David Allen: You’re Doing it Wrong

Previously… David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done, easily one of the cleverest books I’ve read, certainly one of the most very useful, but also unfortunately just a bit irritatingly with corporate-speak. I mean, come on. Genuinely tremendous ideas explained in ways that don’t explain and do make you wish you’d never started his book.

Fast Company has a new interview with him which they summarise with this headline: “The father of Getting Things Done: You’re Getting Me All Wrong”. And I just find that so aggravating. Read the actual interview, though, and the worst you can say that he comes across as smug. There’s more about his belief we need six “horizons of focus” and I just gesticulated at Fast Company for letting him say that without following him up with “Eh?”.

Bringing those horizons into balance requires reflection, he says. “If you want to say, ‘Am I focused on the right thing?’ I would say, which one of those conversations has not been matured sufficiently or lined up with the other ones appropriately? Some people need to focus more on their goals. Some people need to stop focusing on their goals and actually get shit done.”

The Father of ‘Getting Things Done’: You’re Getting Me All Wrong – Ciara Byrne, Fast Company (16 June 2015)

If you got through that quote, you got to a good bit. Who could disagree with the need to get shit done? That’s GTD in a nutshell: not the shit, at least not in that way, not the ideas, but the amount you have to get through to find the good bits. It’s just that the good bits are clever and immensely useful. Read the full piece.

The Successful Failure

That’s me, that is. Official. I’ve been interviewed for the US podcast series The Successful Failure: it’s about how one’s biggest, most calamitous bad times are what teach you the skills to get great days.

I’ve known the series producer and presenter, Gigi Peterkin, for years so she knew to steer me away from my haircut errors but she also got more out of me than I expected. Possibly more than I intended, but let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s go here: this is my episode on The Successful Failure website. Do take a listen to the other episodes and subscribe to it on iTunes.

You could also take a read of Self Distract, my personal blog when I mused about how much detail one can unintentionally give up in interviews.

Receptive receptionists

I did not realise that this was a thing or that I did it. But I’ve just read a productivity article that advises being nice to receptionists. We need articles? Why wouldn’t you be nice?

Except I am being a bit disingenuous there: I’ve seen how some people are with receptionists or, I don’t know, bar staff perhaps. (I’ve been bar staff. I’ve seen it close.) It is shamefully common to see someone come in to a firm and be rude to a receptionist then all smoothly polite and conscientious to whomever they were coming to meet.

The only difference with me is that I know receptionists have a crazy-mad job. They get gits like that for a start. But they’re also juggling a lot of work – I once saw someone answering calls for several companies at the same time; depending on which light lit on her equipment, she’d say a different hello spiel and would know entire staff directories for each firm. It was fascinating and impressive and I said so.

I’m getting uncomfortable here, like I’m either claiming to be a fabulous human being or that I’m about to advise you to suck up to receptionists. Just be normal like anyone else and if they have time to talk to you, talk to them. Why wouldn’t you? People are so interesting. Everything is so interesting. (Except football.)

That productivity article – gimme a second, I will get you a link to it – argues that receptionists also know a huge amount about a company so you should ask them. I think there’s a fine line between polite chat and the receptionist phoning for security, but this truly is a time when being naturally pleasant and not pressing for anything from someone so busy will often benefit you.

Being who I am and thinking what I do, I’d say that the number one first benefit is that you have a nice chat.

But yes, you can also find out more about the company you’re visiting. I don’t think I’ve ever learnt anything as useful as the one day that I saw a rival’s name in the sign-in book on the reception desk. Or the day when I leafed through the magazines that had been left out and so learnt all about a new project the person I was coming to see was behind.

If you want to weaponise all this, here’s that productivity article. It’s from Lifehacker: Ask the Receptionist These Questions While Waiting for a Job Interview.

Got it: an iPad app for transcribing interview recordings

Excuse me while I do a spot of SEO: interview, interviewee, interviewing, interviewer, journalist, ipad, audio, sound, recording, transcribe, transcription.

There. Hopefully this means the next poor sod searching for this type of app can avoid spending the ENTIRE EVENING on the hunt. Here’s the thing. I have to be away from my office tomorrow but I have a very pressing job where I need to transcribe an interview I recorded some weeks ago. I hate transcribing with the same passion that EVERY SINGLE WRITER EVER does and I just wanted some help.

Specifically, I wanted an iPad version of Transcriptions, a freeware app for Mac that simply lets you play back audio while you type out what you hear. Missed a bit? Tap a keystroke and the audio scrubs back 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds. Nothing in all this land will make transcription fun but this helps. My great regret is that I didn’t discover it until I’d transcribed fully two thirds of the interviews I’d done for a Blake’s 7 book.

Now I just need that on iPad, please. You quickly start throwing your hopes out of the window when you can’t find something so I was reduced to thinking I’d have a notetaking app that just played back audio. A bit. Enough to save me having to skip back and forth between two apps.

It turns out that there are three types of application that get returned when you search for terms like “best ipad audio transcription” or “best iOS apps for journalists”. The first and most common search result is the transcription service. For various prices and with various different trial periods, you can record audio in the app and send it off to a human being somewhere to do your transcription job for you, for a fee.

Fine. Not what I want, but fine.

The second type of app does what I want but only to audio that you record with the app. Nice, fine, but useless to me with my existing recording.

How long has it taken you to read this far? Did you skim? Good for you. The answer is that the best option available is Notability for iPad. It costs £1.99 for iPad and iPhone together. It’s only £1.99 but it’s also a lesson to get good apps when they fall free, even if you don’t want them. I got Notability last May when Apple made it App of the Week. I downloaded it, tried it, saw why people liked it so but felt it wasn’t for me and I deleted it.

Now all these months on, I can just re-download it. And I did so after a couple of hours of trying everything else.

Notability is not perfect. But I can import the audio from Dropbox, I can play it back and there is a 10-second rewind button. I would like a way to skip back 10 seconds from the keyboard as reaching up to tap that button does break the flow of my typing.

But tomorrow I will be sitting in coffee houses alternating between transcribing interviews for a book and writing a script. I could do without the hell that is transcription but otherwise that sounds like a pretty good day to me.

The lazy route to productivity

I think this is in all ways a cheat but there you go. Dan Harmon, creator of Community, argues in this video that the way to become more productive is to be lazy. O-kay. See what you think. I’ll give him this, the video is very quick.

You’d like a bit more than a single minute on this topic? I haven’t got more per se but here’s a slightly odd half-hour interview with the fella that touches on some similar ground:

Dear Diary moment: a man admits he doesn’t know something

I’m a man and I regularly say “I don’t know”. Maybe too often, maybe I should know some more things. But I promise that I don’t fit the stereotype of a guy who blusters through saying yeah, yeah, ‘course, everybody knows that, easy, done it twice this morning myself.

It’d be good to think that I was just a superb human being but the truth is that I get a little kick out of seeing people’s faces. Especially in teams, especially with editors, most especially – to be fully honest about it – with women. People tend to blink a lot at me. You can see the cogs processing. Occasionally, yes, the cog is saying “So why are we paying this guy?” but most of the time it’s a much more positive surprise.

There was one editor I had who blinked at me quite a bit at first. Later she told me that I’d done what she’d asked me to do and that when it wasn’t right but she’d explained again, I’d changed it until she was happy. “Yes,” I said. “And?”

“Just not used to it,” she said.

I’ve always recognised that the real benefit of admitting you don’t know something is that it is ferociously easier than pretending you do and then having to answer detailed questions. I’m slightly schizophrenic about this because I’ve often said yes, I can do something, when I’ve not done it before but am confident. Still, when it comes to a fact or to my opinion about something, if I don’t know it, I tell you.

What I’ve been told today is that it has one more benefit. The blog 42 Floors – continuing the honesty theme, I’ve never heard of it before thirty seconds ago – includes a piece recounting the story of an interviewer named Kiran asking a difficult question and being told “I don’t know”:

[H]e smiled and responded back, “I was waiting for that. I like it when people say I don’t know.” Kiran explained that he likes it when people say I don’t know because it lends credibility to everything else that they’ve said.

I don’t know – Jason Freedman, 42 Floors (2 March 2014)

Tip of the head to 99U for the link.

8 Simple Tricks That Will Help You Ace A Job Interview But Rob You Of Your Innocence

Job interviews are stressful, but here are some time-tested tips to impress any potential employer and render you unable to look at the world in the same unsullied light.

1. Prepare Ahead Of Time
Rehearse answers to common questions a few days beforehand to trick the interviewer into thinking your answers are genuine reflections of your thoughts. This is a lie all job seekers participate in.

2. Give A Firm Handshake
A firm handshake is an effective way to make a good impression, but will also destroy your inner child a little each time you do it. You’re a manipulator of people now.

8 Simple Tricks That Will Help You Ace A Job Interview But Rob You Of Your Innocence – Clickhole (24 June 2014)

Read the other six on the full feature.

More advice on how to get hired at a job

There’s this firm, right, and it’s looking to hire various people but one particular group is proving a problem because they write rubbish applications. Apparently Project Managers are so bad at managing to project an image of themselves that the person hiring them was driven to write an article about how they should do it. Remarkably, just as with so very many other pieces of advice for job applicants, the answer is to write better.

You can do that. You’re a writer. We forget sometimes that what we do is hard and that many, many or even most people just can’t do it. So use your skill, use your talent, write your way into a job interview.

I also think that Product Managers need to write better resumes. Designers have, for the most part, figured out that it’s more about showing than telling. It’s easy to go to someone’s sites and portfolio to get a sense of what they’re about. Product Managers still appear to be stuck in the “Let me tell you how awesome I am” rut, though. This is a generalization, of course, but what I’m mostly seeing right now is resumes that excel at vagueness. It’s not uncommon to see a sentence like “Applied world-class methodologies to create a successful customer-centric product”, or some variation of that. What does that mean?

It’s great to see proof of success, yes — stats about conversion improvements, etc. are extremely useful. But hiring managers need more than that to assess Product Managers. We need to know how you think. We need to know how you approach problems, how you work, what methods you like and don’t like, and why. And for some reason most PMs I speak to seem surprised by those questions and have trouble answering them.

How to Get Hired as a Project Manager – Rian van der Merwe, Elezea

Do this and you’ll get a job

The New York Times has been running a short series called How to Get a Job at Google. It’s very much about getting a vocational education, it’s mostly rather down on the concept of getting a degree in what interests you even if that won’t directly set you up for a career in the burger and fries industry. But among the long part 2 feature last weekend, there was this about writing a CV.

Laszlo Bock “is in charge of all hiring at Google – about 100 new hires a week” and says about CVs:

“The key,” he said, “is to frame your strengths as: ‘I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.’ Most people would write a résumé like this: ‘Wrote editorials for The New York Times.’ Better would be to say: ‘Had 50 op-eds published compared to average of 6 by most op-ed [writers] as a result of providing deep insight into the following area for three years.’ Most people don’t put the right content on their résumés.”

How to Get a Job at Google, part 2 – The New York Times

I read that translating the word job into the words freelance contract – and, actually, also translating resumé into CV – but what he then says about interviews is surely useful advice for any session where you’re pitching yourself:

“What you want to do is say: ‘Here’s the attribute I’m going to demonstrate; here’s the story demonstrating it; here’s how that story demonstrated that attribute.’ ” And here is how it can create value. “Most people in an interview don’t make explicit their thought process behind how or why they did something and, even if they are able to come up with a compelling story, they are unable to explain their thought process.”

There’s a not a gigantic amount more in the full Times piece but see what you think of the guy’s opinion on whether liberal arts qualifications have merit.

By the way, this is the 300th news post on The Blank Screen. Let us raise a mug of tea. Clink.

Give yourself a Paddington stare

The New York Times has a piece about a restaurant owner who turned his business around chiefly by giving himself a hard look in the mirror. It's a nice story and they use it to illustrate what they believe is a key business point which can apply to all of us:

In interviews we did with high achievers for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role.

I've read as many pieces about aiming high as you have so it's nice to have one that says there's value in stopping to look at yourself as you really are right now.

Read the whole piece including what happened with that restaurant and while you're at it, do please give Lifehacker a nod for spotting it.