10 lessons from living in a pandemic

Lots of lessons that we can learn from our current situation, here are 10 of mine

Every day is a school day.

I don’t know about you but during this pandemic situation. I have been learning more than usual.

After thinking about it. I decided to make a list of everything I have learned so far. Here are my top 10.

1. The world is a noisy place. We have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason.

This is number 1 for me. Because I learned that when I don’t rush. I listen and learn a lot more.

Listening more than we talk is a wonderful skill to pick up. We can become more understanding. More compassionate and take life at a slower pace.

When your not the one doing the talking. Your thinking slows down. The amount of information you take in increases also.

The result is clearer thinking and better decision making.

If you have ever heard someone say that the smartest person in the room is the quietest. Then take notice. It turns out they may be onto something.

Of course, these days its more likely to be the quietest person on the zoom call.

2. Working from home most of the time has some big advantages.

Yeah, I’m one of those in the working from home fan club.

I wasn’t at first and I still have bad days with it. But I would still say that, for the most part, its the future.

A day without a commute is better for a start. No time wasted traveling.

That’s more time with the family. Pursuing a hobby, or anything else you want to do.

Not stuck in traffic somewhere. Plus it’s way cheaper.

No eating out 5 days a week. For me, that’s been a revelation in 2 ways.

First is saving a fortune, between lunch, snacks, and coffee. It’s money saved that I never actually ever thought about before.

Second and more important. I’m living a far healthier lifestyle. Eating at home I found it much easier to be healthy and as a result. I’m healthier, fitter, and much lighter than I was at the start of the year.

The last one here is productivity. I have given myself a routine and set hours. I have very few distractions and so because of that. I find myself much more productive. Than I would be in a typical office environment.

The one thing that is missing is social interaction throughout the day. Which takes us into lesson 3.

3. We need much more social interaction than I ever thought.

I’m not an introvert by any means. But I can be introspective and enjoy my own company. To the point that 50% of the people I meet think I’m ok. The rest most likely think I’m a tool.

What I have learned during this time. Is that social interaction shouldn’t be only on my terms.

Neither should it be taken for granted. Humans are social animals by nature.

One of the hardest things to take over the last few months. Has been that limited interaction with people. Just the simple contact with people during the day.

It’s more important for our mental health and general wellbeing than I thought.

Then there is the problem of missing social events and catch-ups with friends. Which brings me onto number 4.

4. Stay connected with friends and family.

The internet is a great tool to connect with the world. Use it to the best of your ability.

Through the last few months, it has been the ability to get on zoom, etc. and connect. That has gotten many of us through.

It’s also been a great excuse to track down people we lost touch with and get reconnected.

The power of that social connection with friends and loved ones is so powerful for humanity. This situation has proved that.

Staying connected can get us through anything.

5. Be kind and generous where you can.

Paying it forward. A random act of kindness. Whatever you want to call it.

Turns out giving feels pretty good and has some real benefits. Whether its money, old stuff you don’t use. Time or knowledge.

Being kind and sharing what you have is another great way to connect with our fellow humans.

Something I didn’t do enough of before. I will be doing it a lot more going forward.

There is always someone or something that needs a little leg up. One day the tables could turn. It might be me in the same situation. I would like to hope someone would help me in the same way.

6. People you know will be losing jobs. You have some tools to help them.

This one ties into number 5, but it’s more specific I guess.

It’s sad but true. Many friends and colleagues are losing their job’s at the moment. Other than giving them only moral support and a listening ear. There are some other things we can do for them:

  • Take the time to endorse them on LinkedIn.
  • Take the time to recommend them on LinkedIn.
  • Send them links to job openings that they fit. We can even reach out and recommend them for those jobs.
  • Take the time to review a resume or help them practice for an interview.

These are things we all have the power to do. They don’t cost us anything but a small amount of time.

The result for the person looking for that next job to keep food on the table?

For them, it could be huge.

I guess its treating people how you would like to be treated yourself.

7. How much needless stuff did I buy?

This one is personal I guess. But true, I used to buy an endless amount of stuff. Never needed and seldom used.

Like how many pairs of sneakers does one person need?

By not having the opportunity to shop (Online is not a good option where I am). I realized how wasteful some of my habits were.

It changed fundamentally my relationship with money for the better. It turns out spending less and saving more. Can bring just as much joy as saving less, spending more, and having a house full of stuff I never use.

Who would have thought???

8. Travel is a luxury, but staying closer to home can be fun also.

I’m a big traveler. Whether for business or pleasure. I’m used to traveling each week of the year.

Needless to say. This year life has slowed down a lot.

The benefit of that is having to stay at home.

I am spending more time in the country. I’m learning to appreciate the beauty of nature on my doorstep.

I’ve not done that before. To me, staycations sounded awful.

Going forward we will be making the most of where we stay. Those mega vacations?

They will be kept for special occasions and treats.

There is so much to see and do. Right on our own doorsteps.

All we have to do is jump in and explore.

9. We can do more for the environment.

When life is moving a million miles an hour. It’s hard to take stock and notice the little things around us.

Now that life has taken on a slower pace. It’s easier to sit up and take notice of the smaller things.

For me, one of those things is plastic waste.

Everything from food packing to water bottles and lids on coffee cups.

It harms the environment. I’m now more conscious of that.

Why?

Well, I have a lot more time on my hands. That means I notice a lot of things I never used to. Like the amount of plastic packaging we trash.

I now avoid plastic packaging where ever I can. I don’t buy water after learning my tap water is the same stuff I buy in the store.

That’s a huge amount of plastic I’m no longer sending to landfill.

In our house, we have also embraced the reduce, reuse, and recycle mantra.

Not something we did before.

Two examples of that would be:

  • Using every part of a food, we know have a garden full of fruit and veg that we grew ourselves. (Which feeds into lesson 10). Using the seeds which we no longer throw away. What we can’t eat like apple cores, for example, turns into compost.
  • Recycling stuff we would have trashed. Our tomatoes needed posts and retainers to hold them up. At the garden center that would have meant buying plastic posts and plastic ty-wraps.

At home that meant driftwood from the river chopped down into posts.

The retainers?

Well, not every tomato tree can say its held up by Calvin Klein and Victoria Secret’s finest underwear.

The new rule is nothing gets trashed if it can be reused. Including old clothes.

Getting inventive with that new rule can be a lot of fun. Plus it can be a good learning experience.

Which brings us to…

10. Learn new skills.

A huge thing that has kept us going is learning. From painting to gardening. Through building and astrology.

Our house has been in learning mode. If we get bored. It’s a signal to learn something new.

Sometimes that’s been taking pleasure in reading. Other times its been getting outside and doing something more physical.

What it has done is give us ways to keep the mind busy. It’s also been a lot of fun along the way.

At the end of the day…

Life as we knew it has changed. The new normal will be different. That in itself is a good thing.

Change can be scary but it can also be good for us.

All too soon that new normal will kick in. Life will go back to being run at a million miles an hour.

Take the time to reflect now, before it’s too late.

I bet you will start to look at life from a different perspective.

These then are my top 10 lessons I have learned.

What about you?

Can an old dog learn new tricks at school?

Going back to school in middle age

As we get older we generally work out the best way to learn.

I’ve written about that before here:How to learn effectively onlineA how to guide for those who love to learn but hate to be taughtmedium.com

We are all different after all.

Not everyone goes down the college or university route after school.

As time passes it can make sense to revisit that decision. In my case, as far as I have progressed in my career. I will stay at the level I’m at without more qualifications.

Now I love to learn, but I hate to be taught. But since I don’t have a choice, I’m heading back to school. In 2 years I should have a shiny new degree.

This is one of the advantages of going back to school when your older. You have decades of experiance and knowledge behind you. This is an advantage as you get to skip the basics, if you can prove you understand them already.

In fact most universities will allow remote study for older students where they can join the degree program in the 3rd of 4th year.

That takes pressure off both the financial and time commitment needed to complete the course.

Another advantage of going back to school when your slightly older is that you learn from a younger generation. There is an openness on both sides to listen and to share idea’s that you don’t get in a room filled with peers your own age. We share the same biases and cynical world view.

The advantages of learning some new knowledge and skills. Interacting with the next generation in a level playing field, and gaining the qualifications needed to enhance a career.

Well those are hard opportunities to turn down.

Can an old dog learn new tricks at school?

Yes

It may be hard work and take some commitment, but everyday is a school day as they say.

The benefits of learning later in life really are hard to beat.

Learning Languages

Tips and Tricks I have learned from my 2 year old Niece

When it comes to languages, kids are kind of amazing really….

Last weekend is the first time in about 3 months we have really been able to connect in person with family, and so while it was great to meet up and actually socialize (remember when we used to do that). It was also a learning opportunity as it gives me a chance to practice my terrible Russian.

The real surprise though was our Niece, who at nearly 2 years old seems to be having no issues learning Russian, English and Kazakh.

The ease with which she could go between all 3 kind of amazed me as an English only speaker.

It was at this point the family all just laughed and told me this is normal progress for kids coming from bi or tri lingual families and cultures, but it did get me thinking…

What can I learn from her???

Quite a lot actually as it turns out, which I wasn’t at all expecting as we sat down for Sunday lunch, but hey that’s the way life goes.

  • No room for self doubt, learning a new language is just part of life for her, nothing special and as a result there is no over thinking or over complicating the process and no self doubt
  • Sing, I heard songs and nursery rhymes I knew as a kid, being sung in 2 or 3 languages. Having something fun and familiar to practice with makes sense, tying back into the self doubt observation. Who has time for self doubt when your having fun?
  • Counting, I actually written about this before, but counting to 10 in your chosen language helps as an exercise to give you confidence before you start learning. It also helps us to start thinking in our chosen language which is about the most important language skill to develop
  • Just have fun, loosen up we won’t learn properly when we are not in the right mind frame, learning should be fun. If it isn’t chances are we won’t be taking advantage of the full potential of the lesson.

Final Thoughts

Every day is a school day and to learn from Kids can be really quite enlightening.

Its also a good way to challenge one’s self to improve, like come on I should know more than a 2 year old!

Of course its never that easy but kids can provide some good incentives to learn and of course they are great fun to learn with!

Learning languages as an adult can be tough and intimidating, learning with kids might just make it much more fun and accessible…

Decision Trees

A more efficient tool for problem solving?

Ok you got me, this isn’t going to be the most exciting topic…

But decision tree’s are a fantastic tool to use to get troubleshooting information to the people who need it most.

In my background in engineering and operations, often when things go wrong, the go to is a massive manual which often is laid out terribly and written in the most odd and old fashioned ways possible. (Seriously why can’t technical literature be written for the 21st century instead of the 19th???)

The end result is that we either ignore the damn thing and rely on experiance to tell what we think happened and what we think will solve the issue, or we keep going with the manual.

In either case lots of time will be wasted head scratching, and most likely even more time will be wasted messing around trying often aimlessly to solve the issue.

What if there was a better go to tool we could use in those situations?


The decision tree

The good news is there is a better tool for those situations, its called a decision tree, and many people have seen them, hidden in the back of a manual.

Normally in these cases they refer you page x or procedure 9.3d, which again just wastes time. Its a classic case of a brilliant tool being used incorrectly and then ignored by the masses because it appears to be useless.

Used correctly this is the most powerful tool for problem solving that operational teams can use, its simple, easy and effective.

Like any other visual tool it lays the information out in an easy to read way and gives clear instructions to move onto the next step.

This saves, time, money and confusion which can lead to more expensive mistakes.


How does it work?

The decision tree when used correctly, gives various options or decisions which are automatically made for you as you go through the questions being asked, in the example below its simplified for effect:



Simple visual and easy to follow, the decision tree can be adapted to anything from starting a car to starting a space shuttle, all it needs is the key questions on it and decisions people can easily follow as they work through the potential solutions.

They can be elaborate and created in fancy software, they can be made easily in power point or word, and I have even had the faxed to me hand drawn on the back of a beer mat.


What are the Benefits?

The benefits of the decision tree, are the ease of use and the time saving, versus dragging though documents or worse relying on experiance.

They can also greatly speed up the learning process for new starts, or someone new to your operations.

No guess work, eliminates other mistakes which can be made trying to solve a problem using a complicated manual or just experiance blindly.

Laid out as a visual guide so very easy to read.


Final Thoughts

These are a go to tool for myself and my teams nowadays, and have revolutionized the way I work.

Especially for those times where you are tired or under alot of pressure, having this to hand can be a god send.

If you have never used a decision tree before, give it a go, it might just revolutionize the way your work.

Mind Mapping Fun Top 5 use’s of Mind Maps over Notes

Why Mind Mapping?

Yesterday I wrote all about mind maps and why they can be a more efficient way to write notes or a more efficient planning tool.

Today I wanted to write about 10 tasks we can introduce a little bit more fun into, by using the mind map to making a note heavy task much more visual.

The benefit of mind maps that most people who use them will tell you is that they are a more visual way of keeping notes.

As with all good planning tools the key to the mind map is its simplicity both to use and to read.

We write in notebooks in a linear way across lines, but our brains don’t process information that way, the mind map matches the visual patterns our brains prefer.

Ok so the fun part?

The fun part is making everything more visual and also the ability to set out our notes in a much simpler way, linking the ideas to each other where that makes sense, rather than having to read through linear notes on a page to find what’s needed.

Now to the top 5 uses for mind maps over notes:

  • Meeting Notes, so often meetings don’t run to an Agenda, ideas are spat out all over the place and people often go off on tangents. Which can be a nightmare for the note taker. Using a mind map lets you connects all of these ideas and the actions or feedback to the central theme of the meeting as branches. The Mind map is much easier to edit to send out as minutes of the meeting, and much easier and visual for people to read later.
  • Project Management Plan, I’m kinda a project manager in my job and one thing I hate is how complicated people make project management, especially with all the text heavy documents required. Instead of writing a novel, I can simply and visually present the project management plan as a mind map. The Project becomes the central box and then my Budget, Resources, Scope, Deadline and People become branches I work and develop from there. Now instead of many pages of words, I just have a visual guide.
  • Studying, The same concept as the note taking, often there are a lot of notes and concepts I need to keep track of and those end up a mess with traditional note taking. Revising takes me a lot of time, just to organize my notes, again with the mind map its clearly laid out in branches and so I can tie up notes and concepts easily, giving me more time to focus on my studies.
  • Brainstorming, oftentimes the process involves teams coming up with lots of ideas and a lot of notes. Again in a traditional noted form, a lot of the time we lose a lot of the value of the ideas generated, but by sorting and making those ideas notes visual in a mind map we capture much more of the value from these sessions.
  • Decision Making, Im a huge fan of decision tree’s for critical decision making and to ensure operational flow through a task. However they are difficult things to write from scratch. I use a mind map first with the team in the same way as I would when Brainstorming and then that out put can be translated from the Mind map into a decision tree clearly and easily.

Final Thoughts

As I said when I wrote an introduction to mind maps yesterday, they are a planning tool I wanted to share, because they work for me and the teams I work with.

Since we started using Mind Maps, we really have found them to be a great productivity hack and a fantastic tool to really capture our thoughts clearly and concisely on a page.

Im not writing here to tell what you need to do, but if your looking for something to take yourself and maybe your teams to the next level, give Mind Maps a closer look, Im certainly glad that I did.

A pen, some paper and a head full of ideas is all you need to get started.

Learning a new Language

It can be easier than you might think

No Language is perfect and neither are we, but the courses tell us otherwise

Languages are a great skill to master for everything from training and exercising your brain, to making travel and social interaction much more enjoyable.

The problem is that most of the time, we can find them so damn difficult to learn. Sure there are some extremely talented folks out there, that just need 10 minutes in a culture and they learn the lingo, but for a lot of us myself included that’s not the case.

Im a big believer in at least learning the basics, like yes, no, please, thank you, hello, goodbye, the essential 2 beers please and since im childish, the best swear words.

My work involves a lot of travel, meeting and working with different crews of people with different cultures and languages, many of them speak English as a second or third language, so having these basics in the bank works very well, and has helped improve my people skills.

Over the last 3 years, Ive been based in Central Asia which on the surface is for the most part easy in terms of language, just learn Russian, one language which is universally spoken as a first language across the region.

The difficulty is, well its Russian, for the most part a complex, intimidating and well just really difficult language to learn.

This is the first problem in the way that we are taught to tackle languages, we are taught that they are intimidating and difficult to master, as humans we tend to overthink and over analyze learning tasks and so this new language gets built up to be some kind of invincible monster.

The second problem I have found is that most language courses are looking for perfection and teach a classical clean version of the language. In reality that’s not the way it works each, language is modified by its users.

As an example im from the North East of Scotland so while I speak English, I really have to think about what I’m saying and the structure when I need to speak classical English the way its taught, the real world just isn’t like that, if your not a native English speaker and you spend enough time with me, you will speak English the same way I do. (If you ever bump into a Kazakh who speaks Doric the NE Scottish version of English I probably know them).

Trying to learn this classical version of the language your trying to master can be a nightmare, again it builds up the difficulty and intimidation factor and means it takes far longer to get confident in the language.

The third problem is there is a lot of focus on reading the language, which can be really challenging if the characters aren’t Latin. Again having to learn to read the language immediately builds up builds up the difficulty and intimidation factor and means it takes far longer to get confident in the language.

Especially when there are really good instant text translation apps which are free to use, this is just uneesecary for the learner today, although if I was being cynical I’d say its a great hook to keep us paying for tuition for longer.

OK so what’s the solution?

The good news is that there are other ways to do this, we can make it much easier for ourselves to learn any language. We just need to re-adjust to the viewpoint that just as no language is perfect, we ourselves do not need to be perfect fluent speakers in that language.

Intimidation factor — This is the one thing that makes learning a language so bloody difficult, the thought of the complexity of the task gets into your head, so start with the low hanging fruit.

  • 5 minutes per day with the basics — To begin with just learn the very basics yourself online or on a free language podcast. 5 minutes learning, hello, goodbye, please, thank you etc. will give you confidence in yourself, keep going just with those until you have mastered them.
  • Write the words phonetically — On paper or a prompt card, write the word the way it sounds and include a description, again don’t spend hours doing this, just as you learn and get comfortable with the word, get it on a card in this way, not the way its written in the language your learning, but the way it sounds in your language eg, hello in Russian is Privet, but the sound is Pre, Vet when written in English. Being able to match the word to the sound it makes is much easier to digest than a bunch of letters that make no sense to you
  • Aim for the way word sounds, not perfect pronunciation — Almost no native speaker will speak with perfect pronunciation, local modification of the language sees to that. A part of the intimidation factor with a language is that we are taught that we need have perfect pronunciation before we can speak the language and that’s simply not true. All you need is that a native speaker can understand you
  • Don’t be afraid to talk like a cartoon caveman — What I mean by that is don’t be afraid to miss words out, simplify the language and your sentences as much as you to build confidence and add to your skills as you build confidence, eg, Can you tell me where the nearest restroom is?, this could be simplified to hello, where is nearest bathroom? No one will laugh at you, people will just be happy in general to help out or have a conversation with someone who took the time to try and learn their language. As you build confidence and your skill in the language build up your sentences.
  • Watch TV in that language — Pick your favorite shows or movies and stick the subtitles on for context. This immerses you in the language when you don’t have access to a native speaker, it helps build your recognition of the language and phrases, don’t underestimate the power of that.
  • Learn to count in that language — Start with 1 to 5 then 5 to 10 etc. go as slowly as you feel comfortable with but learn the numbers, once you have those down you can learn to do simple arithmetic in your chosen language, this helps you to think in that language and is a game changer quite honestly. I use this as an exercise 5 minutes before I start my learning for the day and it gets me in the zone.
  • Don’t worry about reading it — In the beginning you don’t need to be able to read the language, you have a translation app to help you available for free on your phone, use that instead, let you brain focus on one task, learning how to speak. Over time your brain will recognize words and start to put it all together for you reading wise, but don’t focus on it. Your brain is truly amazing, so relax, don’t overload it, and let this come naturally because it will.

If like me you struggle with languages but have a real need to learn or are just curious and want to make a start with a new skill, try some of these tips, its taken me long time to get to a point where im comfortable with Russian, almost 3 years actually, but since ive used these 7 tips day to day for the last 3 or 4 months, Ive developed more than I had the previous 2 years.

Languages don’t need to be intimidating or complex, we just need a strategy to kill the intimidation factor at the beginning and use simple tools and tricks to keep us going.

Its like anything else we want to learn or improve at, small steps taken daily build up like compound interest in the brain and lead to something great, the trick is to make it simple, fun and to keep going.