Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Watching Over My Daughter

I'm in Iligan City right now, watching over my daughter.

Last Friday, she said she was feeling feverish but still attended her church's youth activity. She attended her classes on Saturday and Sunday. Finally, she felt bad enough to go to the doctor who diagnosed intestinal bacteria. Yesterday, my wife called to tell me that our daughter's fever had spiked again so left work around 12 noon and took the bus to Iligan. Normally a two hour trip, it took me more than three hours to get here because of all the road repairs being done on the highway.

By the time I arrived, she was feeling better, joking with her cousin, Kristine. She hasn't had a fever since last night but this morning complained of pain while urinating. We took her to the laboratory to have some tests. We'll be taking her to the doctor around three o'clock.

It's so difficult having a child away from home. She's living with her aunt but you can't help but worry at a time like this. I would like to have her study in Cagayan de Oro just so we can keep watch but the school here is one of the best in the region. She also likes it here.

Another difficulty is that we are a bit financially challenged right now. I took out a loan from the company but it has yet to appear in my bank account. I wonder how I'll manage if we need to admit her to hospital. Thank God for relatives.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Trying to Work from Home

I'm on a one-day vacation right now. I always put my vacations on Mondays or Fridays so I can have an extended weekend. I also took this opportunity to find out if I could make a living out of working from home.

I've taken a part-time job writing short (150, 200, and 300 word) articles. I'm supposed to write 10 articles per day from Monday to Friday. It's been almost two weeks since but I haven't been able to meet my quota. I tried to see if I could finish at least 10 in one whole day so I had a go at it last Saturday. I wasn't successful. I only got five articles in.

What are the issues?

We have one computer at home. My kids sometimes need to do some research for their homework and they also like to play computer games or watch movies. It's a constant competition for computer time. As the father, I've laid down the law. "When I'm at home, I get to use the computer. If you have some research, I'll let you use it but, otherwise, it's mine to use." The DVDs have started to gather dust since I said that.

Major issue for me was the article topics. They're not really topics but keywords. I choose a keyword from a database and write an article using that keyword in the article. It's not a problem if the keyword was for a topic I'm familiar with. Most of the time, I need to do some research before I write anything. That slows me down considerably.

I also have a bad streak of perfectionist in me. I tend to write, stop, consider, delete and start over. While that means that I turn out well-written articles, it also means it takes me a long time to finish. I've read that the proper way to write is to keep going, not minding spelling or grammar or flow of ideas. When you finish, that's when you go back and edit. I've been trying to do that but the old habits are a little deeply engraved. I've had some success though I still tend to stop for a bit.

Lastly, since I'm at home, I'm expected to help around the house. I've spun-dried five loads of clothes and hung them out to dry. I've had to refill the water dispenser, drive my wife to the highway, and refill the water container in the bathroom. I'm not counting the interruption for lunch. Also, when my wife wants to tell me something, I have to stop and listen...and reply.

I'm going to stop here and think of solutions for awhile. Dinner's calling.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Using a Planner Part 4

I haven't actually used this technique since I'm still formulating it. I just want to describe the idea and maybe, by putting it down in words, I might come up with something.

When I receive a long term goal, I need to track my progress. That's because my boss wants to be informed of how far along I am in achieving the goal. When we talk about the goal, he's always asking what I've done so far, what I still need to do and, the really vague part, how many percent complete is the job.

How can I say, with some certainty, how many percent along I am in completing the job? In my case, it's always been a guess and my boss has usually accepted my guesses at face value. Sometimes, however, after saying it's 75% complete, I get a thrashing of sorts when the job takes several months to actually complete. It's kinda difficult to answer the question, "How could it take three months to finish the last 25% of the job?"

So, I needed to come up with a progress tracking method. Outlook's Task List has a feature where you can choose the percent complete. It's just an drop-down box where you can choose the percentage. That's' nice but it doesn't help you determine what number to choose. So, here's how I'm planning to do it:

I plan to cut up each task into five to ten steps or mini-tasks. In our office, we call these "milestones."

Let's say you have a task that says, "Organize a meeting for the team at the Neville Hotel on March 22, 2012."

You breakdown the task into a list of steps or mini-tasks. One such list might be:
  1. Obtain the list of people who need to be a the meeting.
  2. Call/Visit the Neville Hotel and ask for a reservation for a function room.
  3. Inform all attendees about the meeting.
  4. Two days before the meeting, remind everyone about the meeting.
  5. Attend the meeting.
Since I have five steps, I can allot each step a 20% value. When I finish Step 1, I put 20% on the % Complete box. When I finish Step 2, I increase the % Complete to 40% and so on. When Step 5 is finished, I put 100%. Don't mind the Status box. As soon as you put a value more than 0% into the % Complete, the Status will be updated to "In Progress." When the value is 100%, it automatically becomes "Completed."

You don't have to evenly divide 100% into your number of steps. In the example above, you can put 10% for Step 1, 50% for Step 2, 70% for Step 3, 90% for Step 4, and 100% for Step 5. It depends on you if you want to assign a bigger or smaller percentage to a step.

Well, I guess that's it for this series. I hope someone finds something useful for themselves here. Let's keep those tasks rolling.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Using a Planner Part 3

At work, we have a system wherein my boss would give me a list of goals or jobs that he wants me to achieve or finish by the end of the year. This is how our performance is rated and determines how much our bonus will be as well as our increases and chances for promotion. These goals usually number between three to five depending on complexity and/or quantity of work.

Previously, I'd allot time each day to attend to these goals and, hopefully, finish them by the end of the year. I'd work on one of them for about one, two or three hours and move to the next one. Sometimes, I'd work on one of them for less than an hour.

This method has not been very efficient or effective. Every time I stopped working on one job, I have to reorient myself when I go back to it. Since I do this to all of my jobs, I kept trying to remember where I left off and what I should do next. This is the way my boss insisted I do things and I happen to be a very obedient employee.

In addition to these year-long goals, I also get numerous little jobs that need to get done. Everyday is a struggle to allot time to all these little things and the big important things. Include all the meetings I have to be in and you get an idea of how frustrated I feel with all the things that need to get done. In the final months of the year, I'm always working double-time to finish the year-long goals and still do all the other jobs required of me.

This year, I decided I'd change tactics. The way I thought about it goes like this:
Let's say I have five jobs I need to complete in five days. I could go about it in two ways:

  1. Allot about one hour and 36 minutes for each job per day.
  2. Work and complete one job per day.
Note that all five jobs will be finished within those five days using any of the two methods. So, working on all five jobs everyday is the same as working on one job per day. Potentially, at least in my case, working on one job per day may actually be faster since I won't have to re-orient my self.

Next, let's say that I have six jobs to do in five days. Let's also say that, in reality, these six jobs will need six days to complete. If I allot equal time per day to each job, I will finish none of them after five days. Not good, not good at all. However, if I work on one job per day, in five days, I will finish five of them. Five out of six is much better than zero out of six.

All this thinking has drawn me to the conclusion that working on one job at a time is the way to go. This year, therefore, I've scheduled my goals one after the other instead of trying to do them all at the same time.

Of course, it's nearly impossible to work on one job per day. Some jobs need to be set aside because it needs to wait for something else to happen or for someone to provide input which is not available right away. When that happens, I open the task in Outlook and type the date and what I did and what I need to do next. No more guessing or trying to remember. Then I move on to the next job on the list.<

I also used to dread receiving other, smaller jobs that my boss assigns to me. Lots of times, these jobs are urgent and need to be acted upon immediately. Not a problem anymore. Open the Task List, enter the details of the new task, update the task that I was doing before being interrupted and start on the new one. When I finish the new task, I update its status and click "Complete." It disappears from my active list and automatically goes into my list of completed jobs. Then I go back to the previous job.

That's one of the wonderful things about Outlook's Task List. I use the list of completed tasks to show my boss that I've been busy and actually done some work. It gives him an idea of how effective I am. It also tells him if I'm being assigned too many extra jobs. Last year I completed only four out of five goals I was given at the beginning of the year. Normally that would have initiated a lecture on being efficient or how it would affect my bonus or promotion. Seeing the long list of extra jobs, however, made my boss consider that I had been assigned a little too much.

Next up...tracking your progress.