idea paints pictures of having to go back to school, take formalized courses and write formalized exams and paper to get formalized degrees. These are all still good, of course, but in between those events, other things are still happening: Industry news. Innovations. Events. Opportunities.  Being aware of these developments in real time is what gives people an edge or even a lifeline.

How else can you know what you need to know? It doesn’t matter if you never send an outbound tweet ever. Maybe you don’t need to. But by following a handful of carefully chosen experts, and checking your twitter feed once per day, you will receive vital, career enhancing knowledge without having to wade through all the garbage.

The Knowledge Base

The other reason I promote the Twitter hashtag at my session is that it allows me to talk about its service as a shared knowledge base – something that can and should also later be translated into an internal, intranet-based tool.  When I have a group of people in front of me, there is bound to be someone with something valuable to contribute – maybe a thought, an idea or a resource, like a link to a website or online article or video. But they are unwilling to speak up. Often times, the quietest ones are the ones with the most profound observations.

By tweeting a comment or a link, using the event’s hashtag, every participant, even those who were not there, are able to read ideas and suggestions from people they don’t yet follow, by simply searching for the common hashtag online. This use of Twitter hashtags is a public activity using a public, non-confidential forum – but it represents a powerful way of sharing information and building on synergies that more and more people find more appealing than out-loud dialog. It is the Wiki approach – a shared knowledge base, built out of the contributions of many.

Internal Wikis

As powerful as shared knowledge through hashtags is for public events, it also highlights the power of internal Wikis, that every company should embrace. I come from an age – not that long ago – where policies and procedures were stored in vinyl binders, updated every quarter or so by a new raft of 3-hole punched papers intended to replace the older ones. It’s all we had at the time, and their quality and relevance were dependent on the person or consultant who wrote them.

But when an organization takes on the Wiki knowledge base mindset, capitalizing on the interaction and ubiquitous access that Twitter and Wikipedia offer, the collective wisdom and experience of a wider swath of employees is tapped – and that’s a significant development. People may not always be willing to speak up. But they are often more willing to both contribute and learn, when given the chance.

Centralized knowledge bases give people a renewed opportunity to learn new skills, reaffirm procedures and best practices by enabling employees to look it up online – to read a short article or watch a quick video. Having a Wiki means updates to knowledge bases can happen quickly, helping ensure no-one is referring to an outdated copy of a policy or procedure that has been sitting in a binder for years.

This again, is digital literacy – centralizing knowledge – taking full advantage of the accessibility of online material and ensuring the right message gets through.

The Scuba Diver Factor

An additional benefit of digital literacy comes from social media in general, which is why many employers and HR departments will routinely scan the social media sites of employees and candidates, like Facebook and Instagram, not to snoop, but to better understand the passion that drives employees.

For example, imagine that you discovered through Instagram, that one of your employees was a passionate weekend scuba diver, and in addition, is certified to teach scuba diving? What relevance would that have to the job he/she currently has? Some might note that someone with these passions might be a natural leader with the brains to learn complex procedures and the abilities to teach and lead others. But that might not be obvious as a line item on a C.V. or even on a LinkedIn page.

The potential within every employee needs new avenues to reveal itself. People who make hiring decisions take a huge risk. The cost of attracting, onboarding and training an employee is huge. Knowing more about who they are and what makes them tick – or more precisely how they can best fit into a company culture, is of enormous value. And the information is right there.

In many cases, 90 percent of an employee’s potential goes unseen, untapped and unappreciated. This is serious, especially given the career mobility that professionals of all ages now recognize. People know that there’s something else, something more fulfilling out there. It’s up to HR and hiring managers to know fully and completely who they have at their disposal and where their passions truly lie.

Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking

Finally, there is the vital component of corporate survival: critical thinking. The experts who research and discuss the future of work regularly describe the skills that employers will be looking for, the skills that people will need more and more in the months and years to come. This is especially prescient as artificial intelligence and machine learning take over many parts of many types of jobs and professions.

These skills are very human in nature, not surprisingly. They include – but are not limited to – critical thinking and empathy. People in general are becoming increasingly emotionally disconnected the more their technologies connect them. Think for example, how many of us would prefer to send an email or a text than pick up the phone and talk live, out of the fear of what? Time being wasted? The fear of confrontation? Social awkwardness? Disinterest? Well, these aforementioned skills are coming into high demand very quickly. Here are just two examples:

First, critical thinking as it applies to phishing. Phishing and spearfishing emails are getting much more sophisticated. Cybercriminals have figured out ways to mimic the web pages and two-factor authentication techniques that we have started to rely on as a defense. The truth is that any and every communication that an employee at any level might have, whether with an outside agent like a supplier, customer or job applicant, or even with an internal colleague, must be suspect. That colleague’s email might not actually be from that colleague after all. This is why data breaches are so scary. Impersonation of people is easy once the bad guys have access to the types of personal data that accounts use for verification.

So that’s one reason why critical thinking is so important. The need to not trust anyone. The need to second guess each email when it arrives, and the need to not click out of reflex – these all confirm critical thinking as an essential skill, if only to help keep the company safe.

Then there’s empathy. As one of a collection of social interaction skills, these will come into greater focus as more and more people choose to use video conferencing and telepresence as their ideal method of communication. Video conferencing means body language, facial gestures and eye contact reestablish their prominence in the art of human interaction. Being self-aware is equally as important as being aware of the body language in others, when you can see them through high definition video. Some people shy away from this technology for those very reasons, but as videoconferencing technology becomes more ubiquitous, it will become the norm, in the same way that email replaced physical mail all those years ago.

Conclusion

Digital literacy is not just about known how to install and use an app. It’s about understanding how to parse information and non-information from an infinitely growing ocean of data. It’s about finding meaning and delivering meaning through an understanding of just how these technologies work and how they affect and influence people.  It’s fitting, in a way, to see humanity become the primary skill in a world dominated by technology.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Digital Literacy – A Critical Survival Skill. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Telepresence Robots and You

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Telepresence Robots and You.

A still from the Big Bang Theory episode: The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification.
Photo: Robert Voets/CBS
©2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If you are familiar with the comedy series called the Big Bang Theory, you might have seen an episode in which Sheldon, seeking ways to lengthen his lifespan by avoiding danger sends his robot to do his work for him at the university. The robot he sends looks a lot like either a Beam or a Double, two of the most popular brands of personal robot. (It’s actually a Textai robot, manufactured by Willow Garage, which was later acquired by Beam). For millions of viewers of the show it was likely the first time they had actually seen one in action.

Of course, the show is a comedy and the use of the robot included some comedic situations, but nonetheless, it was there. If you are not a viewer of The Big Bang Theory, or you missed that episode, no matter.

The point is that these personal telepresence robots are increasingly becoming a viable alternative to physically being in the office in your human form. But I want to look at this seriously as a credible business tool, because that’s what this podcast is all about.

So What is a Telepresence Robot?

If you have never seen a telepresence robot, go to doublerobotics.com or suitabletech.com and have a look at the photos and videos. In essence, a telepresence robot looks like a screen or an iPad mounted on top of a Segway – a pole with two wheels at the base that is self-propelled and self-balancing.

If you want to see one in action, there is a great YouTube video that shows them wandering the offices of LinkedIn. It’s just 3 and a half minutes long.

A telepresence robot is you, or at least the top half of you, on a screen, which allows you to wander the halls drop in on meetings, talk to people, listen to them, and basically interact as you would if you were actually there.

They are a thing now because supporting technology like WiFi make it possible for you to be able to drive one and use one from wherever you are in the world, and mobility and battery power make it possible for them to operates.

“So, do we need them?” People ask, as they do with any new technology that enters their lives, like cars, microwave ovens, personal computers and mobile phones? Why do we need personal robots when you can just teleconference or Skype instead? The answer is something that its users call the Transformational factor.

The Transformational Factor

Yes, instead of using a telepresence robot, you could call into a conference room. Or better yet, get in your car and drive to the office. Or if your office is hundreds or thousands of miles away, jump on a plane and make your way to the office that way.

OK I’m being a little facetious, but people always assess at every new technological development with their eyes firmly fixed on the past. As the LinkedIn video will show, those staff members who chose to start using a robot often used a key word: transformational. This means it changing the way people meet and communicate, even remotely.

Whereas teleconferences and video conferences are good at bringing people together fro wherever they happen to be in the world, this still means scheduling formalized meetings at set times. Such meetings have their usage, of course, at least, when run correctly, but the robot users pointed out that they were no able to capitalize on those ad-hoc meetings and one-on-one discussions simply by rolling their robot up to someone and saying “hi.”

Such reliable two-way communication was not possible up until now, so now is a different time – a transformational time.

The Presence Factor

The other key concept to be aware of here is presence. Presence refers to more than just seeing a face on a screen as you might with a Skype video conference. It’s about being aware of people in three dimensions. Early telepresence experiments involved attending a meeting using VR or AV, to look to your left or to your right and see people who weren’t actually in the room, but who were there in 3D space, virtually. When you add full stereo sound to this scenario, you start to get a sense of presence, known as telepresence.

VR and AR glasses in their current form are bulky and alien, but that does not mean they are out of contention. Sometimes a technology arrives in a shape that is almost embryonic, and does not reveal what the final form will be. It simply hints at what’s to come. If you wanted, you could call this the Segway Factor.

The Segway Factor

When the Segway was being designed and tested (anyone remember “project Ginger?) it was hyped or overhyped as the single greatest invention in human history, a new form of transportation that would change the world. Well It didn’t.  But what it did do, like so many world-changing inventions before it, is pave the way for innovation by providing a useful tool for the next set of inventive hands.

So the gyroscopic technology that allows a Segway to stand and move may not have revolutionized or replaced the act of walking fast, but it has allows this upcoming generation of robots to move more reliably. Misplaced or mistimed innovations often have to wait a little before revealing their benefit. Think, for example, about the 3M Post-it Note, made from a glue recipe that would not stick the way glue is supposed to. Think also about Gorilla glass – the durable glass coating that forms the face and the interface of most smartphones. Gorilla glass was a failed recipe for see through cookware for Corning. The recipe sat on a shelf for decades until the day smartphones replaced flip phones and changed the world.

The WalMart factor

The other thing about robots is that they are already here. There are thousands of YouTube videos that show robots in warehouses, factories, even in prototype restaurant kitchens. Robots are only robots until you get used to them. Then they become appliances, like your dishwasher, your Roomba or your smart home system. “OK Google, show me videos of robots in houses.”

Premium robots are expensive. Some might find the $3000 price tag of a Double to be expensive, even though it will pay for itself by removing one business trip from the budget.

But there was a time, too when an external hard drive for an IBM PC costs thousands of dollars. Now laptops are just a couple of hundred, thanks to worldwide acceptance and the economies of scale. I call this the WalMart factor. A couple of years from now, you or your kids will be picking out their telepresence robot from the robots department at WalMart.

Maybe the robots in the current form will be out of date in a few years, looking as quaint and clumsy as VR goggles currently do, or a 1985 loaf of bread-sized cellphone now does. But they won’t disappear. They will evolve. The question is, will you?

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Telepresence Robots and You. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Dynamic Email and Calendar Management

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Dynamic Email and Calendar Management. Dynamic Email and Calendar Management

Email is a necessary tool of day-to-day business. But its candid and immediate nature swallows up a lot of time. In this podcast I want to share with you a method for pairing your email and calendar together in a way that will make your day healthier and more productive and will not leave you having to sacrifice your evening to returning all those messages.

So, let’s start with your calendar. Most people see a calendar as something that tells them what to do. But it shouldn’t be that way. That’s backwards. Your calendar should be a menu of choices that you use to decide how to apply your time based on the priorities of the day. It is also a tool of defense against other peoples’ work requests. It’s a dynamic method of proactively managing your time.

Most of us have way too many things to do, yet we believe we can get them all done in a day. That’s a fallacy based on not being fully aware of the total inventory of your day. What do I mean by that? Well, most people only use the calendar for unique and specific events like meetings, dental appointments or a specific task. They never put in the day-to-day regular stuff like email. That never gets accounted for, because it’s a given. BUT even though it still exists, it doesn’t get put in the budget.

The budget? Yes. This is exactly the same as budgeting your take-home pay. Imagine it’s payday – you either get your direct deposit into your bank account from your employer, or you get handed a cheque or an electronic payment from your client. Whatever. Hooray! You’ve been paid. Now, is all that money yours to do what you want with? Maybe buy a guitar or pay for a vacation? No. Not immediately. You know you have payments to make. A mortgage or rent, maybe a car payment, utility bills, food. All these things. They are standard. You have to budget for these things. A whole lot of that money is already spoken for.

So let’s translate that same concept into your calendar. If you flip ahead in your day planner or online calendar to a workday that has no events planned on it, let’s say exactly one year from today, it’s probably an empty page. But you already know, if that’s a regular workday, part of that day is already spoken for, for the day-to-day activities that we take for granted, such as email. Email is something that comes into your inbox randomly and immediately demands your attention. Each one of those emails demands some of your time. So how many do you think you handle on any given day, and how long does it take you to deal with each one? I know that’s an unfair question, but that’s the point. Because it’s such a candid and varying thing, few of us stop to calculate just how much time email takes. That’s why so many of us resort to doing them in the evening because the day got full of other stuff.

So, let’s say you stop and quantify. Just like a professional project manager has to do when planning a road, a building, or a wedding – yes, wedding planners are project managers, too. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is counted, planned and added to the budget.

So, you give it some thought, and yes, ok, you basically deal with 30 emails a day. And by “deal” I mean receiving emails, reading them, replying to them and creating your own. OK? So, 30 a day. Now let’s say you average out the time each one takes based on your past experience. Don’t count the ones that ask you to do something that takes more than a few minutes, like “Please review the attached document, make changes and send back to me.” This particular type of email is actually a task and should be immediately promoted as such as an appointment on your calendar face. OK, so all of your quick emails average about 3 minutes each to handle. So, 30 emails at three minutes each is 90 minutes. 90 minutes! That represents almost 20% of an 8-hour day.

If you want to use your calendar as a proactive tool of time management rather than as a passive list of impossible obligations, my suggestion is to do the following. Schedule three recurring 30-minute blocks for email management and assign them to every day that you work. That’s easier to do on a calendar app, than a day planner, of course. Three per day, perhaps at 10:30, 1:30 and 4:00.

Here are the three reasons why doing mail in blocks like this is way more practical and efficient than just doing them candidly and reactively.

First, they serve as placeholders. Collectively they prove to you that 90 minutes of this day and every day into the future are already spoken for. This is tangible proof of your busyness and will be extremely helpful as a negotiation tool when people ask you for some of your time. You only have so much left to make available, and any time someone pressures you into saying “yes” to a meeting request, the invisible obligations tend to get forgotten. By making them visible in this way, it gives you and the requestor proof of your current obligations while allowing space to negotiate a suitable time.

The point is we are bombarded by work requests and distractions throughout the day. It’s so easy to forget the standing, recurring obligations that you have. But you know what it’s like when you forget to pay a bill, or you forget to put money aside for a scheduled payment. There’s hell to pay, and it’s the same thing here.

Your calendar is a proactive tool of prioritization and defense against attack. Three email returning periods still allow for flexibility. If your first email returning period is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. and someone, a client or your boss really needs you for a meeting at that time, well, OK, it’s not that difficult to slide that 10:30 email returning timeslot down by half an hour like a game of Tetris or Candy Crush. Things can move fluidly across your calendar face. The important thing is that they are there, on the face of the calendar. They are not invisible. Dynamic calendar management is part and parcel of effective time management. So, slide things around slightly. Just do not delete these email returning times. That’s as dangerous as deciding not to pay the phone bill this month.

Flexible, slide-able appointments also make life easier for people who may be trying to schedule meetings with you online. But I will always maintain the conviction that, a.) you should never delete these email returning appointments, and b.) you should always make sure you leave some empty spaces on your calendar for your people to choose from instead.

A big pushback I get when describing this concept is the idea of planning to return emails at these set times rather than dealing with them right away. So, I ask, “Why do you want to respond to them right away?” “Because someone’s waiting for a reply,” they say. “And why is it important that you get back to them right away?” I ask. “Because they’re waiting for a reply. They might be offended.”

So, I ask “what’s really going on here?” Do you know they’re going to be offended? And what can you do to prevent that? The answer is easy. Manage their expectations. Let your people know when and how they can expect a response from you. This is as easy as setting up an out-of-office assistant in your email, or putting it in the footer of your messages or even at the bottom of your email signature – something to the effect of:

“I return emails three times a day, mid-morning, early afternoon and late afternoon. You will receive a reply from me in a couple of hours.” You can phrase this how you like, but this is another example of the power of proactivity. By proactively informing your people of your email response schedule, you are letting them know what to expect, rather than leaving them to flap around in the breeze and form their own assumptions.

Very often, emails that are responded to too quickly simply sit in the recipient’s inbox anyway, or worse beget even more emails that themselves are unnecessary and redundant. And if you think making people wait is bad customer service, I would suggest you redefine this as giving them certainty. You are giving them something tangible to hold on to, and that is a very good thing.

Be aware also that when I schedule email returning times that doesn’t mean “not checking my email.” There’s a big difference between looking to see who just mailed you and actually working on handling those messages. If your job or personality is one that absolutely must know who emailed you the moment they arrive, then do yourself the stress-releasing favor of checking, but unless it is earth-shakingly urgent, leave the reply until your email-returning time.

Here’s another reason why email blocks are worthwhile. It has to do with how your brain works. An email is a surprise attack. Even though we know we are going to receive them, each time an email arrives, your brain and body go into a minor version of fight-or-flight reactive mode. Concentration is broken and you enter a tunnel vision state. If you then go ahead and respond to that email right away, not only will a few minutes of your time be taken up and away from the work you were actually doing, it takes another five minutes or more for you to regain the level of concentration you had prior to the interruption. Your brain and instinct basically must recover from the interruption and until it does, you will be working at a sub-level capacity. If that happens 30 times a day, you can add to those 90 minutes of distraction that those emails take, another 150 minutes – that’s two and a half hours at which you are guaranteed to be working at sub-level capacity. No wonder the day goes by so quickly and you don’t get it all done.

BY contrast, when you consciously choose to enter into an email-returning time block, you do so of your own volition, which removes the “surprise factor and does not set your body back, so there is no recovery required. This removes that 2 and a half hours per day of sub-par performance right there.

Finally, there’s the principle of Parkinson’s Law, which states, “Work expands to fill the time available.” With email, this tends to point to them taking longer than needed, because until the next fixed appointment arrives, such as maybe a meeting at 11:00, emails will simply pour themselves across your calendar like liquid until they bump into the next solid appointment.

But Parkinson’s Law can also work in your favour. If you give yourself only 30 minutes to respond to 10 emails, you will find you can do that by maybe writing shorter emails and getting to the point more quickly and using the momentum of this time period to really get on a roll. You might even find you can shorten your email returning times to 20 minutes each or less.

Email is a technology whose designers never really considered the human aspect of reacting to false urgencies. It can be a useful tool, but only when kept under control, and I think this pairing of email and dynamic calendar management is a highly proactive way of getting more done in a day.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Dynamic Email and Calendar Management. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.

CoolTimeLife Podcast: Daylight Saving Time and Net 60 – Both Must Go

This blog comprises show notes for my CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Daylight Saving Time and Net 60 – Both Must Go. It explores some long standing anachronisms such as why keyboards still use QWERTY, and why companies take two months to pay suppliers? These are antiquated processes that we hang on to in the same way that our calendar still pays homage to Roman gods.

Twice a year, most of the world manually changes its clocks, meaning that no matter when you read this, no matter when that happens to be, you are no more than six months away from having to do it again. And you will also be reminded by your local fire chief to replace the batteries in your smoke detectors. It’s ironic, really, that the time change that happens in the Fall does so now in November, a month whose name was given to us by the Romans, like all the other months, and which was originally the ninth month of the year, hence its name. Novem is Latin for nine or ninth.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how many things we hold onto despite living in a world of change. There are not many cultures in the world that still celebrate and worship the gods of Roman times. Countries now play host to a range of religions, yet we still hang on to the Roman and Norse names for months and days. Why do we stick with that? Tradition? It can’t be out of loyalty to the Roman gods. They haven’t been in favor for centuries.

Look at the keyboard of your computer or phone. It is still laid out in the QWERTY style of keys that has been around since typewriters first made their appearance in the late 1800s. This layout of keys is far from the most efficient. It was developed to prevent jamming of the letters, which used to be mounted on rods to strike an inked ribbon. The letter combinations that are most commonly used in English are spaced far apart to slow down the typists of the day. There is also an apocryphal story that points out that the word “typewriter” can be typed out using just the top row of keys, meaning that the typewriter salesmen of the day did not have to learn how to type to show off the product to customers. This fact, if true, has a direct echo in the world of commerce today, in the area of electric cars. Stories abound of old-school car salespeople burying their new battery-powered models far back on the lot, unwashed and unloved because they themselves cannot understand them and do not know how to sell them.

In all these cases – the continued use of Roman names, the continued use of the QWERTY keyboard and the reluctance to embrace green vehicles, these all point to that reluctance that is at the heart of change management, as well as to the fact that despite all the progress we have made, there are still some things we want to keep old school.

Look at the other item I mentioned earlier – the thing you’re supposed to attend to each time you change your clocks: the smoke and CO alarm. Most people still use the old-school smoke alarms – those white plastic pucks that say DO NOT PAINT in white on white letters that are impossible to read, and whose batteries always start to fail at 2:30 in the morning, depriving people everywhere of sleep thanks to their incessant chirping.

I did some research on why they tend to fail in the dead of night rather than at a more convenient time during the day. It has to do with the drop in air temperature that often happens in houses during the night, either because of the relative cool of a summer night, or the thermostat being programmed to drop a degree or two when everyone’s tucked in their beds. Whatever the cause, a quick drop of a degree or two is enough to trigger a smoke alarm whose detector has become faulty due to the failing electric current of expired batteries.

Anyhow, the point of that explanation was to say that this need no longer be the case. Smart detectors, connected by the Internet of Things, are now much better able to alert a homeowner and family members of a problem using a clear human voice, messaging to smartphones, and the intelligence of machine learning to distinguish between the heat variations that might happen during the cooking of a meal, versus a real problem. In other words, we might soon be coming to the end of an era where we no longer need a fire chief to remind us to change the batteries twice a year when the device can do it for us.

Time marches on, and innovation marches alongside. It might be viable to play devil’s advocate and state that not everyone in the world can afford an intelligent Internet of Things enabled detector for their homes. That might be true. But the same might have been said about cellphones and smartphones once. Yet imagery from the most desperately poor parts of the world, including African deserts and refugee camps, show people carrying smartphones. They have indeed become universal.

Can We Break Away from QWERTY?

So, did I write all this just to talk about smoke detectors? Not entirely. They represent the types of changes that could and should happen in the world but for some reason do not. Look once again at that QWERTY keyboard. Why do we still have it laid out like that? You don’t even need physical keys anymore. Keyboards could be entirely based on clear glass or on laser projections on a surface. Some already are. And these could be configured to arrange the letters in any way you want. Alphabetic order, vowels on the left, consonants on the right, your favorite letters grouped closely together.

And the argument that you need consistency so that all computers operate the same and that everyone can use them will not be an issue when I can download my personal preferred keyboard layout from the cloud and drop it into any device for as long as I want.

There is another argument that it would take too long to train people to change the way they type but given how quickly humans have learned how to use Facebook without any prior computer programming or data processing education, such a theory stands on shaky ground.

There are just some things that people cannot let go of due to comfort with the past that pushes stubbornly into the future.

Flex time, for example. How can you trust your employees to do work when they’re at home? Well, I for one, look at end results and the nature of the back and forth communication and I balance that against the reality that no one ever puts in a solid eight hours of work, even when they’re in the office. It’s not possible. If an employee must put the laundry in, or go to the gym, or go and pick up the kids from school, so be it. It’s the quality of the work that counts and by and large happier employees are more motivated to make that happen.

Lifelong learning is a similar challenge. It’s difficult for the powers that be to let go of the idea that the only good education is classroom style, when in fact, more can be gained from smaller courses delivered more frequently and delivered in accordance with the individual’s own learning style. And I say that as someone who has delivered classes for years. I welcome its demise, quite frankly.

Why Can’t Clocks Change Themselves?

Back to the clocks for a second. How many clocks do you have in your home, including your car, that you had to manually adjust when the clocks changed? You’ll have to do them all again in a few months, except, for those on your smartphone, computer, or connected to your smart devices. They will have changed themselves through their connection to the Internet of Things.

Now, imagine a world where every timepiece, not just domestic, but industrial, medical, you name it. Anywhere that we keep time – imagine the day when they are all connected to the Internet of Things. You say to me, “Are you suggesting that all these clocks will change themselves?”

Yes, and no. I am not suggesting all these clocks would simultaneously leap forward or backward an hour at the appointed date. That would be simply automating an antiquated process, the digital equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. No! I want to see the day when all clocks adopt a timekeeping system that eliminates the need for the one-hour leap entirely. If it can be proven that we need to adjust the clock at all – something I am still not entirely convinced of, since its reasoning seems to be solely one of economic convenience – if we still have to do it, then why not have all clocks adjust by one second per hour, or 20 seconds per day in some sort of leap second format? I know some devices rely on microsecond timing to keep machinery and medical equipment running perfectly – it might not be as easy as I make out, and surely someone has already thought of this and disposed of the idea. But I cannot believe that a global manual resetting of clocks is in any way more practical.

Imagine if things were the other way around. Imagine if there was no clock adjustment at all, we just lived with the seasons as they are, and someone came along and suggested that every home, factory, and hospital in the world should manually re-set every clock twice a year? It would not fly.

Net-60 Invoice Payment Needs to Die

And this brings me to a final idea connected to these earlier ones by time and tradition. The concept called Net 60. Anyone in small business soon discovers that if you want to do work with large companies, you will have to come face to face with the accounting department, and they do not always move comfortably into changing times.

You will discover that work done today, and invoiced at the end of the month, will then be processed over a 60-day period from the time of receipt of the invoice – a process that in total, from the time of work performed to the time of payment could be three months – longer if your own bank holds the cheque. This places the onus on the small business owner to hold onto enough money to live for three months before payment arrives.

Terms like net-30 or net-60 or even net-90 were put in place to protect the cash flow of large companies, helping them be sure they could cover their own costs and recoup their own receivables before paying off the help.  And to be sure, according to the Golden Rule, which reads “he who has the gold makes the rules,” such a policy has been the way of business for decades and it’s unlikely that any accounting department would be willing to change that up and expose their company to shorter-term financial risk any time soon.

Except for the following, maybe.

In this age, there is now a new alternative. Point of sale and remote payment systems like Square and PayPal mean that suppliers can get paid by customers immediately, securely, and directly without relying on clearing systems like banks or AP departments.

The giants may scoff at this, but what it means in terms of supply and demand, is that the best suppliers, with the best quality and the best price, will go to the best customers, being the ones who pay promptly, as in, within minutes, not months.

This, by extension, means that companies who stick with an antiquated cash flow system may find themselves committed to hiring and using secondary or lower quality suppliers. The best and brightest will have already paired up with equally-minded entrepreneurial companies.

It is said that people always drive into the future with their eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror. We hold on to traditions and procedures because that’s how it was back in the day. But next time you shop online, pay online, call for an Uber or connect to a Skype conference, think about what you’re doing and why you’re not doing it old-school.

Sometimes it makes sense to move forward into the future, and that means more than just adjusting your clock by 60 minutes in the Spring.

This is the transcript of the CoolTimeLife podcast entitled Daylight Saving Time and Net 60 – Both Must Go. If you would like to listen to it, you can check it out at our podcast site here. If you would like to review other podcasts in this series, visit my podcast page at stevenprentice.com/podcast.html

If you feel you derived value from this blog or the adjoining podcast, please consider supporting our work by sending a small donation of $1.00, $2.00 or $5.00. It helps us give more time to research and prepare the episodes. The secure PayPal link is available on the podcast page at steveprentice.com/podcast.html.