bookmark_borderStrange Bias

Pulling together my monthly column for the ISTC (I write about blogs, unsurprisingly), I noticed something rather odd. I really, sincerely, hope this isn’t something I’ve been unconsciously doing but it does seem that many of the technical communications blogs I follow, and which I feature in my monthly column, are written by men.

Given that, for the bulk of my career, I was usually outnumbered in many a Documentation department, with on one occasion when I was one guy in a team of six, I find this gender balance quite odd.

Thinking back to the Technical Communications conference I’d say there is a fairly even split of gender in our profession, but I can’t say I was paying that much attention.

Is it just me? Am I being over-sensitive about this?

Of all the blogs I monitor, the split is pretty even (a rough count suggests about 55% are written by men) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Some of those blogs are very topic specific and I tend to look for things which will have the widest appeal, so perhaps the topic specific blogs are more likely to be written by a woman than a man.

Or not.

It’s a minefield!

bookmark_borderNot here

I don’t think I’ve done this before and to be honest it’s more an experiment than anything that has particularly good reasoning behind it, yet here I am, tapping away on my iPhone.

It’s because I can, pure and simple, yet there is a part of me screaming “SWITCH IT OFF!!” and begging me to step away, switch off, detox from all of this modern technology.

And I should, I have the books, the moleskine contains few scrawls and aches for more, yet I’m drawn to this tiny screen.

How sad.

So I will, turn it off I mean, and go lose myself in a book, or wander across the empty pages, trailing inky thoughts behind me. This is a holiday. So I will turn it off.

For today.

bookmark_borderHow to prioritise your work

We all have a need to make sure we are working on the most important thing, the thing that needs our attention and focus the most. Given that all of us will have more than one thing that needs to get done, you need to prioritise.

But how?

Ivan Walsh recently posted his thoughts on this topic but he doesn’t cover the process that comes before the daily decision making of “what shall I do today?”.

Presuming that you don’t lurch from day to day and that you have a plan, or at least a list of things that you need to deliver, how do you go about setting the priority?

Some people will be lucky to have a direct customer who knows exactly what they want, you can work with them around any constraints of time and budget (resource) to prioritise the work that needs done.

But what if you have two customers, or three, or seven?

Well that’s close to the situation I’m in and my solution is quite simple.

Let them decide.

A few months back I started to jot down, in a spreadsheet, everything that my team COULD do. It includes some items like scouring our Wiki for any useful information that we can use, as well as “hey you know what would be really great..” requests we get which aren’t urgent but which I didn’t want to lose.

I soon realised I might as well track every information request there and very soon after that I realised that I needed a way to sort the list and make sure we were working on the right thing, at the right time.

Given that many items on that list were ‘put’ there by other people, I realised that if we estimated (very roughly) how much effort each would take, we would be able to bargain with people and, ultimately if two requests are in conflict then, hey, I can get the people who requested them to discuss the reasons and let them decide.

So we now have a big list of work items, each estimated, each prioritised (we are using MoSCoW) and which I can use to drive discussions when the next “must have, immediately” request lands in my inbox.

Ultimately, our customers decide what we work on and as I can give them a full picture of what, and why, it’s much easier for them to understand those times when they don’t get what they want. Having that information to hand makes the act of getting real priorities much easier.

My response, via Twitter, to Ivan’s post was this: “I tend to let other people set the priorities for my work. That way they all have (to have) a view of it.”

How do you set your priorities?

bookmark_borderISTC & Community

Over the coming month or so, I’ll be casting around for opinion and insight from you, my lovely readers, particularly if you are based in the UK and especially if you are a member of the ISTC member.

Why? I hear you ask.

It’s because I’m planning, designing, and building, a community focussed extension to the website (or sub-website, or side-website or.. well that bit has still to be agreed). I’m still figuring out how best to collate the information and requirements for such a website, and where would be best to hold those collaborative conversations that will be required throughout the build and test phase of the website. I’ll announce things here as well as the ISTC mailing list (unless it’s something of particular sensitivity, but as I can’t even dream one up at the moment I doubt that’ll be an issue).

Exciting times ahead then, challenging some would say, and I have to admit I’m really looking forward to getting some momentum going. I’ve plenty of ideas but it’s not about what I want, it’s making sure the new website meets the needs of people who will be using it. With that in mind I’m currently planning on how, and who, is best to get involved.

But before I can ask anyone to get involved, I think it’s a good idea to have a clear vision for what it is we are trying to achieve and that’s what I’ve been working on this week and you can expect an update at the weekend.

bookmark_borderWhy blogging is good

The blogs I read are written by a reasonably diverse group of people. Naturally I steer clear of people who have hateful views, or from which I’m not going to learn anything except that they like the sound of their own voice, but on the whole I read interesting posts written by intelligent people.

When people ask me why I blog, what I get from it, why I bother, I tell them this. I tell them that, whilst there is a level of chaff which you need to sort through (that ‘Next’ button in Google Reader is a lifesaver at times), there are times when you get a series of blog posts on a particular topic that really make you sit back and think.

I quite like being challenged, being made to think, so I consider this a good thing.

And so it was recently when Clay Shirky wrote a piece titled A Rant About Women, which tempted Tom Coates out of hiatus to write a post titled Should we encourage self-promotion and lies?, which was followed yesterday by a piece from danah boyd titled whose voice do you hear? gender issues and success.

Such things are an example of why blogging is a good thing. Someone states their opinion in a fairly even handed way and people respond like adults (the downside of the internet can be found in a lot of the comments, Twitter posts and other ranting nonsense that erupted after Clay posted his article).

As for the issue being discussed in these posts I have to agree with Tom, particularly when he talks about how arrogance and confidence have a place in your “personality toolbox”, but the person who only has those tools is all the poorer for it. Unfortunately society, and certainly the workplace, still seem to favour people with confidence when what we should be doing is cutting through the noise to see what substance lies underneath.

Interestingly I did have in mind a post about how men objectify women (which I’ll still write up for another time) but got sidetracked by danah’s article. Well worth reading all three of them.

bookmark_borderFinding Balance

My balance is quite good, says the Wii Fit Plus, but then it also says I have a “Fit Age” of 31 so what does it know. So whilst my physical balance isn’t too bad, I’m finding myself looking for balance in the other parts of my life.

I feel like some caricature when I say this but I’m increasingly realising that I should really be doing more of the things I enjoy, and prioritising everything else.

That’s why, already, I can say that I have read at least one book this year. I couldn’t say the same for the whole of last year which isn’t something I’m happy with.

Nobody to blame but myself of course, and I did achieve a lot last year although it was mostly work focussed (which I enjoy so that’s not a bad thing). However as I roll into this year I’m a bit swamped and finding myself procrastinating somewhat in the form of writing blog posts that don’t really need written.

Enough of this though, it’s not like my lot is a bad one and it would serve us all well to remember that.

And, on that note I’d invite you all to take a look around, see how your life is and then consider others. Naturally I’m talking about the recent earthquake in Haiti.

You can donate online and I’m sure most of you can spare something. So rather than that bottle of wine, or ordering a takeaway, perhaps we can all find some balance by pausing and thinking.