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

Real Options and Personal Flexibility

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What has flexibility got to do with options?

Quite simply if you have more options, you have more flexibility. In uncertain situations, or if you are somehow keen to grow (wealth, skills, influence, reputation, character development), having options is valuable.

Of course, having more options isn’t useful if you can’t make a decision when time is pressing. And having a set of options that aren’t relevant to the problem you’re facing isn’t particularly helpful either. Unless you can trade them for the ones you actually want.

What are real options?

They’re not as scary as they sound. Wikipedia says ‘a real option itself, is the right—but not the obligation—to undertake certain business initiatives, such as deferring, abandoning, expanding, staging, or contracting a capital investment project’. In the personal flexibility sense, real options are rights we have paid for in the past and hold.  If the conditions are right, they can be used (exercised) at some point in the future, to buy or sell something to benefit ourselves.  Or benefit those we choose to help.

There are a couple of different types of real options. Call options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to buy something. Put options are options we have purchased in the past, that give us the right to sell something.

What are some examples of call options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us PFL in the present and future?

  • Loyalty points, or frequent flier points accumulated, that are still valid. Purchase qualifying items and you have the right to use the points to obtain discounts on future purchases.
  • Multiple passports (the legitimate right to citizenship in multiple countries). Pay the application fee and once the passport is issued, you then have the legal right to buy the same things the other citizens can buy.
  • Insurance policies with a claim excess. Pay the insurance premium, make the claim, pay the claim excess and the item will then be replaced.
  • Personal credit cards and overdraft facilities. Pay the annual account fee and any interest charges to access the credit amount.
  • Fitness, health and knowledge you’ve built up, if they qualify you for access to something fairly exclusive in the future, that costs money.
  • Physical and data security measures and investments made. Pay the fee, log your security breach event, pay for the investigation and hopefully damage will be remedied.
  • Divorce papers – once signed and the divorce lawyer costs are paid, the papers give you the right to legally marry another person (providing they’re not already still married).

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What are some examples of put options in our personal lives i.e. things we’ve paid for in the past that give us (or our loved ones) the right to sell and hence PFL in the present and future?

  • Trial period agreements.
  • Product warrantees, price-matching features and money-back guarantees.
  • Sublease clauses. For example, you rent a two-bedroom flat and there’s a clause in the lease agreement allowing you to rent out the second bedroom for financial benefit.
  • Your estate (once you’ve paid the solicitor to draw up your will). Ownership of this option transfers to the beneficiaries of your estate, upon your death.

Real options and student career advice

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In the general education system, little emphasis seems to be given to teaching students how to manage their real options. Then, when students graduate & join the workforce, they lack awareness about real options management in the workplace. Instead, at best, students receive advice from relatives, friends or teachers about getting a good education and working hard, to open up more life choices to them.

Perhaps too many young people learn from life experience – the ‘school of hard knocks’ (why doesn’t Western culture strongly preach the folly of learning this way?). And learn from repeat situations (once bitten, twice shy), that having choices is valuable.

What the young people need is more advice on how not to get bitten. And coaching to position themselves to have choices other than getting bitten. Young adults may also learn from observation – being inspired by designers to mimic the design flexibility that they see.

In the view of this blogger, one of life’s ironies is that for many young people, by the time they realise that older people’s advice to them on the above things is just as relevant today as in yesteryear, the consequences of have few options and choices is already hitting them hard.

In summary, holding real options in our personal lives, is a tangible form of personal flexibility. It follows that if we want to increase our PFL, we should accumulate real options in advance, in the areas of PFL that we want to improve.

Some areas to look at, if personal growth and uncertainty management are some of your goals; obtaining real options concerning wealth, skills, influence, personal reputation and/or character development. A key point is to build up an ‘options portfolio’ i.e. don’t just concentrate on obtaining real options relating to one of them.

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Periodically, we will use or ‘exercise’ many of the real options we hold, so another key point is to replenish our stocks of real options regularly.

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

 Simon

Parenting and Personal Flexibility

Parenting is both complex and practical. Having raised two step children from the ages of 8 and 10 years onwards (now aged 21 and 23 respectively) and with the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to share some insights about how personal flexibility (PFL) can help people become better parents.

Like many parents, I’ve said things in the heat of the moment, that I wish I hadn’t said to my children. It’s a testament to their character that they saw the bigger picture. And thankfully saw me as a flawed human being, trying to become a better person and a better parent over time. It’s still a work in progress!

I’ve said to various people that the life change from not being a parent, to suddenly becoming a parent is huge, compared to the change from moving say from the parent of two children to three.

Becoming a parent is like a marathon. But with random sprints inserted into the event as well. The sprints arise if the parent suffers a momentary loss of focus on a young child and it gets into trouble. For example, at the top of some stairs. Or following a stranger away from a playground setting.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of very young children?

The child’s needs are initially quite physical. Sleep deprivation for one or both parents is a problem, as the baby’s sleeping patterns and feeding cycles are short. And very different from those of the parents. The parents feel an enormous sense of responsibility for a tiny, defenceless individual, who is totally reliant on them.

Over time, the child’s awareness builds. It bonds with the parent(s), as the centre of its world. Progressively, the child becomes more active in exploring its world. It makes its wishes known. And more of its personality becomes obvious to onlookers.

Taking shared parental leave from the workplace (extra parental capacity) increases the PFL to cope with the initial demands of parenthood. Rooms at home have to be modified, medical checkups arranged, baby clothes, cribs, high chairs, car seats and baby strollers bought. in a PFL sense, these things help to build capacity, create options and manage uncertainty.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is not to overwhelm the young child. To create some structure, some reassurance and to set limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Probably, the parents are constantly adjusting their parenting approach to help support the child, as best they can. They are still discovering their child’s personality and its preferences – the things it likes and hates. The beauty of parenthood is that although no one is born an expert, you get to practise being a better parent every day (patience and endurance). A key message is that being a better parent comes from exercising some PFL along the way.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of pre-teen children?

The child’s identity, passions, talents and abilities become clearer in pre-teen children Their friendship group develops beyond family members. School education becomes a feature of their lives. Their parents aren’t always present when they suffer mishap or injury.

Part of the PFL challenge for the parents is again, not to overwhelm the child with things it can’t handle. To create structure, reassurance and some kind of limits. To not be overly protective in shielding their child from exploring the world.

Parental PFL involves oscillating between support & stepping back to watch your child progressively forge its own path in the world.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of teenagers?

Puberty kicks in, hormones fluctuate. And there is a constant tension between the teen wanting more freedom. But not being able to be fully independent. Progressively, the teen’s identity shifts to become not only a family member, but a member of its own social tribe of friends. Dating and relationships become a feature in teenagers lives. Social pressure to conform becomes intense.

For the parents, there is frequent and unpredictable challenge to their authority in many cases. The parents may feel underappreciated or unappreciated. The dialogue they used to have with their pre-teen child, may have become replaced by a sullen, tense battle of wills & values.

For the parents, PFL is aided by wider family support to both teens & their parents. Parents need to decide which battles to fight. And which ‘stylistic differences’ to concede. Another expression of PFL for the parents is in keeping an open-door policy to be there when the teen wants to talk. Somehow the parent has to keep an eye on the family ‘light at the far end of the tunnel’. While providing logistical support to the teen. And periodic emotional support too.

What kind of PFL helps for the parents of adult children?

Once into their twenties, perhaps graduating from university and/or becoming establishing in their first or subsequent jobs, the child has become a fully-fledged adult.

The biggest PFL issue for the parent is probably to re-establish a positive relationship with their child, on an adult-to-adult basis.

In summary, PFL is valuable at all stages of the parent ‘journey’.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Flexibility and Flexiscribes

It’s hard to talk about flexiscribes without first referring to flexibility. Flexibility like air, fitness or financial savings is invisible. But vital.

We go to great lengths to monitor our personal savings. We aren’t so good at monitoring our air quality, our fitness, or our levels of personal flexibility (PFL). Perhaps now is the time to change that.

Flexibility like fitness, savings, career options, or even a tidy house, is something that can dissipate over time. A university graduate or aspiring actor considering their first serious role, might have various choices about which area to specialise in. Further along their career path, they’re perceived to have become more typecast.

The key point is a simple one. That net flexibility in your life will disappear. Unless you try to replace it at a similar rate that it is disappearing at. Or better still, grow your net flexibility above the current level.

A device to replenish your flexibility is a flexiscribe. In other words, a flexiscribe is a mechanism that codes for flexibility. The coding might be automatic. Or only happen via manual effort.

For people of all ages, working in what they regard as a declining industry, or for people who might be at the tail end of their working career, perhaps thinking about an encore career, or doing flexible portfolio work, flexiscribes are probably of particular interest.

Ownership/control versus choice

Business range (choice) can help create personal flexibility. An example of growing choice is the range of rental services from businesses that are available to consumers – the rise of the so called ‘sharing economy’. But business range isn’t a flexiscribe for PFL. Access is firstly about entitlement, then choice. Therefore, access to the range is the flexiscribe.

Business flexiscribes helps create business flexibility (BFL). Likewise, ownership/control of personal flexiscribes help create personal flexibility (PFL).

A key general point is that by consciously thinking about creating flexiscribes, you increase the chances of flexibility occurring.

Regarding business and personal flexiscribes, what are some examples of each type? Some business flexiscribes operating in R&D businesses, or education (universities and high schools) might include the organisations:

  • having multipurpose rooms,
  • having multiskilled staff. In universities, the staff may be good at both research and teaching. Or be staff who are talented in two fields of research,
  • having high free cash reserves,
  • having flexible working practices and incentives. For example, project secondments. These will force new experience to emerge, which itself will encourage new skills development.
  • owning some intellectual property e.g. patents and trademarks that enable commercial success,
  • holding some real options – more about these in a later blog.

What are some personal flexiscribes? Firstly, if Personal flexibility can be divided into PFL relating to ‘be’ (personal identity and image) and ‘do’ (personal actions), then perhaps that’s a useful way to split out the personal flexiscribes too.

Some personal flexiscribes (things that code for PFL), relating to identity and image are as follows:

  • Continuing professional development (CPD) hours. By having to do a minimum number of training hours each year to remain registered with a particular professional body, it forces the person belonging to the membership body to develop new skills, techniques & knowledge. The advice of this blogger is to make at least some CPD training in areas transferable beyond your current sector & role. Ideally, invest in training that’s relevant to sectors where you have a good chance of working in the future.
  • Developing a strong CV and network of contacts. Both can promote your achievements and skills to date.
  • The daily work commute by train or bus. If your work commute is a decent length e.g. about an hour or more and you don’t have to cycle, or drive yourself to work, then there is enforced time available to build knowledge. Which itself builds flexibility. Building knowledge might be in the form of reading text articles, watching YouTube ‘how to’ guides, or listening to say Ted Talks on relevant subjects.
  • Personal savings. Clearly, if you can save some funds, your scope to access anything that money can buy will increase.
  • Family support. For families that help one another when things become hectic, or rally round when one family member suffers a set back, simply having that support creates more PFL for the person concerned.

Some personal flexiscribes (things that code for PFL), relating to ‘doing’ activities are as follows:

  • Working in the ‘gig’ economy. Typically, each assignment is different in scope, duration, location and the issues also vary. This variety encourages skills development and adaptability from the gig worker.

  • Doing volunteer work. Obviously you need to continue paying your bills. And maintain relationships with friends & family. Therefore the time commitment and the quality of effort you make is about achieving balance with those things. Because it is voluntary, the scope of activity is flexible and you have more power to direct how your time is used to gain useful skills and achieve impact, for a win-win outcome.
  • Renting rather than buying. Access to the rental, not the rental itself (choice) is the flexiscribe. Using the power of access, extra capacity is only rented when needed. Specialist items are hired at short notice for one-time events. People take advantage of ‘try before you buy’ offers, to manage uncertainty. A side question for the reader – if the ‘sharing economy’ is rapidly growing amongst both established and new entrant providers, e.g. in room rentals & transport, then business providers boost consumer flexibility. Is there then an opportunity for the reverse to also happen? To elaborate, in the sharing economy, the values of some consumers may emphasise; minimalism (small storage footprint), variety, instant access, group access and/or personal image not tied to asset status. Can those values be accessed & harnessed, not only to boost demand for business products & services. But to also code for business flexibility itself?

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Poverty of Ambition and Flexibility

‘We need to steer clear of this poverty of ambition, where people want to drive fancy cars and wear nice clothes and live in nice apartments but don’t want to work hard to accomplish these things. Everyone should try to realize their full potential.’ Barack Obama

This particular blog centres on personal flexibility (PFL) in business start-ups.

In my view, Obama was right, but greed and instant gratification aren’t the only forms of poverty of ambition. Some parents should want more for their children’s future too. And amongst small business start-ups, the goal might simply be:

  • grow the business to a point where you can sell it at a good profit. Or,
  • grow the business to a point where you can hire a manager to manage it. And then draw off a significant annual dividend, regardless of the profits or loses made in a given year.

The first approach hands the real potential of the business to the buyer. And leaves the seller retiring from business altogether.  Or ready to start over with another business venture. Which if at a different point in the economic cycle, or with different risks, may not succeed half as well as the first venture.

The second approach creates a lifestyle business. But without the ongoing investment to grow the business into something amazing.

For the owner of a small business start-up, it takes personal flexibility as well as courage (dare to dream), to overcome the poverty of ambition (PoA). To think bigger and become the best business model in the sector.

One step to overcome the PoA is to appoint business experts (business services accountants, management consultants, tax advisors, bankers and contract lawyers) who can ensure operating compliance with efficiency.  But also appoint the ones who can nudge the business towards best practice in that sector, regardless of how best practice is changing. An implication is that the business professionals and the business owner need to know and agree what best practice looks like. On this, best practice isn’t just about operating efficiency or customer relationship management. But business strategy too.

This blogger can briefly share one story contrasting operating compliance with efficiency. It concerned a London-based organisation, setting up a new office in continental Europe, where English isn’t an official language (on government forms). Contacting legal and accounting professionals in the local jurisdiction was an obvious and early step. What was surprising was the lack of an efficient process to help set up the offshore office in short order. The goal of the business advisors, both legal & accounting, was simply to provide compliance, not efficiency (their own poverty of ambition).

A second example was a recent conversation with a seasoned business services accountant working in a large chartered accounting firm in the UK. He remarked on the general poverty of ambition (not his exact words) amongst his client base of small business start-ups, across a range of sectors. My response was as outlined in this blog. His follow-on reaction was interest – it chimed with what his partners were telling him about developing higher value-added services for the clients. And he said his intention was now to clarify best practice in each client sector.

Mental agility (process, style and skill at jumping paths) as well as other forms of personal flexibility (creating new paths) are needed to overcome the poverty of business ambition. Obtaining real options early in the journey of business growth, should provide business flexibility to manage uncertainty. And achieve more sustainable earnings growth too.

A final thought on personal flexibility in business. If the goal is to build an enduring, value-for-money brand, one that will outlast the lifetime of the business founder, then improving personal flexibility (greater imagination, appetite for success and openness to changing the business model to adapt to new conditions) and business flexibility (acquiring options, building extra capacity, investing in flexiscribes) is needed to cope with the change & uncertainty issues that will challenge business sustainability.

If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon

Personal Flexibility (PFL) Calling

‘A flexible mind has a better chance to think differently and take a unique path in the life journey.’ Pearl Zhu

Have you seen the Jim Carey movie ‘Yes Man’ (2008, Warner Bros)? I thought it was a great idea to base a movie on, back when it came out. Essentially, the movie’s message is that by embracing the power of yes (being more flexible) in our personal lives, we can be happier, both in our personal and professional lives.

Perhaps the best gateways we encounter in life are those that shimmer & sparkle with possibility – career choices, lifestyle choices, parenthood, new friendships, important event invitations, romantic encounters, volunteer roles as leadership opportunities. The chance to work in another country. The chance to embark on a business start up.

Perhaps also, the best people to trust in life are the ‘type P’s for which it is a risk to trust them – type P’s being a small risk with big possibilities. Not ‘type R’s’ – a big risk with small possibilities. The trick is first finding them. And then distinguishing between the two types.

A question for you: in our lives, should we try and have high hopes, but low expectations? What’s your view?

And how does having high hopes but low expectations relate to personal flexibility? Perhaps the best chance for personal happiness & success, is to be flexible on hope. Be thorough in your preparation. Be skilful in your follow through too. But remain rigid & low in your expectations? The military have an acronym for it – snarfu!

Some everyday examples of personal flexibility:

  • When some people step outside their front door, they carry clothing for different weather conditions.
  • Some people sacrifice and save money ‘for a rainy day’. And may use a savings account (or piggy bank) with flexible access, for the same reason.
  • Parents tell their children to study hard & gain qualifications. Ones that will be valued by more than one employer.
  • People reserve their judgement when they meet strangers.
  • Some people commit to things one step at a time, to ‘keep their options open’.
  • Some people store up political favours or wealth, as a form of future insurance.
  • Some people prize physical flexibility, perhaps indulging in dance, yoga, gymnastics or martial arts.
  • People move cities or countries, hoping to take advantage of job opportunities in other locations.
  • People adjust their mode of living as their needs change. For example, as a child or teenager, living with their parents. Living in student-share accommodation while studying At university. Living in a shared flat while starting their career. Living in nuclear-family accommodation to raise a family. Downsizing their accommodation needs when the children leave home. Moving into a care home when needing supervised care.
  • People date strangers. They simultaneously try to present their best side, meet in a public place and ‘try on different potential partners for size.’
  • Adventurous people seek out other places to experience other cultures and value systems.
  • Some wealthy old people delay making a bequest. When tactfully asked by fundraisers why they delay, they reply ‘I might change my mind’.
  • Close-knit communities create food stockpiles, seed stores and water wells, to cope with supply shortages or uncertain future weather conditions.
  • Some communities create time capsules, music, dance, drama, museums, written diaries, film and photographs. They see this as a way to preserve their cultural identity in an uncertain world.
  • We populate the planet with ever more people to preserve and enhance human society. Just in case.

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In short, flexibility isn’t a novel concept. We’ve been practising it and paying lip service to it for years! What is new, or at least overdue, is creating a framework for both personal & business flexibility. And some new language about flexibility the subject. Long overdue in my view.

Enough for now. If you find these blogs useful, please spread the word for others to read them and comment too.

Simon