Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Benefits Of A Work Journal

The classic to-do list can be useful tool to facilitate productivity, but it’s not without shortcomings.

For instance, assignments on your list may involve a series of interconnected tasks, or require multiple steps that you can’t easily describe in list format. Sometimes in the midst of carrying out one duty, you’ll identify other issues that require attention, but which you don’t necessarily have time for right now. Instead of crossing out items on your to-do list, you may find yourself modifying and even extending it as the hours march on.

For these reasons, you may find it useful to keep a work journal, to either supplement or substitute for your to-do list.

Self-awareness

By simply taking the time to write down your goals, lessons, and experiences you draw from each day, and any feelings or thoughts you have about them, you afford yourself a chance to troubleshoot, and engage your self-awareness and critical thinking skills.

Have you been avoiding, procrastinating over, or struggling with a task? If so, your difficulties may owe to an emotional obstacle, such as the fear of failure, an unwillingness to check your ego and ask for help, or confusion over the next steps in the process. Journalling forces you to put these barriers to success into words.

Paper or digital?

Of course, this is a matter of personal preference. A digital version offers the advantages of searchability and easy modifiability. A paper (book) version helps to reduce your daily screen time, and you won’t risk losing your journal entries due to a computer malfunction or virus.

Regardless of the medium you choose for your journal, organization is key: each entry should be clearly dated and easily retrievable. You may also benefit from headlining each entry with two or three main themes, for purposes of future reference. For example, “Order confirmation for Mrs. Jafari; keyboard shortcuts”.

Honesty and confidentiality

Like a personal diary, your work journal should be a safe forum for you to express thoughts and concerns related to your job, including the state of interpersonal relationships at the workplace. For this reason, confidentiality is important.

If you believe there’s a risk that another person will discover your journal, and that this discovery may affect your relationships with colleagues or superiors, you’ll censor yourself. The more extensively you engage in self-censorship, the less meaningful your journalling will be to you, especially as the passage of time places distance between your present state of mind and the content of older entries.

Learning from experience

By writing down observations about your own performance, new information you encounter, and lessons you learn from day to day, you’ll stand a better chance of recalling those items when you need them. For example, if an IT technologist at the office shows you a nifty trick for accessing files on a database more quickly, your journal is a great place to record the steps involved. Journalling can also help you learn from your mistakes by noting both the specific details of an error, and the reason(s) why it occurred.

Consider making two daily entries.

A morning entry allows you to envision the day ahead, and draw up your game plan. A second, follow-up entry in the evening allows you to handicap your performance and hold yourself accountable.

Did you accomplish all of the goals you had set for that day? If not, why not? Did you exceed your own expectations? If so, what were the keys to your success?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Overcoming Writer’s Block At Work

We’ve all had the experience of sitting down to pen a new article, marketing e-mail, or blog post, and struggling to get the words out. Even professional authors find that writing can be either simple and straightforward or slow and cumbersome. The first sentence is often the hardest.

A bout of writer’s block is frustrating regardless of the circumstances. But it’s especially annoying when you’re at work, time is of the essence, and you have a lot of other assignments to complete.

If you find that the writing process is challenging or stalled completely, try the following tactics to get yourself back on track.

Make a list of essential items you plan to mention in the piece

This will help to guide and constrain your train of thought. You can also use the items on the list as “seeds” for your paragraphs—start from each individual point, then elaborate upon it in full sentences.

Begin at the end

In writing, as in many other endeavours, it sometimes helps to reorient yourself, or approach the problem from a different angle, when you find yourself stuck. To defeat what I call the first-sentence blues, try starting your written composition at the end—with the last sentence or paragraph. Rather than obsessing about how you want to lead off, think about how you plan to wrap up.

Alternatively, you can simply pretend the first sentence doesn’t exist, write the rest of the article without it, and then add a “first” sentence once 99 percent of the task is already complete.

If time permits, step away and engage yourself in something else

Your writer’s block may be partly attributable to a mental block, which you can remedy by either stimulating your creativity and problem-solving skills, working on a different task for a while, immersing yourself in fresh air, and/or improving circulation of blood and oxygen to your brain.

If you have time for a break, devote a few minutes to a pleasurable activity—like reading, ping-pong, a full-body stretch, or a walk around the neighbourhood. Ideas may occur to you more readily upon your return.

Freewrite

This is exactly what it sounds like: just jot down whatever pops into your head.

Freewriting offers numerous advantages: it helps you structure sentences and express yourself in imaginative ways, enables you to purge distracting or tangential thoughts, and temporarily quiets your inner critic. It can also help you develop a feel for and ease with writing, and furnish ideas that can inspire future articles and posts.

Change your environment

Creativity is among the most complex and mysterious of all human attributes, and surroundings that are conducive to exceptional creativity for some writers are like intellectual deserts for others. For example, at a busy coffee shop, you may be stimulated by the ambient noise, or distracted by conversations at neghbouring tables, order-taking, and the grinding, whistling, and gurgling sounds continually emitted by the machines.

Sometimes our subconscious is acutely aware of barriers to creativity in a particular environment, even when our conscious mind is not. If you find yourself unable to get writing done in one place, try moving somewhere else.

If you don’t need the internet right now, disconnect

The internet is the most powerful informational resource that human beings have ever created, but also arguably the greatest single purveyor of distractions—e-mails, social media, news headlines, celebrity gossip, funny videos of animals doing zany things, to name just a few. This is why Zadie Smith and many other wordsmiths advocate writing on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Confronting Attacks On Your Reputation Online

Anyone who has dealt with online attacks on either their own or their business’ reputation knows how unpleasant it can be—especially when the criticism is disproportionate, inaccurate, or unfair. You may feel inclined to respond to unflattering comments and reviews on your own, to set the record straight. But you’re still busy trying to keep the day-to-day operations of your business running smoothly, and realistically, you just don’t have time to answer every critic. Worse, you know that what gets written online stays online for a long time.

So, what should you do when you’re being trashed on the web? How can you salvage your reputation from haters with seemingly unlimited time on their hands?

Prioritize the most prominent or most commonly recurring negative opinions

You may find that many commenters are highlighting similar themes in their negative reviews. Maybe they’ve all had a comparable experience, or maybe they’ve been influenced by a particularly outspoken seed-planter. Regardless, you’ll save yourself valuable time and energy by locating the original or most prominent exponent of a particular derogatory view. Address that person directly, and try to be diplomatic if you reasonably can.

If a misconception about you or your business is very prevalent in public discourse, or there is a significant issue affecting your organization that requires explanation or clarification, an open letter or public announcement would be more effective than trying to address individuals’ concerns one at a time.

Resist the knee-jerk temptation to become defensive

Defensiveness is a natural reaction when one feels under attack. But a defensive tone can easily invite escalation. Many disgruntled-sounding customers will become more reasonable and even-handed once they’ve calmed down. By contrast, the more heated and argumentative an online discussion gets, the lower the probability of a mutually satisfactory outcome.

A good first step in many cases is to express regret over the unpleasant experience the complainer has had—“I’m sorry that this happened to you.”

Often, you’ll find it’s not difficult to identify the source of the individual’s discontent and possible solutions.

Try to set things right

Does the complainer have a legitimate gripe? Did you or your company do something that caused offense or dissatisfaction? Can the problem be rectified, or at least mitigated? Was it within your control?

Be honest with yourself as you contemplate these questions, and think about ways that you can offer a legitimately dissatisfied customer, client, or stakeholder some consolation. Would a partial or total refund be appropriate? Or a free session or product?

Don’t waste time on lewd or scurrilous comments

You’ve undoubtedly come across the phrase “Don’t feed the trolls”. Indeed, not all critics  are fair, civil, or reasonable, and it’s okay to be discerning about the ones you choose to engage.

Online harassment remains a very serious problem in our society, and the ability to offer opinions anonymously online brings out the worst in certain people. Unfortunately, even in 2016, women and girls in the public eye are still regularly subjected to degrading, misogynistic diatribes. Abusive language and character assassination aren’t justified by any error or misjudgement on your part, and you needn’t feel obliged to put up with such behaviour.

Online fora and social media platforms typically have content management policies, including harassment protocols. If someone is either harassing you directly or spreading hateful innuendo about you or your organization, don’t hesitate to report it to the site’s administrators.

Keep your eye on the ball

While you can’t always dissuade people from making negative comments about you or your business, you can focus on your present and future clients and customers. If you continually learn from your mistakes and do your job responsibly and effectively, you should receive plenty of positive reviews to offset the nasty ones—especially if you make a point of soliciting and incentivizing feedback.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On Canadian Banks and “Bail-ins”

Over the last four decades, financial institutions in many countries have grown to an unprecedented
scale and degree of concentration. In the 2008-09 financial crisis, a wholesale collapse of the dominant banks might have portended a freeze of credit and capital markets—without which a modern economy cannot function. Rather than entertain that risk, policymakers in countries like the U.S., U.K., and continental Europe used a combination of public funds and liquidity created by central banks to rescue several major financial corporations. In other words, these institutions were “bailed out”; the costs of their errors have since been transferred in different forms to various stakeholders, including salary-earners in both the public and private sectors, savers and pensioners, debtors, and taxpayers.

The “bail-in” alternative

On the small island nation of Cyprus, in 2013, uninsured depositors and pensioners at the country’s two largest banks faced the choice of either sacrificing a substantial portion of their savings to keep the financial institutions afloat, or losing a much greater amount in the event of a bank collapse. This is arguably the most (in)famous contemporary example of a “bail-in”—the rescue of an ailing financial institution by its own creditors.

That same year, Canada’s Conservative government proposed a “bail-in” regime for Canadian banks as part of the 2013 federal budget. In its 2016 budget, the current Liberal government offered a virtually identical proposal, and even promised a concrete policy framework to follow. On page 223:

“To protect Canadian taxpayers in the unlikely event of a large bank failure, the Government is proposing to implement a bail-in regime that would reinforce that bank shareholders and creditors are responsible for the bank’s risks—not taxpayers. This would allow authorities to convert eligible long-term debt of a failing systemically important bank into common shares to recapitalize the bank and allow it to remain open and operating. Such a measure is in line with international efforts to address the potential risks to the financial system and broader economy of institutions perceived as ‘too-big-to-fail’.”

A few key details are worthy of note here:

1.    The word “creditors” is ambiguous; it may encompass not only investors and bondholders, but depositors too.

2.    Canada is not Cyprus. Unlike the Eurozone states, our country has its own sovereign currency and central bank, which means our government needn’t go cap-in-hand to a foreign central bank to borrow in its own currency. This enables potential policy alternatives to the kind of “bail-in” that Cypriots endured. For example, the Bank of Canada could theoretically pump liquidity into insolvent banks by acting as the buyer of last resort for those banks’ bonds.

3.    Canada has an insurance program covering various categories of deposits up to $100,000 through the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC). But the CDIC’s total holdings amount to a small fraction of the total value of insured deposits across Canada. In the CDIC’s 2015 annual report, the ratio was $3.044 billion in cash and investments held by the agency, plus a $20 billion borrowing limit, to $684 billion in insured deposits.

4.    The government’s “bail-in” proposal doesn’t actually rectify the too-big-to-fail problem—in fact, it doesn’t even purport to do so. Rather, the stated goal of the policy is to keep “systemically important” (i.e. too-big-to-fail) institutions “open and operating”, and transfer the costs of doing so from taxpayers to bank creditors.

Assuming the proposed “bail-in” regime takes effect, would the full value of your deposits in Canada’s major banks be safe in the event of another 2008-magnitude crash?

Maybe, but not certainly. At the very least, if you have a bank account in excess of $100,000 in any of the big Canadian banks, it might be a good idea to split it so that all of your deposits remain below the CDIC-insured limit.