This week on the Boagworld show we talk time management, testing expenses and the perfect size agency.
Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show the podcast about all aspects of digital design development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show is Dan Edwards.
Dan: Hello Paul
Paul: Good to have you. And we’ve got Drew McLellan. Hello Drew
Drew: Hello Paul.
Paul: And Sam Barnes.
Paul: And Marcus Lillington.
Marcus: Hello Paul, that’s very formal, my full name.
Paul: Well I thought I would do each person individually otherwise everybody mutters hello at the same time and we don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing. I like to organise things, keep things on track all the rest of it.
Paul: Talking of being organised, how many of you have thought about Christmas yet?
Sam: Well I’ve seen the silly memes on Facebook saying it’s like whatever, 4 Mondays away. I don’t know why, it depresses me!
Dan: Is that all it is now four mondays?
Sam: Probably like four or five, something low.
Paul: It’s not long!
Paul: I know! It is scary.
Drew: It’s not four or five surely?
Paul: Well, where are we we are on, as we recording this it is the 7th November. Let’s have a look, I’m going to look it up, I’m opening my calendar. I expect now you’ll get all these tapping noises from my mike after me saying I really need to avoid doing that!
Marcus: Well while you are doing that I’ll just say Christmas Pah! My daughter is getting married the week before Christmas! So the amount…
Paul: No, what was she thinking!
Marcus: It’s more the groom,in fact, he said he didn’t want to traditional summer wedding let’s do it in the middle of winter around Christmas when it’s all sparkly and we were “well okay, fine”. But then sort of, right now it’s just constant stress. And to add to that have we bought any Christmas presents? Hmm, we have but that’s just because we’ve been thinking it’s going to be utter craziness if we don’t think about Christmas presents now because obviously two weeks before the wedding it is going to be wedding fever. Well, it already is!
Sam: Surely you’ve got to wrap that into Christmas and be smart about it.
Paul: Yeah, one set of presents. It’s like my sons birthday is the 3rd January…
Marcus: It’s the other people that you have to buy presents for that is the issue isn’t it.
Paul: My son’s birthday is the 3rd January and that’s it, that’s him done for the year in one lot.
Dan: My girlfriend’s birthday is exactly a week before Christmas and she said ever since she is a kid she’s never had a joint present. Everybody else gets a birthday and Christmas present so never and my ever allowed to get her a joint present which makes December a very expensive month!
Paul: Yeah, tell her to sod off. (Laughter)
Dan: Maybe when we married!
Paul: Yeah, I’d say, you know, it’s just the way of things. So, the reason I bring this up is because occasionally on the podcast we do a Christmas appeal and I’ve gotta cunning idea this time. Every year it’s like I ask people why don’t you give some money for this charity. I support a charity called Bethesda which is a little charity in India. You can check out their website at Bethesda.project.org. Every year I go “I’ll give some money to charity”. This year you don’t need to give a penny. This year you just have to hassle your boss to give money. Although this doesn’t apply, unfortunately Dan, this doesn’t apply to you because you run an agency in fact it doesn’t apply to you either Marcus. You two have to pay money.
Marcus: Is that because I’m the boss? Because we are the boss.
Paul: I’ve decided this.
Marcus: Oh right, that’s just how it is!
Paul: This is just how it is you don’t get a choice. If you run an agency we all end up spending money on Christmas cards and gifts for our clients. Marcus, you’re far too busy for that aren’t you? Because you’ve got the wedding to arrange.You’ve got to work out your own presents, you’ve got to arrange the Christmas Headscape do. The last thing you want to be doing is thinking about the clients too. Isn’t that right.
Marcus: Yes Paul. That is exactly correct. Was that the right answer? It was wasn’t it?
Paul: Yes, very good. That was very good. So instead what I am proposing is that everybody who has clients, so that includes Dan as well. Sam, you don’t you are all right. Well you do have clients but I don’t imagine you get to decide these things.
Sam: Exactly, part of the machine now.
Paul: But you do have to hassle your boss. That’s the rule. True, you get out of this entirely because you are a product-based company so they probably don’t give their clients stuff. But he’s off fixing his computer at the moment so shall we decide on his behalf while he’s not paying attention that he has to do this.
Marcus: Surely he’s the boss of a kind of agency type thing. He is the same as me isn’t he?
Paul: Well he isn’t in the sense that he has thousands of clients he can’t possibly give them all cards can he? I don’t know. He’s fixing cables at the moment, let’s pretend he does. So he has to do this. Essentially instead of giving your clients, sending your clients cards, which none of us have got time to do anyway, and statistically it’s very dangerous. 24 people die per year from paper cuts on Christmas cards. That’s a fact. So you don’t want to risk it.
Marcus: It’s so not is it!?
Paul: No it’s not. But it could be. But that’s nothing compared to the 12,000 that gets syphilis from licking the postage stamps. (Laughter) So really you just don’t want to risk any of this.
Sam: What a lovely intro.
Marcus: I have kind of forgotten the point of this already.
Paul: So have I!
Sam: It’s such a long segue!
Paul: So, all I’m saying is go to Boagworld world.com/Xmas and read the article. So essentially what I want you to do is is instead of buying Christmas cards give the money to charity and send your clients an email. That’s all I’m saying. That’s fine isn’t it, see?
Marcus: Done, there you go.
Paul: Marcus has committed. Dan commit here and now on the show.
Dan: I’ll commit. The only thing is that I think you read out the URL wrong.
Paul: Did I?
Dan: I’m pretty sure you said Boag.world.com.
Paul: No, that’s right.
Dan: Is it!
Paul: No, now I don’t know. Now I’m paranoid.
Paul: No, sorry. It’s not.com. It’s Boag.world/Xmas. I got it wrong. It’s one of these fancy new domains.
Dan: Yeah, that is pretty fancy.
Sam: I actually thought you were going to say “/syphilis”!
Paul: That would have been awesome! I’m going to set that up. That’s it now, it’s my anti-syphilis campaign. Now Drew who’s been fixing his mike has no clue why we are talking about syphilis right now.
Drew: I am none the wiser. It is quite baffling. Then, I have been on this podcast before so I’m quite used to it. (Laughter)
Paul: Oh, and also we’ve committed you to spending a small fortune and giving it to charity. Just while you were off the air we thought we would take advantage of that.
Drew: Sounds perfect.
Paul: All right then that’s good. Right, sorted. So yes, if you want to get involved in that hassle your boss, it would be much appreciated. That is the introduction. So now we going to talk about the sponsors which seems a bit unfair as I’ve just been hassling you for money, were now going to talk about sponsors but that’s the way it is. Then we’ll get into discussion. I promise we’ll be quick.
Right, the sponsor today is Videoblocks as has been for the last couple of weeks. Videoblocks is an affordable subscription-based stock media site that gives you unlimited access to premium stock footage. So videoblocks also has a sister company called Audioblocks and they offer unlimited access to premium stock audio sounds. It’s a really great model they give really good value and you get basically unlimited downloads for a set subscription fee every month. You get something like access to 115,000 videos and 130,000 audiophiles. Because you can download as much as you want the average subscriber ends up paying less than a dollar per download over the year because you download so much off of it. There is great quality, good audio and video material that you can make use of and they are always adding new stuff and you get unrestricted access to all that stuff. One of the things I particularly like at the moment, I don’t know if you have seen these really cool animated gifs, it is like the majority of the gifs is just a static image and is just one part of it that animates and essentially you can create those out of little video files. So somewhere like Videoblocks is superb for creating that kind of really cool content. So anyway, video blocks is offering listeners of Boagworld a years subscription to both Videoblocks and Audioblocks for only $149. That’s like a hundred dollar discount on their usual pricetag only for people who listen to this show and you can get that by going to videoblocks.com/Boagworld2016.
Right we are done with all of that kind of stuff. That is nine minutes of selling at you, that is far too long and I feel very embarrassed about it but the vast majority of that was me talking about syphilis so that’s fine. So, let’s talk about discussions and our discussion topics. Sam, I think you were going to kick us off this week are you?
Round Table Discussion
Sam: Yes, so it’s a question I get asked quite a lot. It’s really around what the differences are between working at a small agency, may be a medium agency and a sort of large corporate or large agency. It kicked me off this week because I read an article from a friend who had an experience with a London agency and it just made me realise that I’ve also had some really weird experiences with big city agencies where they act very differently.
Paul: Is that the one where they are talking about how horrendous it was.
Sam: Yes it was an interview that went ahead and the person accepted the job but then the founders called this person back in to re-interview even that wasn’t pitched like that, it was definitely re-interview. It’s really left a bad taste in the mouth as I think it would. It got me thinking about an experience that I had with agencies. I went for some interviews with some big London agencies and there was a really weird attitude from them. It was like irrelevant from what you’ve done in your career you haven’t worked at one of the big agencies that we know of therefore who are you? And why’re you here? I literally was asked that why are you here, if you haven’t worked there? It was very… I didn’t realise it was quite so bad. I guess the question is of two parts, I know everyone hasn’t worked at all sizes maybe. So if you have worked at different sizes what you think the differences are. I would be very curious to hear what you found that to be. Well, I think we should start there really. I mean…
Paul: Yeah, I mean it’s a really interesting one because I’ve worked, where have I worked? I’ve worked at IBM which would be the biggest I’ve ever worked at. When we worked at the .com Marcus, that got up to about a hundred people didn’t it? So that was fairly large but not massive was it most of the time.
Marcus: Yeah, they just had a kind of… The people that ran it, it was called Avatar Interactive, and they just had a policy of employing as many people as they could.
Paul: Yeah, because it was all about looking big wasn’t it for them. So they were reasonably large and then of course Headscape was fairly small. So I guess I’ve done the different sizes. Sam, you definitely have haven’t you?
Sam: Yeah, I’ve worked small medium large and product now as well so. For me I think it boils down to a few things it’s all with the difference in pace, culture and the ability to change things. And the control you have. They both have pros and cons though this is what I think people don’t always realise. They jump from company to company looking for everything to be fixed and they find some things are some things aren’t. The one thing I would say is that I think that, more by luck than judgement, I started out in very small agencies. And looking back on the 15 years I think that was by far the best way to do it. I didn’t realise how much I was learning I didn’t realise how many hats I was wearing at the time. Over the years what we found is that every time someone say from the corporate came to try and join a small or even a medium they immediately seemed to drown a little bit they were very overwhelmed by the, it could be the pace, the culture might not be quite what they are used to. I think another thing they found is that they were used to very heavy processes and it wrapped them up and protected them a little bit. For me I went from small agency to bigger and bigger it was like some things… Going from small to large there were some nice things. I no longer had to wear 20 hats, I could specialise on what I enjoy doing most, I didn’t have to worry about cash flow perhaps as much or coffee beans all sort of things you think about when you’re at a very small agency, it is more of a family feel. But at the same time while you get the niceness there I found that I wasn’t quite as happy because I couldn’t really change anything. In some cases I didn’t really need to. There were things that I thought we could do better but changing it was really impossible. I’m just really curious what everybody else had, is it the same experience? I do get asked this an awful lot and it’s always the same answer I give, and yes I’m just curious.
Paul: Yeah, for me I kind of went in the opposite direction so I started off at IBM. Which was very large. Then I went to Avatar which was medium-sized and then to Headscape which was small. I think the biggest thing you lose going small is the career progression but of course that didn’t matter in my sense because as I… I was a very junior role at IBM I was a creative leader at Avatar and then was the business owner at Headscape so I kind of got my career progression in that way. So it was kind of an interesting journey in that sense and yeah I think you’ve kind of just got suck it and see. From my point of view with the large get the big structures, the career path, they tend to be able to look after their staff a little bit better in terms of things like pensions and renumerations and that kind of stuff. While in the small you get friendlier atmosphere, like you say, you’re more in control of how you work and when you work and that kind of stuff. So it depends on character I think as much as anything.
Sam: Yes, very true, very true. What about your interactions with your big named agencies, big city agencies. That article really hit home with me because it’s not something that is really talked about and yet it is talked about behind closed doors I guess you could say, with recruiters or with whoever and it does seem to be a bit of a trend that the bigger the agency and the bigger the city the more they only respect certain types of people that have a written history that they can recognise rather than one that can also be full of achievement. I wondered if that was just me and my friend. When I’ve worked with these agencies, not interviewed actually worked with them, I kind of did feel the same, dare I say, attitude. It was a very sort of… They were much more above us they were looking down on us they were the big boys as it were. I’m honestly just curious is just a few of us or is this felt across the industry and something we should be talking about a little bit more?
Paul: I mean I certainly feel like it with some of the London agencies that I’ve worked with you know the big players. I’ve worked with such and such or whoever but then if I’m honest I think I’ve got a bit of a snobbery about them as well. That I haven’t got a lot of time for those agencies because they come out of the print background I don’t feel that they really understand user experience I think they’re very good at aesthetic design and marketing, but not very good user experience. And so as a result I suspect they pick up the same feeling from us as we do from them. And you might just need to accept that they are a different breed of people that need different things. If you come from a user experience background and that kind of segment then you are naturally just going to be very, maybe not a good fit for a larger agency like that and they should be looking for, within the pool of people that do come from those kinds of backgrounds. It’s a bit like saying you’re a mechanical engineer or a civil engineer, it’s different disciplines in a way. Marcus you’ve worked with all kinds of different organisations over the years what’s your perspective?
Marcus: I have, I’ve never been in the position where I trying to get a job at a large London agency so I can’t really comment on that as far as their attitude to employing people but I’ve worked with a few big agencies in partnership on certain web projects over the years and they’ve always been great. Maybe that’s because it’s a different situation. So I can’t really comment on that but I was just going to say that for us at Headscape because I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast, we have got gradually smaller over the last three years, five years actually, just because it’s just nicer that way. The benefits of being able to, kind of, everybody muck in and not having to worry about HR issues and stuff like that just outweigh anything that any large agency or large company can bring. I remember I used to work at a large company many years ago, it was a paper company and had 20,000 employees, you’d have great parties and things like that when the sales department have their Christmas party it was amazing because there was so much money floating around but the rest of the time you felt like it was not a particularly nice place to work for the politic and as you mentioned Sam you can’t change anything ever, things are just done the way they’re done.
Sam: I was just wondering at Headscape how do you address that kind of career progression thing. I think that is one of the primary reasons, you have good people that really enjoy working at that size agency but it just gets the point that it becomes repetitive. So how do you, do you have a specific way of dealing with that at Headscape?
Paul: We drug them (laughter) keep them sedated.
Marcus: Keep telling them that they can leave when I do. You can’t have a specific, you know, if you’ve done this amount of years in this job or you meet this particular amount of experience then you will automatically move on to X role or Y role. It’s more a case of keep talking to people about what they want from their job and from their career. I also think that the smaller you are, which relates to what I was just saying, the less people worry about whether they are a senior or a middle level or junior or whatever. It’s more a case of “is the work interesting and am I being fulfilled by the work and am I being fulfilled by working with the people around me?” And if the answer to those questions is yes then chances are going to be less worried about whether you become senior this or a manager or director or whatever. I guess if you really do want to end up being a board director or something like that then you will have to move from agency to agency from company to company. But I like to think it’s the benefits that working for somebody like that us outweigh those possible personal requirements that you might have.
Paul: You say that Marcus, about if you want to be a board director or whatever you going to need to move company, that’s actually not true. I mean at Headscape we took a project manager, someone we originally hired as a project manager and he became a part of the board.
Marcus: He did but that wasn’t something that he could work to like it was written down, if you do X you can become this. I’m not saying… Yeah of course certain situations might come up that mean that you might offer that. We have offered more than that person board level positions in the past.
Sam: So at Headscape do you tend to interview and take on people from big corporate backgrounds because just from my experience when we were trying to do that at a smaller company it was nothing against the person is just they didn’t really fancy what they perceived to be lack of… It’s funny because when I worked at a small agency then I went to a medium, the people that had come from corporate thought that that medium was incredibly disorganised whereas I thought it was incredibly organised. It was very interesting. When we had people interviewing coming to join us from a corporate, again it was such a different world they just didn’t get on with it. I was just wondering that Headscape did you have anyone from that background who now prefers the smaller.
Marcus: We’ve had, I’m trying to think…
Paul: We did have a very bad experience Marcus. When we hired somebody. Whether that was because they came from a big corporate background or whether it was because they came from a public sector background.
Marcus: I know what you’re thinking of Paul and the experience there was that they wanted something more structured, less seat of the pants than for working for a small agency and that didn’t work out. We are not specifically looking for corporate people or non-corporate people. It’s just the right kind of people I guess. We are always looking for people who are able to think on their own is the most important quality for working at Headscape.
Paul: Dan you’ve been very quiet about this. What’s your feelings on it?
Dan: Yeah well, I mean, when we have hired we have tried to look for people that are in a kind of similar-sized company to where we see ourselves being. So for example Matt who we first hired came from… He was a freelancer, he ran his own kind of shop before joining us and he stayed the longest with us. We’ve always looked for people who kind of like that. They like the fact that they have an impact in a small team because they are typically the people who are happy to have their voice and are not be afraid to give their opinion and get involved and muck in we are very happy to then share the intimacies of the business with them because they have a real understanding of what it takes to make a small business work. We have always tried to look for people in that kind of space because we think it is more of a fit for us in terms of what we want from them. What we don’t want is just another minion to delegate the work to. We have always been about trying to create a small family feel and that might be corny and it might be cheesy but it is, kind of, if we can get people who also want to work in a company like that with the same values starting that is really valuable because ultimately they will stay with you. If they do leave it is going to be on really good terms generally. We have never had anybody leave because they simply don’t like working with us. They are “we like working with you guys but there is a different opportunity that’s come up” or whatever. You know sometimes people’s motivations change sometimes they do want to… “I do need something bigger with a bit more structure”, “I do want to get up to that senior management role”. We are not able to offer that because we do not have that, we have a flat structure so we simply can’t offer that. We always try and get people that, when they join us anyway, that Is what they want. They want the flat structure, they want to be able to muck in and get involved and feel like they are actually moulding the kind of company that we become.
Paul: I’ve got to say I don’t really understand when people say they want the career path, when they say that. I don’t understand what that means. Is that code for I want more money because it potentially… You don’t need to be in a large organisation necessarily to be earning more money. Or is it I want more responsibility, in which case again do you need a larger organisation for that? Sam what’s your… You’ve got that big a company perspective, what do people mean when they say that?
Sam: I mean I’ve heard it in every size company I’ve worked at, to be fair. I think it differs between people when they say the same thing. I think a lot of people that say I want to be a director, they want to be important. They want to be in a room where the decisions are made it is appealing to them. Other people they just want to know what’s next. I think early in my career I was no different, I was thinking what’s next, what’s next. It took me quite a long time to realise that you get to a point in your career where you start to do sort of sidesteps rather than forward all the time and the sidestep is just as new and interesting. But I think you have to be quite lucky in your career to get to that point, if that makes sense. What I found managing people for quite a few years is that it’s really about are you still interested in your work, irrelevant almost of what level of work that is. Are you still interested? As a manager I always say, a big part of my job is to get you to the next level. But I’m not going to say the next promotion, you know, it’s the next level of your career, the next… Where you’ve clearly… if you look back at where you were when you started you can see a huge difference. I think that’s what to me over the last 15 years, that’s my sense of achievement. That’s what I think is got more substance than the title because you can move and get a title if you want it, you can get paid less and have less authority with it so it doesn’t really mean much.
Paul: Okay so I wanted to move on to my subject. I am actually introducing a subject to discuss on the show. Dan I know you were amazing excited to hear what I had to bring to the table weren’t you? You were teasing me on in previous weeks.
Dan: Yeah, just, you know it’s nice to see you do some work Paul.
Paul: It’s good and you’re going to be so blown away by what I want to talk about. I wanted to talk to you guys about time management, right. This, to be honest, is a little bit of a rant okay, and I want your opinions on this. The one thing I hear, whether I’m talking doing mentoring with agency people or whether I’m talking to in-house teams, the one thing I hear again and again is “Yeah I really ought to do that but I just don’t have the time”. This strikes me as bollocks because… I’ll tell you why… I’ll tell you why because we’ve all got the same number of hours in the day. We all have bosses or clients that are putting pressure on us to deliver. So I don’t understand how I seem to be able to do all this shit and other people don’t. In fact not just me, I would say everyone that is in this podcast today are people that manage to blog or manage to contribute to the community or manage to do all of these other things above and beyond their job, their official job. And I’m just interested in… Am I just being utterly unreasonable. Marcus you always like to tell me I’m being unreasonable, what do you think?
Marcus: You and I have a very different approach to time management I would say.
Paul: Yes you do but I would still say you achieve shit loads.
Marcus: Yeah, my method… My method, that’s far too strong a word!… The way I view time management is just don’t worry about it too much, you’ve just got to get on and do it. Rachel sent an email earlier that made me laugh when she said she wouldn’t be able to make it onto the show. She said her attitude to this was “just do the bloody work”. Which is kind of how I am. What you do, Paul, is that you are very very organised with your time management thing that you do, I can’t remember what it’s called, Get Things Done, that’s it. Which… I haven’t got the time to do “get things done”. (Laughter) Inclination is the word there actually.
Paul: Yes, but what you’ve done is nail it. “I haven’t got the time to do that” is actually often times, in my opinion, “I can’t be arsed to do it.” That’s the cynical attitude that I have towards this. And that’s fair enough, if you don’t want to do “getting things done” you don’t want to do “getting things done” and that’s fair enough but don’t pretend it’s because of a lack of time.
Marcus: Yes. I don’t get… I’m not constantly pulling my hair out, “oh, I forgot to do that”, "oh I forgot to do that,‘’ I’m not like that so it’s okay. I know what the priorities are, I write stuff down, I have lists in Evernote and I just get on and do it’s really. Blogging is a good one with me, I tend to… I probably should do it more than I do but I tend to blog when I’ve got something I actually want to say. Which for me comes up about once every couple of months, then I’ll do it. But I can’t do it like you do Paul, I must get this out, this one this week, and the next one next week. I find that too much of a chore. Which comes down to being not bothered actually Paul.
Paul: Yes. I was going to say is that because of a lack of time or lack of inclination it’s two very different things isn’t it?
Paul: Dan, I can tell that you are champing at the bit.
Dan: No, not at all. I think I’m one of those people thats definitely, I’m probably leaning more towards you Marcus in terms of where I sit. I write to-do lists then I forget to complete them and I don’t do them in order and I struggle with them. Anyway, I was speaking to a guy called Dan Moore a while ago now and we spoke about time quite a bit and it was just before he was doing a presentation in which he spoke a lot about time. He said he stopped talking about “I haven’t got the time” and instead talked about “priorities”. So saying “this is not a priority for me right now.” So when it comes to “I haven’t redone my portfolio” or “I haven’t written that article” it’s because it’s not been a priority because the priorities been something else, the client work or spending time with family. I think ultimately that’s what we all do, maybe even subconsciously we put things off because we say… You know even if we try and cover up it’s up with “I can’t be bothered” I think it’s just because something else is more of a priority to us. Now, I think the problem comes when the priorities are that you want to go and play the PlayStation and… “Oh well I don’t really want to write this article because I’d rather be doing that”. Its managing your priorities I guess. Understanding what is a priority for you personally I think is really important not simply doing something just because somebody else also happens to put out an article every week. And then those priorities change all the time. For us right now as a company with lots of change and everything that’s happening at No Divide our priorities are having to change. We are having to kind of put a… Put some things to the back seat, as it were, because suddenly the most important thing is not that thing any more. We have to put a focus into something else, understanding what those priorities are I think is what allows me to make the decisions.
Paul: I want to come to Sam in a minute as the project manager of the team, he has probably got some good contributions but I haven’t got a problem with people playing the Xbox. I’m not suggesting that people should work really long hours, I think my problem is this… One thing that comes up a lot is “Well I don’t have time to do that because I’ve got all these meetings have got to be at” or “My boss tells me I’ve got to work on this” or “My client is so demanding”. I would say that part of our role in our job is actually to effectively manage those kinds of interactions. Sam, how do you see things because you must have to juggle so many different things in your role?
Sam: Yes, I went from front-end development straight into project management and that was when I got my first hit of what a real heavy context which it actually is. I was going for maybe doing two projects a day to maybe working on between 20 and 30 different things. And I very quickly lost control. So I actually found “getting things done”, GTD, from a friend at work, and I still use it to this day. I don’t know how people operate without it now almost!
Paul: No, I don’t. Also interestingly Rachel uses it. It is a shame we don’t have Rachel on the show.
Sam: I mean people here GTD and I think a lot of people think I don’t have time to do that because they assume they have to implement the entire thing. And I mean it is, if you’ve got the whole book it is huge there is a whole load of stuff that you can do. I think that all I do is that I have the next actions, waiting for and somedays. The two minute rule which I really like. That’s if you get a task, whatever that task is, that you know is going to take less then say five minutes, two minutes, just do it there and then. No hesitation. Just do it. And inbox zero, so inbox zero, I think people think it is purely cathartic but actually the real power of it for me is that I have no surprises. I feel like I am in control. That is leading on to what I found when people also say “I don’t have time for this”. There’s been many times, including myself actually, I’m as guilty of this as anybody, when I don’t think I’ve got time because I’m just stressed or I’m overwhelmed. The actual things that I’ve got to do in front of me can be done in the time that I have. But for some reason it just feels like I’ve got too much on and my defaults snappy answer is “I haven’t got time”. I think when I’ve had a team member with that you just talk them and say “What have you got on?” You just talk it through and you suddenly realise that you can do it. And again, definitely the kind of… “I just don’t want to do it”. I’d rather someone say “I don’t want to do it” than I haven’t got time“. But you know what? I think I do that myself. I think I look back and… ”I’m the guilty, I’m as guilty there".
Paul: Drew, I’m quite interested because I know that Rachel is big getting things done person, are you as well? If you are not what it is like living with someone that is that anal and uptight about task management.
Drew: Yeah, I haven’t had time to read the book yet so! (Laughter) No, I don’t do getting things done. I don’t know why, I guess, no, I don’t know why. If I did read the book I would probably have more of an idea about why I don’t do it or why I should be doing it.
Paul: Is it that you don’t have to juggle lots of different things as much?
Drew: No, I have to juggle all sorts of things. In fact that’s probably the biggest challenge that I face because I am primarily responsible for all our customer support with Perch. Which basically comes in on a rolling 24 hour basis and everybody needs an answer really quickly. So actually it’s very difficult to get stuck into any single bit of work like “real work” in finger quotes. I guess it’s the same as managing projects, the phone is always ringing or there is more emails coming in from the clients who need a response or you need to chase something up quickly. It’s like that when you’ve got a 24-hour help-desk. You have just got to be responding to people and you don’t know when you’re going to have a quiet hour or whether they you are just going to lose an entire day to those sorts of requests. So, it’s very, very difficult and I’m not sure there is a great way of dealing with that other than maybe just not dealing with it. And saying “well, you’re all going to wait for three or four hours while I get some work done.”
Paul: That is one of the things that I would normally recommend. It’s interesting, I wrote an article that goes alongside this that we will put in the show notes, I list something like 32 little things that you can do to find yourself more time and one of them is batching stuff like that. You do all of your emails, I talk about doing email three times a day. Once at the beginning of the day once at lunchtime and once at the end of the day. I have to think, really, waiting two or three hours is that actually that big a deal that someone has to wait that long. Even with something as important as customer support do they really expect you to respond faster than that?
Drew: I think sometimes yes. Sometimes people have been upgrading a live website and something hasn’t gone as they expected and their customers website is now in a broken state and they didn’t read the instructions and didn’t make a backup and they are in a panic and they want help and they want help straightaway and they are not going to be happy waiting three hours for that while their customer site is down. That might be an unreasonable demand for that customer of ours to make but we don’t want to be ignoring them whilst they are in that situation.
Paul: Hmm, but it is very difficult isn’t it, because other people put expectations on us the whole time. I think that is half the problem with team management “Oh yeah, you’ve got to come to this meeting at this time” well, that time, it cuts right through the middle of my day and also out of that hour and a half, unspecified length, meeting actually really there’s only about 20 minutes worth of stuff that applies to me I have to sit through the whole thing. And I think that is a lot of people’s problems. I totally agree with Marcus’ comment about “You’ve just got to do it”. That is one big thing that I think holds people back is that they procrastinate about stuff rather than getting on with it. But also I think the other thing is just picking up people’s expectations. People expect us to jump so we jump. I don’t think we can always do that if we are going to be efficient in our own work.
Drew: Yeah I think that’s fair. Thinking back over my career to the time where I’ve been most productive. One point I had a job where I had a job as one developer on a team of eight and I wasn’t the most senior developer and so people weren’t constantly asking me to come into meetings and give opinions on things or whatever. I was able to actually just get on and do the work that I had been assigned rather than any other work that was coming in. I didn’t have to deal with clients, I just had some features to implement and I was given them and I was able to sit and work a solid day coding. And I’ve never been more productive. My other teammates sort of jokingly saying that I was making them look bad because I was getting so much done. And, you know, that felt great to be able to achieve so much in a day. I think that’s part of what can bog an individual down in terms of productivity is if it’s been a long time since you’ve had a really good productive day you forget the positive feeling of getting to the end of the day and thinking “Right, I’ve achieved loads today I’m going to take the evening off, I’ve deserved it”… The good feeling about the work you’ve done. Once you get to a certain distance from the last time that happened you can forget what you are aiming for, you can forget that you are actually trying to achieve a lot because achieving a lot a) gets stuff done and b) makes you feel good about the work that you are doing. So then it’s difficult to motivate yourself to keep going and to keep striving for that. It is easy just to, you know, tell people that you haven’t got time and get stuck in the mire a bit.
Marcus: Yeah, I’ve got… Something occurred to me that I read the other day, it’s a tangent but it’s kind of relevant. It was to do with an apparent or supposed trend towards people wanting to deliver lower quality in the way they are at work. It was a kind of reaction to this idea that we are all expected to work 14 hour days and be super brilliant at everything we do. I think it was in a newspaper, I can’t remember which one, but it was just this idea that more and more, apparently, I haven’t experienced this but this is probably in bigger company culture, referring back to what we were talking about a little while ago. This idea that people don’t turn up to meetings and they don’t respond to tasks or you’ll suddenly get extra people turning up to meeting because they fancy just wandering into a meeting. I just thought, I’m reading this thinking, “I don’t know if that’s a thing or not” so I thought I’d just fire it in here to see if you’ve… If anyone has found that people are kind of, I guess it’s a type of mutiny type thing isn’t it? It’s like “I’m not going to be this perfect individual, I’m not going to jump”, because you mentioned that Paul, “when somebody expect something to happen.” I haven’t noticed it but then we work in this nice little company where you are not going to have that sort of thing happening. But I have… I was just thinking out loud… I have experienced it with clients lately. But maybe just because I read the article I am noticing it and it’s something that has always happened. But I am finding that I am getting cancelled, you know, particular meeting or I am interviewing somebody and that will be cancelled. Postponed, cancelled then postponed and I was just wondering if this is a reaction to expectations of this idea of organising your time perfectly and making sure that you are as perfect as you can be. Don’t know.
Paul: I think it is quite an interesting one, I think, it reminds me of one of the points that I raised in the article, which is that if somebody is asking you to do something that is unimportant. Which often happens especially if you are working as part of an internal team, cut corners. Do it quick, do it dirty get it out the door and focus on stuff that is more important. You know, I see a lot of people that go “Oh, I can’t think strategically about the future of our department because I’m always firefighting stuff that the CEO wants us to do” or whatever. Well, do it quick, do it to a low standard and just get it out of the door and move onto what’s more important. Personally. As far as meetings are concerned I think meetings, most of the time, are the biggest waste of time ever, personally, but I’m sure Sam as a project manager is going to massively disagree with me on that.
Sam: No not really. I mean if there are some meetings that are a waste of… It’s about the person who’s running the meeting I think the default should be that you can dial in or video in. I think in today’s technology that should just be given so you don’t have to leave your desk you can listen and contribute where you need to. Or you know what? Shut off. But you are still there you can type, whatever. There’s a compromise to be had there.
Paul: I would agree. Another thing I say in the article is if they have got certain questions that they want you to cover in the meeting you can get the questions in advance and email them the responses to them.
Paul: And that they can call you in the meeting if they need to but otherwise you can just get on with your work. Or just get them to give you an agenda for the meeting. Which so many people seem reluctant to put effort into to putting together a flipping agenda together. Get an agenda and just turn up for the 10 minutes that you need to be there out of the three-hour frigging meeting. Anyway I’m ranting, Drew?
Drew: The last time I had a proper job the real killer meetings were daily stand-ups.
Paul: Really, that’s interesting.
Drew: Yeah, every morning would have a stand up at like 9:30. You get into the office 8:30 and you’d potter and email a bit thinking you couldn’t start anything because you knew you had a meeting at 930. Then you’d go to the meeting it have to find where the meeting room was, which meeting room it was in that day, which floor that was on, find where on earth that meeting room was on that floor then you get to your meeting and you’d all stand there for 45 minutes, an hour while people would say what they were doing…
Paul: That’s not a stand-up that torture.
Drew: Yeah well it was definitely standing up. For a very long time. Then you do that and by the time you got back to your desk it was 11 o’clock, 11:30 maybe. Oh “I won’t start anything now because it’s going to be lunchtime soon.” I mean, it would just completely kill your productivity for the whole of the morning.
Sam: I’ve seen them done on slack recently. Stand-ups on slack. You have maybe one in person per week but if you are going good guns as it were then people just do it in slack. It seems to work fine.
Drew: Yeah, I think that would be sensible. I mean ideally if you were all communicating on something like slack where it doesn’t… it’s not disruptive for somebody to give a status update, they can give a status update and other people can view it as and when. Then there is no need to have a meeting at all.
Paul: What you’ve identified really well there Drew is the fact that a meeting isn’t just the time of the meeting is the time either side of it as well. And that is so true with any kind of interruption it starts eating into time around it because you got to go “what was I doing again?” Or in your case find the meeting room and all the rest of it. So there’s so much more when it comes to interruptions. Dan how do you deal with all this?
Dan: Well, I was going to comment on stand-ups really because it was something that we we do as a company. We found ourselves basically having time just run away with us and kind of chatting about all sorts really. And we would have exactly that we wouldn’t start any real work until them and then would run on for too long and it would be like “Right, that’s lunch”. It was just ridiculous. So we set ourselves rules basically that we wouldn’t discuss personal things unless somebody obviously wanted to… particularly something “I need to talk to you guys about this”. But that wouldn’t be done in the stand-up typically. So we limited the water cooler talk, you know. Keep the informal chat to a maximum of five minutes. “Hello, how are you doing?” That kind of thing. If there was something that happened the night before then a quick ask about it but that’s it. Just focus on what each person needs to accomplish for the day, any roadblocks which would stand in the way and any in-depth conversations we would say “Right let’s schedule a time and we will speak about that later on in the day.” All personal chitchat would be done on slack and we would have a maximum of 15 minutes for the session so if we said “Right, we’ve already hit the 15 minutes guys, we’re all clear on what we need to do” then we would just go “Right we will just end that” and we would literally just cut it. We always try to keep a kind of, I don’t know, an eye on exactly what was going on and what the point of having them was. If we felt that we didn’t need to have them then it would be simple as having a message on slack channel saying “hey guys unless anybody disagrees I don’t think there’s a reason to have a stand-up this morning”. I think that’s the thing, meetings for the sake of meetings are the worst thing in the world so if you don’t need to stand up then don’t do them. We found that as a remote company, because we don’t really get face-to-face time it is nice to have that 15 minutes of “Oh hello, morning, how you doing?” And then “What are you working on today”, “Okay, cool, this is what I’m doing, by the way I need this before I can do that”. It just gets that stuff out of the way very quickly and I also think it brings everybody together as a kind of “Right we are all starting the day now”. For us it worked but we did have to limit it because it is very easy to set the world to rights. I remember when Brexit happened we spoke for about an hour and it was just like… You can’t do that all the time right! So… Having those rules and things in place that allowed us to make sure we kept really focused was really important for us.
Marcus: We stopped doing daily standouts for exactly the reason that Drew has just described. Because basically, unless you force people all to come in at the same time which we never wanted to do because we are a small company and some people like starting early, some people like starting late, et cetera, et cetera. That they just get in the way. So obviously we have project discussions all the time which might be meetings, they might be on slack. We basically have a kind of chatty stand-up every Tuesday lunchtime where I provide food and you can basically say what you’re working on what is coming up in that kind of thing but also you can talk about anything you like. And it can take an hour and 1/2 or whatever but it is over lunch. Or either side of lunch. And that seems to work quite nicely at the moment.
Drew: Can I come?
Marcus: Yes you can, You are very welcome.
Paul: You must get… You’ve got a bit of a weird problem, Drew, that you spend most of your life working by yourself. Though I suppose so do I for that matter. But it’s a different set of problems isn’t it then.
Drew: Yeah, and that leads in its own way to other problems. You think if you’re project team of essentially one or two that then you don’t have all the overhead of the bureaucracy of managing a project but sometimes it can go the other way and then you don’t have any system in place and the danger is I can end up going off down the rabbit hole doing a whole bunch of work. And Rachel is constantly on at me, like “What are you doing, what an earth you doing”. Not that I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing but it is just like she doesn’t know because we don’t have the project management structure then around it because there are not more of us where we need to be more formally organised. So yes it can sometimes i think a daily stand-up meeting might help but I’m not standing!
Marcus: Hello Drew. It’s Drew here, what are you working on today?! (Laughter)
Drew: In the mirror, “You’re a Tiger, you’re a Tiger” (laughter)
Paul: You see I’ve found myself starting to have something that is very unlike me which is I have found myself starting to procrastinate more. I always used to be someone, I’d want to “just make a decision and get on with it” but now it’s just me I’m beginning to… I always knew I had the safety net before of “Oh, Chris will tell me that I’m being an idiot”, “Stop doing that, do something useful.” But I don’t have that any more and so I’ve found myself starting to procrastinate a little bit more over stuff and not make decisions. “Oh, is that good enough? Perhaps I ought to do it this way”. I think that’s another big thing about productivity is to just make a frigging decision! You know, move on, keep moving forward the whole time. And talking of that I think we probably ought to wrap up. You know we’ve only managed to get through to subjects this week. Thats a new low, well done us. But there you go, such is life and good subjects they were. And I think mine was the best! That’s all I’m saying.
Sam: Slight irony on the time management there Paul but let’s carry on.
Paul: Ahh, yes. You have pointed out the fundamental flaw there. Thanks project manager!
Sam: No problem at all, always here to help.
Paul: Yeah exactly!
So let’s talk quickly about our second sponsor for the day which is currencyfair. They enable you to save about 80% on international transfer fees and exchange rates. They’ve got none of that hidden commission thing of where we going to give you a really rubbish exchange rate so that we can make a profit off this. There are rates average about 0.35% above the rate that you’ll see quoted on Google. So you can see exactly how much they are making out of the whole scenario. Their rates are live they are constantly updating them all the time. You can go along to their website and find out exactly how much money they are getting. So the customers can exchange immediately if you want to. You can go along and see how much you will get for your money and then make an exchange there and then. Or you can wait until a certain exchange rate is matched which is really useful. They’ve got many different types of customers, obviously it’s great for small businesses like me that deal with clients abroad and you end up with money in US dollars or whatever. But even like, Marcus, for example, I could imagine you retiring very soon because you are so incredibly old! And maybe retiring to the south of France? Does that appeal?
Marcus: That sounds lovely Paul.
Paul: Okay so you retire to the south of France but you’ve sold your home and you need to transfer the money into euros and so again a service like this would be really good for that. And also maybe your pension is still… Your Headscape pension which I’m sure it’s massive, you’ve been investing well in your pension over the years Marcus!
Marcus: Massively Paul, massively.
Paul: I know how seriously you take pensions. And that will be paid in UK and you will need it in euros. So lots of different ways, you get the idea. You can find out more about currency for by going to currencyfair.com/boag. All right, so I think that about wraps us up. Marcus do have a joke for us?
Marcus: I do have a joke. This is from Jeff Meeds in the Boagworld slack channel. It’s kind of a new favourite, it’s a little tiny bit un-PC but there you go, I’m going to do it anyway. What do you call…
Paul: You’re having a Jeremy Clarkson moment.
Marcus: Yeah. What do you call a hard of hearing country singer?
Marcus: Dolly pardon. (Laughter-ish)
Paul: That is terrible.
Marcus: That is really good, come on!
Paul: Is that really considered not very PC these days?
Marcus: Well I’m picking on the deaf aren’t I? Which is not very nice.
Paul: They deserve it! Well they can’t hear this pod cast can they? Damn, now we’ve got…
Marcus: Stop Paul, Paul stop.
Paul: Now we’ve got a transcription (Transcriber note – Yes and I’m not impressed!) Shit, I’m in trouble. (Transcriber note -He is!) Cath, leave that bit out. My wife now transcribes this, she’ll leave that out. No she won’t, she’ll put it in big letters! (Transcriber note – hmm, maybe I’ll have to have words!) Moving on, talking of slack actually that’s a really good point. Check out our Slack channel if you’re not already on it. For people like Drew who are sad and lonely have no friends and work by themselves the whole time.
Paul: Well, just saying, if you work by yourself like me and Drew then the slack channel is a great place to kind of hang out and meet other people and share crap jokes apparently. You can go to Boagworld.com/slacking and sign up there and I will add you as soon as I get round to it. I really should automate it but I haven’t quite managed that yet. So where can people find out about you guys? Dan, you want to kick off where can they find out more about you?
Dan: The best place is probably Twitter @de and check out my work at nodividestudio.com.
Paul: And you’re taking on work at the moment aren’t you? As I believe?
Dan: I am, thank you very much for the plug!
Paul: That’s all right! I just noticed on slack you are having a chat… that you had a bit of capacity, so…
Dan: Yeah, we had a client drop out so we kind of are busy on development but design I am immediately available so looking for new stuff to be working on.
Paul: Cool, and Marcus? You guys are really busy at the moment aren’t you?
Marcus: Yes we are, yep. So touch wood…
Paul: So you don’t want any work. So give all the work that you would have taken to Headscape, give it to No Divide. Is that right Marcus?
Marcus: No, no, no, no, (laughter) Oh, go on then.
Paul: So where are you? So you are Headscape.co.uk and what’s your Twitter ID?
Paul: Okay, cool. And Sam what about you?
Sam: Website is theSamBarnes.com and Twitter @theSamBarnes.
Paul: Okay so, and finally Drew?
Drew: On Twitter I am @DrewM and you can see what we do at grabaperch.com
Marcus: Tell the joke Drew, it’s a good one.
Drew: Oh, well this is… Just talking about ways of being productive and what have you and getting things done and all that. Merlin Mann famously said that joining a Facebook group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging.
Paul: (laughter) That’s a good one. Yes. Very true. Merlin Mann is a wise, wise man in so many ways and also does some brilliant podcasts if you want a really good giggle. So there you go, that wraps up this weeks show. Thank you very much for listening and we will be back again next week where we talk about more pointless stuff. Thank you and goodbye.