Making Judgements and Personal Flexibility

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A work colleague told me you shouldn’t judge people.  The trouble is, our economic, political and legal systems depend on someone judging something. Judgement of a chief exec’s ability to build customer support and create shareholder wealth. Voters on Election Day judging the government and its leader’s performance to date. Jurors deciding whether someone accused of a crime is guilty, beyond all reasonable doubt. We even make a safety judgement, when we let another person drive us somewhere in the car.

So if at times, we have to judge, does having more personal flexibility (PFL) make for better judgements? Ones that are fairer or more accurate?

Take a moment to think about how you make a judgement. Is it:

  1. First impressions rule ok.
  2. I’ll stay unconvinced until you prove it to me.
  3. I just don’t believe the so-called evidence you’re providing and serving up more of it won’t change my view (I suspect you’re lying).
  4. I’ll go with what I think is the most moral option.
  5. Which option will benefit me the most?
  6. Which option is the least risky?
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So how can Personal Flexibility help? One way is to select from a wider set to tools, on a case-by-case basis. In other words, don’t just apply one of the above approaches to all situations needing your judgement. In more other words, first judge which approach to use for the situation at hand. Maybe try making a second judgement (of the same situation) using one of the other approaches. See if you get the same result. If not, try adding a third approach and go with two out of three. If you face a really tricky situation, where you have to make a judgement call, apply all of the above, putting different weighting’s on the approaches if you have to. And add up the overall score (for or against).

Another way is to make a judgement. Observe the result with an open mind, And then change your judgement if need be. Changing your judgement isn’t weakness. Instead it’s evolution. Smart researchers who go on to develop wonder drugs, clever engineering solutions, or win Nobel prizes, aren’t afraid to evolve their theories if need be. Brave and respected politicians likewise.

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A further way to decide is the ‘Benjamin Franklin’ approach. Write down a list of pros and cons. Then go with the overall result, taking into account that some on the list might be significant and others minor (split each list into significant and minor items if need be).

If you find these blogs useful and meaningful, feel free to tell others.

Simon

Personal Flexibility and Time Management Revisited

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The Royal Trinity Hospice in London apparently has a motto ‘living every moment’. It’s a great one for terminally ill people, to make the most of the life they have left. Essentially it’s about enriching time.

If you’re pushed for time, try the technique of playing for time. Tell someone you can come up with a good answer or solution – perhaps better than they’re expecting. But you need another x hours to do so. This blogger has been in a couple of life-threatening, outdoor situations, slammed by multiple problems at once. Playing for time (the plan ‘B’), can literally save your life.

Staying in time (being a slave to the rhythm) can ease the burden. Especially if learning something new like; dancing, singing, swimming, marching, relay races or three-legged races in some parent-child, school event. Making love or debt repayments. Or following that car in front of your one.

Paying for time is a great solution for income-rich, time-poor people. Or those doing online grocery shopping because they don’t want to spend time driving to the store and shopping in person.

Making time and keeping time are like what you should do with promises. Choose carefully how to spend your allotted time (and choose your promises carefully too, preferably under-promise and over-deliver). Keep track of whether the time (and effort) invested is paying off in some way for you. We don’t have to charge for our time. But it’s ok to have expectations.  That in return for your valuable time, something positive should result.

Leveraging time is about reaping multiple benefits from one action. Lazy people love it.

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Use your daily work commute productively, not simply as an entertainment opportunity. Let your car’s onboard computers automatically handle more support aspects of your driving experience. So you can have a rewarding conversation with passengers instead.

Juggling time (or thin-slicing your time) is about juggling lots of loose ends, when you face delays and lead times. This blogger was recently given the job at work of setting up a new office in a foreign (non English speaking) country in Europe. As you can imagine, loads of signed form originals and ID documents were required, all referring to each other. Since you can’t complete any one aspect in its entirety, juggle the steps in the various processes concurrently instead. It is effectively filling in the waiting time with productive work. Accept that progress is uneven and therefore do planning ahead of time. And fact-find in the quiet times.

As always, if you find these blogs inspiring or thought provoking, spread the word for others to benefit too.

Simon

Time Management and Personal Flexibility

‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run…’ Rudyard Kipling

‘Time and tide wait for no man’ Geoffrey Chaucer

‘Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day. Fritter and waste the hours in an off-hand way. Kicking around a piece of ground in your home town. Waiting for someone or something to show you the way’. Pink Floyd, from their song ‘Time’

‘When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity’ Albert Einstein

‘Sometimes it is years before I see the way forward. In the case of information loss and black holes, it was 29 years’. Stephen Hawking

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We all have those moments.  Everything seems to happen at once. We spend the morning running to catch up. Or the opposite. We’ve put everything in motion and just have to play the waiting game.

We can’t change the rhythm of time. Any more than we can stop the sun rising on a new day. But we can try to make the best use of our time. We owe it to ourselves to collect significant and enjoyable memories. Memories forged in the fires of interesting experiences.

Maybe we can open ourselves up to interesting experiences, by deliberately surprising ourselves. If each of us embraced one new experience, however small, once a month, and we averaged a catch up with our friends, once every three months, that’s 3 fresh and interesting things to tell them about, each time we see them. And if they did the same, 3 fresh things for them to tell us about too.

If we started that ‘new experiences’ pattern at age 20 and kept it going for a mere 20 years, that’s 240 new experiences to consume! And 240 opportunities to boost our confidence. It’s also a great example of personal flexibility (PFL) in action.

Now imagine if 50% of those new experiences taught us a life lesson. Something to make us wiser and more skilful. That’s 120 training opportunities, however small. And 120 things of value we can pass on. And not just to friends. But to the next generation of our loved ones too.

Something to think about.

Simon

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Networks and Personal Flexibility

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Just as individuals at work make up teams, who make up organisations, so individual family members make up nuclear families who are part of wider family groupings too. Individuals also form networks with their friends, work colleagues and various online communities of interest in the wider world.

Each interaction the individual has may vary in; the length of the exchange, its style (level of structure, informality and language used). And in the baggage that comes with each communication. Is there a long history of frustration or rivalry? Is it a very new relationship? It there a lot of trust and goodwill built up between the parties involved?

It takes quite a bit of personal flexibility to compartmentalise all those interactions. To remember what you said to who. And when. What their reaction was. What they asked you to do. What you agreed with them. Or promised to do. What you need to do, now that other events have unfolded.

Clearly there are memory aids to help. Diaries, checklists and notepads. Your prompting children or spouse. But it’s hard to get through a lifetime of all those interactions, without getting it wrong at some point.

At best, relationships are a journey of discovery. Some might say a minefield. Over time, you find out people’s preferences. Their desires. What offends them. What sets off an emotional reaction that isn’t necessarily what you were expecting. And because human beings are complex and changing, you can’t expect that what used to work well in the past, will necessarily still work in the future.

Personal flexibility (PFL) comes into its own to cope. Accept a best efforts effort from yourself. If you learn and adjust, apologise even, people will give you marks for trying. Try trusting them to see the bigger picture.

You may even find yourself becoming the ‘switch’ in the network from time to time. The person others go through in their various exchanges. The person they ask advice from before they act. It’s ok to be exasperated when your friends or family don’t take the advice you give them. The important part is to keep growing and evolving as a person. No one predefines your life for you.

It’s your path to tread and your direction to choose. Bon voyage.

Simon

Household Budgeting and Personal Flexibility

Firstly a caveat: this particular blog isn’t meant to offer specific financial advice to the reader about what investment products or investment classes to invest in. Readers should seek professional advice to help them understand the risks and choices available relating to financial products made available by particular providers.

What is a household budget?

It is simply looking at a period of time, such as the next 12 months. And listing both household income and expenditure over that period, with a reasonable degree of accuracy. If there is little accuracy, the list is merely a dream.

Secondly, try not to confuse precision with accuracy. Precision might estimate items on the list to the nearest penny. But that doesn’t mean those numbers are accurate. Accuracy is about being broadly right (to the nearest one thousand dollars or pounds say).

Fixed costs and volatile costs

Some household spending items are easy to estimate. And won’t change for the foreseeable future. For example, agreed mortgage payments, or room rent.  Others are inherently uncertain. For example, repair costs. Or the earnings & duration of the next ‘gig’ for gig workers.

Volatile costs are a form of uncertainty. And uncertainty can be managed by improving your personal flexibility (PFL). See my blog on ‘Personal Flexibility and Uncertainty’ for more on this.

When you put together your annual household budget, try to identify which items are fixed (reliable) and which line items are volatile. How volatile? Plus or minus 20% volatile? If there are lots of volatile items and the level of volatile (plus or minus) is significant, you could usefully do a ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ version of your expected budget. Then as you monitor your actual progress against your budget during the year, you can start to take steps. For example, if your household budget increasingly moves towards the worst case version, then as soon as possible, start cutting back on discretionary spending. Or increase the income sources. Likewise, if the actual budget increasingly moves towards the best case version, try to actively save those extra funds ‘for a rainy day’. By increasing your household savings, you are making your PFL stronger.

Lines of credit

It is tempting to use your lines of credit (bank account overdraft or credit cards) to bridge the gap between household income and spending. Try to resist living your life on credit. That resistance will save you money. And increase your PFL, by giving you more short-term options if you need money in a crisis.

Budgeting for time-poor budgeters

The household annual budgeting can be as much of a chore as you want to make it. For my own household budget, I spend as little time preparing & monitoring actual spending as I can get away with. And it certainly isn’t itemized to two decimal places of precision!

Budgeting for big ticket items

How do you budget for big items on your annual household budget? The solution is to slowly save up for them. And buy them when you can finally afford to. Or to use bank loans to buy them. And pay off the loan at a rate you can comfortably afford over time. You’ll need a good credit history to get a bank loan, so bear this in mind.

You will have more personal flexibility, if you slowly save up (no interest costs) to buy the big ticket items. Perhaps think about taking out a loan to only buy big items that will go up in value themselves over time. But where you get a benefit from them every day. For example, a property comprising a home on some land you own. That said, buy at a good price and try not to buy land in an area prone to flooding, coastal erosion, hurricanes etc to reduce your risk.

Quick wins and small triumphs

Try if you can, to have some items in your annual household budget that give you & your family some quick wins and small triumphs. You can’t live your entire life saving up for the things you want. And never actually see any benefits along the way.

Single benefits and family benefits

Try if you can, to include some items in your household budget that benefit the whole family. Not just one or two members. It’s a bit like in the workplace, if the employer offers a pension scheme, all staff can benefit. If they only offer childcare support, or a commuter train travel loan, staff will benefit unevenly.

Time and money trade-offs

To some extent, budgets are a trade-off between time and money. For people who are time-poor but money rich, they pay for more support services and that is reflected in their household budget. For those in the opposite position, they have more of a do-it-yourself culture and save money by say growing their own food, doing childcare inhouse and cooking their own meals. Be realistic about your budget and what trade-off will work for your household.

Budget trade-ons versus budget trade-offs

One way to improve your budget is to look for tradeons rather than tradeoffs. A trade-on is like a double benefit. For example by cutting back on expensive entertainment and doing some self-study instead, you increase your marketable skills (to earn more income), but save money in your household budget as well.

If you prepare a first version of your annual budget and don’t like the result, look for some trade-ons to make the budget more viable.

There tends to be a positive correlation between trade-ons and PFL i.e. the more of one, the more of the other is possible.

Lastly, if you find these blogs useful, please spread the word, so others can benefit too.

Simon

Managing Uncertainty and Personal Flexibility

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How does personal flexibility (PFL) help to manage uncertainty? First, let’s look at what uncertainty is and how it arises.

What uncertainty is

Firstly, uncertainty can be positive as well as negative. Why positive? Not knowing who your future soul mate is, or whether you will even find one, makes life exciting. And probably changes your behaviour for the better too.

Two kinds of uncertainty are:

  • The known unknowns. We might know the current membership of those we are related to by blood. What we don’t know, is exactly when that membership will change (births and deaths). Another version of this is the second-order unknowns. We don’t know the names of our children’s children if we haven’t had children of our own yet.
  • The unknown unknowns. This includes unconscious incompetence. We aren’t sufficiently aware that we aren’t equipped to solve a problem. We wade in and act. And then anything is possible!

Our influence on uncertainty can vary too.

  • A small intervention on our part, can have a large influence on the level of uncertainty present. For example, we visit our doctor/dentist before the effects of a persistent ache become a bigger problem for us.
  • The level of effort on our part can essentially match the change in the resulting uncertainty.
  • It might take a large intervention on our part, just to achieve a small change in the level of uncertainty in something we encounter – think of raising a teenager.

We might put in place some risk mitigations to deal with uncertainty. The trouble is that we aren’t so good at identifying if we have enough types of mitigations. Belt alone? Belt and braces? Belt, braces and seatbelt too? Belt, braces, seatbelt and airbags? We aren’t so great at judging the relative strengths of those mitigations either. That’s one place where personal flexibility is helpful – design, test, assess then modify.

How does uncertainty arise?

  • Unknowns can arise because of big external changes. War is declared. Brexit is activated. A massive natural disaster hits an area.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of information. For example, customer demand for a new product can only be estimated. Until the market reaction is seen. And actual trends understood.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of time. For example, time to research the facts and solve a mystery is lost, as new events create new crises that take priority.
  • Unknowns can arise because of attitude– progress is undermined due to bias. For example, people with control of certain information choose to discriminate and not make it available. ‘Need to know’ and early tip-offs are related examples.
  • Unknowns can arise because of volatility. For example, rescue services, trying to assess actual threat to life in a hurricane, is hampered while conditions of extreme turbulence prevail.
  • Unknowns can arise because of a lack of buying power to control or influence certainty. If we can’t afford to buy real options, it can be hard to acquire them.

How can personal flexibility help? 

Broadly, if you see more uncertainty emerging, increase your PFL to compensate. Widen your skill base and diversify your income sources. Teach your children to become more independent e.g. earn their own money. Or shop & cook for themselves.

In the UK, with uncertainty over the Brexit outcome in March 2019, some people are reducing their personal debt levels. Or stockpiling canned foods in the short term. Just in case.

PFL can influence the speed at which uncertainties arise or reduce. One idea is to use PFL to develop some ‘brakes’ and ‘accelerators’ on uncertainty. The point being that just like driving a car, you as the driver control the speed. A simple example is diversifying your income sources to act as a brake on the effects of economic downturn.

Avoidance (risk transfer) can reduce your uncertainty. Hedge some key risks. For example, with professional advisors, influential friends, or insurance products.

As always, if you find these blogs useful, feel free to tell others.

Simon

Human Relationships and Personal Flexibility

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Flexibility and friendships

One form of personal flexibility (PFL) is in the crossover between personal friendships & workplace relationships. This blogger has first-hand experience of several professional relationships developing into personal friendships, forged from helping a friend-in-need, or through shared-conflict experienced. In this blogger’s view, the relationship combination works better where both parties are evenly matched.  Or think alike. And if the relations aren’t complicated by romantic love or lust.

Ideally, someone’s romantic partner should also be their best friend. It helps if they don’t work in the same professional team.  Especially if at different levels in the hierarchy.

Strong professional working relationships and strong personal friendships have some similarities:

  • mutual trust and mutual respect is high in both.
  • both have been tested and ‘weathered the storm’.
  • both have a high degree of openness.
  • both retain a foundation of shared experiences. And perhaps a shared triumph of beating the odds.

In fairness to the employer, two friends who work together, need to put their work relationship first. And make sure there is no perceived bias in the workplace.  But that merit prevails. Otherwise there is likely to be a perceived conflict of interest.

The trust in one domain (personal or professional) should carry into the other, speeding up some actions. However, for the parties concerned, try and avoid calling in favours in the workplace, from any favours previously done in a personal capacity. It doesn’t seem to be such a problem when the reverse situation happens. In fact, speaking from experience several times over, that approach can launch a solid, personal friendship.

Flexibility and romantic relationships

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There are two phases to this – a relationship-building phase and a relationship-nurturing phase. Initially, the people involved should use flexibility to break convention and create ‘wow’. And be flexible enough to handle love & lust together.

It’s important to be flexible (FL) about pace – sometimes ‘still waters run deep’ and first impressions aren’t necessarily reliable. People should strive to be the best they can be.  But even more importantly, be authentic. In fact, be FL-authentic!

In the subsequent relationship-nurturing phase, the people involved should try to oscillate between honeymoon period and enduring partnership as often as they can. Happiness comes partly from magic.  And magic comes from unpredictability & mystery.

Both partners should realise that what they start out loving about a person, may not be what they end up loving about them. This is true of general friendships also.

Relationships are a journey, not a status. For love to develop, it takes an FL-mindset. Otherwise it’s just endurance.

Case study: In the 1997/98 Hollywood movie ‘As Good as it Gets’, directed by James Brooks, starring Jack Nicolson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear, against extraordinary odds, the characters show enough personal flexibility to grow and improve their life situations. Interestingly, although each character has a very different situational struggle and a different mindset, their personal flexibility created enough of a relationship, for love and friendship to eventually blossom.

Flexibility and parenthood

Firstly, parenthood is simultaneously a marathon, a relay race, a hurdles race & a sprint. Arguably, the price of sanity & safety is eternal vigilance. No parent is born an expert. Fortunately, the person gets to learn and practise every day that they show up for parenting duty. No one expects them to do parenting completely alone. Therefore, they need to be flexible and reach out to friends and family for help, as necessary.

Secondly, a person arguably stops being a child when they become a parent. That said, plenty of childless adults make very good grown-ups. Role models, babysitters, mentors, aunties and uncles too!  Having one child will utterly transform someone’s life. Having more than one child will transform their bank balance. Either way, roll with it!

Thirdly, parenthood, like falling in love with someone – an act of supreme flexibility. In both cases, the person just knows it will be a life-changing experience, testing their boundaries, their patience and their self-view. There will be apologising.  And learning from mistakes made along the way. That’s all personal flexibility at its best.

As a parent how can you use PFL to be more effective at parenting?  One approach is to promote FL in the things that you are a parental stakeholder in. To elaborate, none of the following things are set in stone. Every day brings a fresh opportunity to alter those things for more positive outcomes. On striving for more positive outcomes, this blogger has figurative scars and skin in the parenting game, having been a step parent to two children for 13 years, as well as the parent of a trans-gender child.

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Things you are a parental stakeholder in:

  • Your child’s school. Try to become engaged in the parent-teacher association (PTA) at the school, even if for just a few hours a year. If the school is not be catering for the learning and social development needs of children like yours, use the PTA as a platform for change.
  • Your child’s health.
  • Your child’s future career and leadership opportunities. More about this in a future blog on career’s advice and career management.
  • Your child’s confidence level. This needs parental PFL to create a dynamic mix of; realism, successes, structure, authority, grief, love and setbacks. It hopefully involves your child improvising and ‘winging it’ when they have to.
  • Your child’s relations with wider family members. Them learning to interact with a variety of family ages and personalities will help their PFL and confidence develop.
  • Your child’s memories of growing up. A parent’s job is arguably to balance any bad memories with some good ones too.
  • Your child’s inheritance.

If you found this blog helpful, feel free to tell others. Constructive comments are also welcome.

Simon