Train your bosses to work better

Or at least to work better for and with you. They’ve got a lot on their plate, they know you’re good, it is easy for them to lob more work at you and just assume you’ll do it. After all, you have done every time so far and it’s only cost you an ulcer.

Your employer always keeps a certain distance and it’s always for one good reason, sometimes also for one bad one. The bad is that they’re eejits and up themselves but that type doesn’t last. They last longer than you’d want, but. The good reason is that they will only show you the bits of their job that you need to do yours: they won’t lumber you with the rest of the stuff they’ve got to do, they maybe can’t tell you the rest of the stuff.

(Quick aside? A friend was my manager once at the BBC and she was having a rough time over a particular problem. We chatted like pals and it turned out that she was going to have to let some people go. Yes. I could see the moment those cogs turned and those synapses worked and she remembered that I was highly likely to be one of them. Her face was so funny, I laughed.

On the one hand, it was good and flattering that she could open up to me but on the other, you know she felt bad when she realised. That’s a difficult line to tread when you work for someone you know and like, but it needs to be trod. Especially since I didn’t lose my work then and in fact nobody did. From my point of view, I had some weeks of worry and from hers I was surely distracted and losing time looking for other work, all ultimately for nothing because something outside both our control changed.)


Train your bosses to better understand what you do and what you can do. On Monday morning, email them with a happy note about what five things you’re going to do this week. They probably already know them and it’s certain that something other than those five will come up but email them the list of five on Monday morning. And then on Friday afternoon, email them to say you’ve done those five.

That’s all. It will take ages for this to become a habit for you and for them, but you’re setting out your work for the week and then you are demonstrating that you do it. Without ever suggesting that this is all you’ll do, you’re firstly informing them that they don’t have to think of things for you to do and you’re secondly reinforcing 52 times a year that you do what you say you’ll do.

Your bosses do dump work on you but they also look for things for you to do: they want you happy in the workplace but they want you busy too. You’re an expensive resource and they need to use you fully. With this five-item email, most of the time they will recognise that you’re on the job, you’re on the case, they don’t have to worry about you. And sometimes it will stop them lumbering you with other things. Sometimes.

So it does help them and it does help you in your annual review. But I’m also slightly lying to you.

I don’t care if your bosses ever read your email to them, I only care that you write and send it. Because writing that list of five clarifies your week in your mind and that means you never have to think about it again. Yes, things come up, things change, but for the rest of the week you will not be forever wondering which thing is most urgent to do next.

Sending the list to them adds accountability, again even if they never read it. You’ve said this aloud, that’s what you’ve done.

Then, to be completely honest here, having said aloud that you’re going to do these five things, you will do them. And when you write that Friday afternoon email saying that you have, you will feel great.

And do you know why? Because you are.

That was December 2014

It still is, as I write this. But I’ve been doing this accountability/atonement thing monthly for the year – after having accidentally done it for someone else the year before, as you do – and there’s that word year. I’ve used it three times now. It’s on my mind. Every month I wince and tell you what I’ve managed to do (though you’ll notice I never tell you in advance what I’m planning)(I’m not that stupid). So it feels beholden to do the year’s one.

Fortunately, I can’t do that until I’ve worked out December’s doings.

Unfortunately, December’s doings were a bit light. But here goes:

Writing: approximately 31,100 words
21 articles for (circa 11,000 words)
4x Radio Times reviews (400 words)
1x editorial for Write On! magazine (500 words)
Soundscapes script (2,000 words)
1x poem ‘Heart’ (100 words)
3x Self Distract blogs (1,200 words)
55x The Blank Screen news articles (15,600 words)

Ran Burton Young Writers’ Session
Ran Birmingham Young Writers’ Session
Ran Reaside Clinic writing session
Edited Write On! magazine issue 5
Wrote Writers’ Guild press release re Library of Birmingham cuts
Interviewed on Russia Today
Guest at British Film Institute’s Blake’s 7 evening

That was August 2014…

Previously… each month I account for what I’ve done in order to make me think of how you’ll look if I haven’t done anything. Especially, especially, as I keep telling you to do things.

It spurs me on and thank you for that but it does sometimes backfire a little. I went into August expecting that I wouldn’t get much done at all: I lost a good ten days, maybe two weeks to a holiday. It was a special one: my 20th wedding anniversary.

I know you look at this list and think that there is something here, I did something. It is solely because I do a little every day. So losing all that time was going to make a big dent in the month. Yet I think I may have over-compensated because I ended up doing about 20,000 more words than in July.

So August wasn’t as rubbish I feared, I’ll give myself that. September’s dire, though.

Writing: approximately 86,440 words
Book: “Filling the Blank Screen” (70,000 words with 50,000 taken from The Blank Screen website)
Book: “The Blank Screen Writers’ Guide: Blogging” wrote approximately 13,600 words
The Flare, a GISHWHES short story (140 words)
Guest blog for Marianne Cantwell’s Free Range Humans (approximately 500 words)
124 The Blank Screen news site entries totalling approximately 42,300 words
6 Self Distract news site entries totalling approximately 9,900 words

Press and publicity:
Bio to Roz Goddard for West Midlands Readers’ Network book

4 (1 successful)

Approaches to me, like reverse-pitching:
3 (3 successful)

Events and copywriting:
Producing Steven Knight event for BBC, Writers’ Guild and RTS
Producing Erica Whyman event for Writers’ Guild
Asked by Birmingham Rep to contribute to programmes

Delivered drama, acting and diversity votes for Royal Television Society Awards
Joined Reddit productivity subsite and began posting
Meeting re ongoing audio project

Chateau Impney tour
Doctor Who: Deep Breath in cinema
Shed Heaven II
Polly Tisdall’s leaving do


That was April 2014

Previously… I used to have someone I would account to for what I’d done in the month and it helped me enormously. Now I’ve got you. As I always said to them, you don’t need to read this but I need to write it. Knowing that I am going to tell you these things means that I do more things. So thanks.

Writing/editing: 56,00 words
Magazine tutorial feature: circa 800 words
Approximately 12,000 words novel
Thirty-minute stage play “Murder at Burton Library”
The Blank Screen: 79 news posts totalling approximately 33,000 words
Self Distract: 4 posts totalling approximately 5,000 words


Successful: 3 (1 accidental, 1 face to face, 1 ongoing)

Press and Publicity:
Stonking review in Doctor Who Monthly: “Seductively gripping”
From Croydon to Gallifrey podcast interview aired
Newspaper coffee shop meeting

17 (target was 30)

Royal Television Society committee meeting
On The High Road by Chekhov, Rada Theatre
Open Door: Bold Text at the Birmingham Rep
Had my first publisher’s stand at the Birmingham Independent Book Fair
Meet the Agents Writers’ Guild event
Writing West Midlands meeting re Young Writers