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September 2002 - Lists!

Well, I have survived the first few weeks as a displaced Kiwi in the Aussie fold! Beyond having a hard time convincing beurocrats that I really do exist and NO I really don't work in NZ and Australia at the same time it has been a wonderful few weeks. I have been made feel very welcome indeed and the future looks brilliant, challenging but exciting.

In coming into a new environment it behoved me to look back on my time at Wellington to try to identify the mistakes I have made in the past and to develop some strategies to prevent me making the same mistakes again here in Perth. What have I come up with?

Clarity in communication. Communication has two parts to it. One part is about giving a message to somebody the other part is ensuring that the message has been received and understood. You must go into every meeting being very clear about what you want to achieve from that meeting - whether you have called that meeting or someone else has. Have an agenda, which is simply a list of what you want to achieve. Working towards accreditation we need to document lab meetings so use a notebook to record your meeting goals. You also need to verify that all those involved are leaving the meeting with the same messages. The wrap up is another very important step that allows you to check off the items on your agenda. So often in the hurly-burly of daily work, I have omitted this step - to my detriment.

Action lists. These strike fear into many hearts but they are critical to efficient time management and prioritization. An action list from a meeting provides a summary of that meeting - the minutes are effectively there without having to be written! The action list should reflect the agenda.

Making up a list at the start, or end, of each day focuses the mind and helps assign priorities. You daily action list with even half the items ticked off at the end of the day tells you that you have made progress today. Those items that remain for days at a time either don't really need to be there - remove them - or if important, they will be back to bite you. Seeing them on a daily basis will force you to deal with them.

Follow through. Having ideas, identifying problems, setting goals is all very good, nay essential. The generation of the idea, though, is the easy part. It is following up on the idea when the going gets busy that is the hard but most important part. In tennis, golf or cricket it is the follow through that defines where the ball will go, so too with an idea or initiative. Again an action list will help keep you focussed, help ensure priorities mean something.

Feedback. This is another crucial step and again action lists will keep you on the right track. As with any biochemical or physiological process, If there is no feedback loop then the process runs out of control. We all understand how important this is physiologically, but this is something I am often guilty of neglecting in day to day activity. Without providing and receiving feedback you will very quickly undo the positives you are achieving. Feedback is the glue that holds a team together.

Whilst my thinking may be somewhat coloured by management experience in Wellington, these same thoughts apply to day to day issues, research activity and QA activity. Having a project plan with a record of achievements and progress will spur you on to achieve more things. With any research activity it is the detailed note keeping, discussion and critiquing that guarantees progress and generates new ideas from observations that at first glance may seem unrelated.

I have often blamed my increasing utilization of lists on advancing maturity and my inability to remember everything except relevant information. The truth of the matter is that my lists are a key tool in keeping me on the straight and narrow and heading in the right direction. Microsoft Outlook presenting me with a list of tasks each morning, when I boot my computer, is a sure way of making me organize my day and reassess priorities. The busier I am, the more important my lists are, both in ensuring things get done, and in letting me see I have actually achieved something today.

Now that I can tick this off my list, I have time to go for a wander and enjoy my environment. It is a day to be enjoyed - pity about the lack of rain though!

Happy list writing,

Kevin, September, 2002




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