Tree change

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual lately, because we’ve just moved house, and also, I’ve been really under the pump at work. In fact, I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do.
When you’re overwhelmed by work, it’s easy to forget you still have to live your life, that great things still happen, and that every day, you should be just glad to be alive.
I was reminded of that this morning as I walked to the train with my heavy briefcase, on my way to work.
Suddenly, I looked around me and saw the trees. The outer suburb to which we moved two weeks ago is like a country town, and our street is full of well established trees.
Who wouldn’t be happy, walking to the train, with this vista?

Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

It was a glorious autumn day – the best season in Melbourne. Blue skies, trees with multi-coloured leaves. Heavenly!
People say “hello” here. There are a lot of people much older than me, and no one passes me without us saying a hearty “good morning” to each other. The men even tip their hats! Lots of people are walking their dogs, whether it’s 7am or 10.30am (I start work at many different times).
So instead of worrying about work, I’m just going to look at the trees from now on, and think about how lucky I am – to live in such a nice street, to have a job (albeit one without any security whatsoever), and to be able to enjoy every day.

In the end, it’s the little things that count.

A Writer’s Diary #2: Goodbye, dear little filing system

1990s writer's filing system

Ye Olde Worlde Filing System, c1991.

Remember this? If you’re under 30, you’ve probably never seen one: it’s an index-card filing system. Before the internet, this is how we used to file our research. This is the one I compiled when I was writing my historical novel, The Occidentals, set in 19th-century Thailand.
I did six months of full-time research before I started writing the novel. This involved reading and indexing information from 42 books and hundreds of articles. Then, say, when I wanted to know about transport in Bangkok in the 1860s, I would look up the index card labelled “Transport”, and it would tell me the books, articles and page numbers where I would find the information.
Though I have not used this index since the late 1990s, I feel sentimental about it and have kept it all this time in my office. I’ve tried to throw it away several times, but something always stops me doing it. However, finally, I’ve agreed with myself, something once so useful has become just a waste of space.
So, I thought I would take a photo of it and write an obituary for my dear little filing system. Goodbye, you served me well, but now it’s time to go. Xoxo.

How to manage: five essential questions to ask yourself

The famous chocolate-factory scene from the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy: a classic depiction of mismanagement (lack of training, ineffective supervision etc), leading to chaos in the workplace.

The famous chocolate-factory scene from the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy: a classic depiction of mismanagement (lack of training, ineffective supervision etc), leading to chaos in the workplace.

As we near the end of the working year, I want to reflect on the state of workplace management and how it might be improved.

Current management trends seem to be aimed to alienate, divide and conquer. The saying “don’t take it personally, it’s only business” is the sad motto of these worst-business practices. As I see it, this is an international problem.

I’m not in a supervisory or managerial position at the moment, but I have been employed at many workplaces, mostly in the media and academia, but also in primary (elementary) school education, retailing and food.

Using all my experience of observing managers in action, I’ve compiled a list of five essential questions that a manager interested in running an efficient, fair and profitable workplace should ask herself or himself.

1) Is this fair?

It’s the most important question to ask, yet it is the one that rarely is considered. You can live your life by this question—it will help you in every decision you make and will ensure your best ethical reaction to any problem.

2) Am I informed?

Know your workers’ names; the conditions of their employment, such as grading systems, entitlements and salaries; ask them how they want to develop their career, what their ambitions are and whether you can help them achieve that.

3) Do I care?

To care effectively, you have to be interested—in the staff and in the industry. I don’t agree with management principles that teach you to “manage anything”, that it doesn’t matter what the industry is. Of course it does. Running a university, for example, is not the same as running a pie factory.

4) What are the long-term consequences of this action?

There might be short-term gains—such as immediate cost-cutting—in taking a particular action, but ultimately, these short-sighted cuts may not be good for the company. Here’s an example: a publication I once worked for in the 1990s decided to fire all its photographers and hire them back as freelancers. Management was horrified to discover that the freelance rates were not only much higher than having in-house photographers, but they could no longer call upon them at short notice; they had to be booked ahead of time. This resulted in stories being lost to other publications. Someone hadn’t done the long-term maths on this one. Today, that publication is a shadow of its former self (not only because of the photographic issue, of course).

5) Do I have good communication skills?

This would seem to be obvious, but of all the managers I’ve known, perhaps more than half of them had poor communication skills. This typically manifests in managers and workers speaking to each other at cross-purposes.  It’s worth noting that I have worked mostly in communications industries and education, where you’d think these skills would be paramount!

To conclude: two wise principles for managers

When I was in my early 30s, I was assistant editor of a top-selling national Australian magazine, and as the editor prepared to take a six-week vacation, leaving me in charge, he had two pieces of advice for me:

1) Don’t panic;

2) Have faith in your decisions.

I have used this advice ever since in everything I’ve undertaken.