Removing Meetings

On a busy project it’s common to have a full calendar of meeting; so much so, that it’s often hard to find time to get actual work done!

When something new crops up, people are quick to add another meeting to the calendar, but how often do people go out of their way to remove meetings?

Once a recurring meeting gets established it can be really hard to get rid of it, even if it’s not achieving its purpose. Some meetings often end up as a general talking-shop where everyone feels the need to voice their opinion. And meeting attendance just seems to grow week on week, with more and more people added to the invite list.

I know of so many people that complain about the number of meetings they have – and, ironically, they are often the ones that talk the most during those meetings! But how many people ever question the need for a meeting?

In my project we’ve been looking at the number and length of all our recurring meetings, and have tried to re-focus ones that have got off-track. Some meetings have been shortened, some made less frequent, and some have reduced the number of attendees. We also created a matrix to describe what job roles have mandatory or optional attendance at meeting, which helps people determine if they can legitimately skip something.

The up-shot is that one meeting, which used to last occur twice a week for an hour with around 20 attendees, is now just 30 minutes once a week with 8 attendees – freeing up a total of 36 hours of people’s time. Just think of the productivity! It’s like hiring an extra person, and that’s just from one of our meetings.

Improved music while you work

Sometimes in the office I find it helpful to listen to music. Simply the process of putting on a pair of headphones helps me zone out of the distractions of the office, and concentrate better on the task in hand.

My problem was that I wasn’t convinced the quality of music produced by the work laptop, and so I tried to see what I could do to improve the sound quality.

High Quality Streaming

The first thing was to ensure the source of the music was as good as it could be. There are music services like Tidal that offer lossless audio – but they charge double the price of other streaming services, and its debatable whether you can tell the difference unless you have very high-end audio equipment.

I use the Spotify premium service, and they offer a high quality streaming option in their desktop app (see Edit->Preferences). The high quality option doubles the bit rate from 160 kbps to 320 kbps, which should improve the quality of the music.

Better Headphones

Music through a €5 pair of ear-buds is never going to sound as good as through a €500 pair of audiophile headphones. But again, there’s a balance to be made here – and a law of diminishing returns. As you spend more, the incremental improvements get smaller and smaller. As such, I’d say don’t spend over €200 for headphones in a noisy office environment.

When buying new headphones, you’re looking for good noise isolation. You don’t want your music interrupted by the conversation across the room, and similarly you don’t want your music to leak out and annoy your colleagues. Look for closed (or closed back) headphones to avoid noise leakage.

For very noisy offices, you might want to consider noise-cancelling headphones, which alter the audio to try and actively block out ambient noise. They are useful if you do a lot of air travel, as they are designed to block out low frequencies (such as airplane engine noise) – but there are disadvantages to using them. They are often more bulky, they need battery power to operate, and the noise-cancelling effect can reduce the audio quality.

Bulldog clip providing a handy place to hang the headphones
Bulldog clip providing a handy place to hang the headphones

External DAC

Once you have a good quality source of music, and good quality headphones, the only thing that can let down the music is the thing that sits in the middle – the computer. The headphones socket of your PC can often let you down in terms of sound quality, and an external DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) will go a long way to improve the quality.

I have a DacMagic XS which has provided me with a noticeable improvement in sound quality. It’s tiny – smaller than a matchbox – and plugs into one of the USB ports of the laptop. I then plug my headphones in the other end. It’s small enough to look unobtrusive on my desk, and can also be used to improve the sound output of a smartphone or tablet.

Why you should probably quit your job, right now!

Most people delay the decision to quit their job for far too long. They put up with a stressful or unhappy position, and sometimes put their physical and mental health at risk, in the hope that things will improve.

Most of the time, that never happens.

The colleagues that piss you off, the boss that bullies you, or the customers that treat you like shit. You can put up with them all for so long, thinking that if you “just hang in there” things will get better. However, most of the time people don’t change. If a co-worker is a jerk today, then he will most likely stay a jerk for ever. And no amount of wishful thinking on your part will make them behave better.

Many organisations tolerate bad behaviour in their staff, as long as the staff member remains fairly productive. A weak management team will often try to ignore a problem, rather than tackle it head on. It’s much easier to ignore incidents of bad behaviour, and hope they will sort themselves out.

But people don’t change. A person that is not tackled about their bad behaviour will take it as a mandate to carry on. And before you know it, it’s the accepted culture within a team.

I worked for one place where a team leader was a bully. He used to belittle and humiliate team members in front of the rest of the team. Many of them complained to the owner of the business, but because the bully was one of the best performing employees, the owner refused to do anything about it. And over time people learned not to bother complaining, as nothing would be done. Morale hit rock bottom, absenteeism was at an all-time high, and productivity dipped – all of which fuelled more bulling.

It was only when about half the team members quit and left the company that anyone took notice. And by then the damage was done.

nelson

Sometimes the only option available to staff is to vote with their feet, and quit a company.

It might seem like a drastic measure to quit, particularly if you’re not sure of getting rehired elsewhere. And sometimes the decision comes down to the balance of job security against being happy.

Indeed, the chances are there are a good portion of people reading this article, right now, that are miserable at work. And my advice to you, is to quit your job – today!

The feeling of finally being free from the toxic environment will be amazing.

Sure, the prospect of being unemployed can be scary, but maybe not as scary as you think. Indeed, I quit a job about 8 years ago, and moved to a new country with no work, no home and no friends – and within weeks I had found a great job, a lovely new home, and some great friends. I took a leap of faith to leave behind a situation where I wasn’t happy, and I found the experience liberating – even life-changing.

Aborted departure

We had a strange event at work today. One of the contractors in the IT department was due to be leaving the company today, as his contract had finished. And in response, the team had clubbed together to buy him a small gift.

The idea was to gather in the staff canteen at 3.30pm to pass on the gift, say goodbye, and have some cake. Except that at the 11th hour – or rather, at 3.15pm to be more exact – his contract was suddenly extended, and his departure cancelled.

But what to do? We had a large chocolate cake and a present – and everyone had already gathered in the canteen. So we went ahead and cut the cake, and even gave him his present – on the understanding that he wouldn’t be getting another one when he eventually did leave.

Oh, and we still all went out to the pub after work for what would have been his farewell drinks.

The Day Job

Up until the middle of December I had been working a fixed-term contract in the IT department of a utility company here in Dublin. It was good work, but the project I was working on finished, and they didn’t need me any more, so my contract was not renewed.

As it happens, the end of the contract came at about the same time that the musical commitments at the cathedral were ramping up for Christmas, and so it seemed like an ideal time for a break.
However, it’s now almost five weeks since I finished the day job. And although I have been enjoying my ‘gentleman of leisure’ status and long lie-ins, it’s probably about time for me to re-enter the job market. After all, my savings will only last for so long, and I don’t relish being thrown out on the street in a couple of months.

Anyway, so I put my CV online at the website monster.ie on Tuesday evening, and have been fielding calls from recruitment agents ever since. It seems to be the way that things work here in Dublin in the IT field. You post your CV online, and wait for the phone calls to come flooding in. On Wednesday morning, for example, I had fielded six calls before 10.00am, and the phone kept going for much of the rest of the day too.

The IT job market seems very buoyant at the moment, and there are lots of opportunities for experienced people. Indeed, I’ve already secured my first interview tomorrow, with a big multinational company. The role description sounds very interesting, and I’d probably bite their hand off if they offered me the job – but I have to caution myself about getting too excited about the first job that comes my way.

It’s all too tempting – especially when you’re between jobs like me (i.e. unemployed) – to get excited about the first thing that comes your way, even if it’s not entirely suitable. You get your hopes up, only to realise later that you came across as a complete idiot in your interview. And so, perhaps I should view this first interview as a practice – and not get too worked up about this role (even if it is a perfect match).

I also need to guard myself against accepting offers of jobs that I don’t really want. It’s all too easy to wooed by job offers, even if they’re utterly unsuitable. Indeed it wasn’t until quite recently that I realised that, just because someone offers you a job, you don’t have to take it.

In the last 2 years or so, my whole attitude to work has changed somewhat. I’ve turned down more job offers in that time than the total number of jobs I’d had in the proceeding 15 years of my working life – which is quite a scary thing to do, particularly when out of work (like I am now). But I feel that it’s better to take on a role where I’m going to be happy over the long term – which will be better for me and my employers.

Of course, I realise I’m incredibly lucky to be in this position – to be able to pick and choose between job opportunities. I understand that other people are forced to take on some pretty shitty work, just in order to make ends meet. And to a certain respect I can understand their situation, as I’ve worked some pretty dire jobs in my time, including shop work, and also some time working as a bin man (just don’t ask me about the maggots).

Anyway, I’ve got this interview tomorrow. And hopefully one or two other interviews will also be offered next week. And at this rate, I’m in serious danger of being fully employed again by the end of January. Which would be both good and bad… Good because of the money it brings in, and the interesting projects that than spark my imagination and creative juices. And bad because it indicates the end of my at-home holiday.