This is how I work

I read this here, and while no one has nominated me I thought I’d like a go.

Location: Alton, Hampshire
Current job: I lead Communications, marketing, brand and whatever else comes my way needing a solution at a healthcare organisation.
Current mobile device: iPhone XS
Current Computer: MacBook Pro… Old for personal, brand new for work.
One word that describes how you work: Logically (well, as logically as possible).


First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I could say I’ve ended up where I am right now by accident, but I think that would be a little unfair – I’ve definitely put plans in place at some point which have led me here.

I began wanting to be a journalist at around the age of 11 when I realised that basically I could be nosey and engage in my favourite hobby – finding out about things I have no real need to understand but for some reason find insanely interesting – and have other people pay attention to me in the process.

I set about trying to get some work experience with people like the BBC who back then said “what? You’re 11!” and sent me packing. So I set up my own thing, solving my problem of not being able to see what being a journalist was like and my village’s problem of not having any kind of media attention, and won an award or two along the way.

In truth, a combination of jumping to solve problems and really struggling to say no to anything that had “opportunity” written on it and was roughly aligned to my skills has got me where I am today.

Take us through a recent workday.

I don’t really have a typical work day because my work is so varied and because I tend to enjoy variety. If I’m in London (or further) my day will start with a harsh reminder that I’m not a morning person at around about 6am. Having completed the minimum possible ablutions required and thanking Past Nic for laying out clothes that vaguely go together, I set off for my train at 6.55am.

I’m behind my desk by 8.45am, where it’s time (if I didn’t do it on the train) to check through my emails and find out what fires are greeting my today. That’s one of the things about working in PR – planning the night before is all well and good, and certainly ‘good’ for productivity – you just never know when someone is going to do something silly and derail your day.

Most days are a healthy mix of meetings, calls and trying to get the actual work done in between.

At the moment, I’m trying to get into the habit of going for a work at what would be “lunch” time. Not leaving your desk is the negative flip side of the positives of switching to using Huel when you’re away from home.

I’ll head for the train at about 6.25pm, home by 8 – and then it’s either gym, reading, TV, popping out with friends or something like that. I’m safe if I head for bed by about midnight, and then it’ll be time to do it all again.

What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?

I love gadgets, tools and apps. I don’t think there’s any that I couldn’t live without though. I’m quite adaptable.

What’s your best shortcut or life hack?

I didn’t know I was supposed to have one. I’ll need to work on this.

How do you keep track of what you have to do?

The last year or so has made this the biggest challenge as I’ve led my team through almost a 100% personnel change and had to do most of the roles myself for a short while too – and all at a time where the business was a bit ‘manic’ too.

I’m a big fan of Trello and that’s where I keep my “master” to do list as well as the terrifying thing I call the “Team Roadmap” (it has everything we’re doing or might want to know about on it, it’s huge), but nothing beats a paper list.

Paper lists have the super power of allowing you to ‘scribble out’ when you’ve achieved something. There’s no better reward.

What’s your favourite side project?

I am without side project right now. I’m going to say reading. Alongside going to the gym, I’ve let my habit lapse over the last 3 months and I’m not really sure why. Conscious effort to repair it activated.

What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?

This one’s easy. There’s a link up top to the books I’m reading in 2019 and what I thought of the ones I’ve already done.

I’d recommend you read what you enjoy, abandon books you don’t enjoy and remember that audiobooks count as reading too.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve been asked to write an answer to something like this before and it stumped me then just as much as it does now.

There’s two bits of advice that I’ve more learnt than been told – and I’m sure I’ve been told them in one way or another – that I’d want to pass on.

The first is that no matter what situation you’re faced with, you can rest assured that the human race has been dealing with – and surviving – pretty similar things before. The universe will look after you – just let it.

And the second, which almost feels contradictory when it’s this close, is to get on and do stuff. It doesn’t even really matter what, because doing something is definitely better than doing nothing.

17 principles of success

I’m a very competitive person and never more so than when I am competing against myself. So I’ve always been quite keen on setting myself goals – and I’ve usually found that setting goals for myself has meant I’ve delivered them, and not setting goals has left me feeling a bit, kind of, lost.

Last year was the first for a while that I’d not really set myself any specific goals, because I didn’t need to. I was getting married in November, so the year was kind of geared towards saving up for that and making it happen. And it did. It was good, and I delivered on the goal I’d never set.

But now it’s almost April of 2019, and I’m seeing the increasingly light days and nights and wanting to “get shit done” again. I’ve always had a really clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, why and – after a short period of reflection – usually why too.

But at the weekend I was looking at Napoleon Hills’ 17 principles of personal success and I found myself getting stuck at the very beginning.

Lesson 1: Definiteness of Purpose

I feel like I’m between purposes. Like everyone who has ever logged into LinkedIn or Medium, I know there are various guides on how to find your purpose and tomes on how important having a purpose is. But I’ve never needed their advice.

I’ve never needed to “find” my purpose before – because it’s always been something that I’ve just known. It’s been obvious.

I said on New year’s day that my theme for 2019 was ‘simplification’ and that’s still true now. I’ve delivered a chunk of simplification in the first 3 months of the year, and there’s more to do – but simplification in and of itself is not, as perhaps is obvious, very purposeful.

In fact, it occurs to me that the simplification I’ve already done might have actually created the gap I’m now noticing.

So this week, I’m going to focus on trying to reach into my brain and find out what exactly it is. Because it must be there, right?

Do you really need to know that I’ve read it?

For as long as I can remember now, the people who message me have been able to see that I’ve read them.

Back in the first few minutes of using iMessage there was a pop up which asked for permission to send them and, hhaving come from a BlackBerry where it was standard fare, I couldn’t think of a reason to decline.

I wasn’t alone. The vast majority of the people I talk to on iMessage have their read receipts turned on. It’s pretty safe to assume that if someone is messaging you from another iPhone then you’ll likely see if they’ve read your message or not.

The situation is pretty similar on other apps too: What’sApp defaults them to on (and hides the off), even Twitter’s Direct Messages let you know when someone has read your message.

But that’s a little strange, when you think about it. Because the only people who thought it was acceptable to have ‘read receipts’ turned on for email were weird distant relatives, and y’know… that person at work.

So I’m starting a revolution.

Earlier this month I turned ‘read receipts’ off globally. No one knows the difference between me reading a message and deciding not to respond, and me (as is usually the case) losing interest and forgetting to respond until it’s so late as to be awkward if I actually did reply.

Nothing terrible has happened, and I’ve not even had a “why have you turned off read reciepts message of doom” from anyone. I feel liberated.

Technology is amazing, but it’s also run primarially be people who need to keep you engaged with their thing. My life is improved drastically by the ability to control all of the lights in my house from my home, but I can’t find any way that sending read reciepts to anyone and everyone is helping.

So I stopped them. Sometimes, even if I love you a lot, I just don’t have any words left. I’ll reply later; maybe you can too?

Do you have a template or shall I create something?

I can’t be the only one to have noticed that this is a question that comes up a lot, in communications – and I’m torn on the right answer.

Should I feel bad that I’ve made everyone think I’m too busy to do my job and advise them, or should I feel bad that I haven’t provided them with a template already?

I see the my role, and that of all in house communications ‘people’, as being an advisor – but, of course, many of our colleagues in other departments see only the tweets, the website updates and comments in the media when something goes particularly well or badly.

So from that perspective it stands to reason that when someone wants a communications plan, or a press release or whatever else, they should be able to pick up a template and write it.

And yes, they should – and it’s part of our role to make sure that the templates we do have are put together in such a way that they also can, but we also, surely, have a role in arguing that good communications isn’t ‘template’ communications.

It’s not only that every problem is unique, but also a matter of perspective in a profession which is highly context-dependent.

Would a template with the headings ‘Objectives,’ ‘Strategy’ and ‘Tactics’ and ‘Outcomes’ really be all that much use anyway?

A communications plan written from a single perspective, whether from a template or not, will never be quite as good as one written with input from someone whose job it is to know about things happening across the organisation, knowing the political context and – probably – having ‘been here before’.

The value of a communications professional should not be tied up in producing templates for colleagues, but instead in helping our colleagues – with real problems, needing high quality and effective communications strategies – solve their problems.

Or at least that’s why I go to work each day, anyway. Tweet me @picnarkes and tell me whether you agree – and how you address the ‘Do you have a comms plan template?’ question.

My top tips for your first ‘nomad’ week

OK, so I’m not a ‘nomad’ but it’s a nice word and quite a trendy thing to be. It looks, a bit like an Instagram influencer life, like the kind of thing we all want: mixing work and play freely and loving every second.

It’s not quite all that – the cripling anxiety of potentially opening your emails in the morning and finding a flaming dog turd still means checking in on your emails in the afternoon when you’re supposed to be on the ‘life’ part of the fabulous new work-life balance you’ve found – but it’s also not all bad.

After my first week of attempting this fashionable lifestyle from an Airbnb on the hillside in Tenerife, I thought I’d report back like an employee to the boardroom with some of my ‘lessons learned’.

If you’re here from a Google search ahead of your first attempt on the fictional see-saw of work and life, then I hope this post serves as useful for you.

If you’re not well, then, get booking something to try it out.

Hand luggage is crucial

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My go-to hand luggage is a North Face rucksack. It serves me well for work where I hop in, out and about London – but for this trip it just didn’t have the capacity.

Being a proper ‘nomad’ requires space saving skills last seen on Changing Rooms and there are kit lists online from people who do this all the time. As the novice part-timer, though, if you’re anything like me then you’ll soon discover that nothing you have is optimised for travel and so the backpack is no longer enough.

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I scoured Amazon for weeks before finally finding exactly what I wanted: a wheelie suitcase, but with specific laptop storage and a (what I call) flappy accessy bit on the front by Exzact. Far better for getting items in and out at the airport and on the plane than a normal mini wheeled suitcase.

None of the plug sockets will be where you need them to be

Just bring an extension lead. Yes, it says on the page that there’s a laptop-friendly workspace but laptops have batteries – if you’re working for longer than a couple of hours then you’ll need power somewhere there isn’t any.

I forgot this bit. My work laptop lasts only about 3.5 hours on a battery alone. So half way through a phone call towards the end of my half day I was scrabbling about trying to find power and move myself to somewhere near a power socket.

I ended up squatting over a sun lounger and facing the wrong way like some kind of alien who needed instructions on how to lounge.

On the other hand, my PowerCube is amazing. Get one.

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Get the right tools

If working from anywhere is going to be anything like working from the office or from home then there’s some things you’re going to need. A wireless mouse, for one, because touch pads are terrible; a mousemat another – again, something I didn’t think of – because tables can (and often are) glass.

I also found a USB headset was an essential tool, meaning I could still have my GoToMeetings and thanks to more amazing technology, also use my work phoneline and make internal calls and conferences.

The headset I brought with me gives pretty good sound for both sides of the call and works well with both Mac and Windows, although after 3 hours on the phone one day it did make my ears a tad sore.

Other accessories included an endless supply of pens, post it notes and a big notebook. I love a bit of stationary no matter what country I’m in.

The WiFi at the place you’re going to will be awful

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I predicted this one, but it’s still worth nothing. When I heard the place had WiFi, I was happy. When I heard it was 4G WiFi I assumed it would be awful. I was, I’m afraid, correct.

But no matter – because I brought my own Vodafone 4G Mobile WiFi, and thanks to the EU (oh, yeah) my 50GB of data per month was mine to use. Spiffing.

It’s quite incredible to think that I used to struggle to get 56K in a house in the middle of Birmingham, yet last week I was getting 4mB/sec on the side of a volcano in the middle of the Atlantic.

It’s really tough to turn off work

I’ve often had a jealousy of people who are able to just turn off from work. People who work part time have to be strict with themselves and everyone else to avoid working a full time job without getting paid for it and my week of ‘half days’ while abroad was no different.

Working in Communications is a particularly tough job to turn off from anyway, and checking emails occasionally in the afternoon and evening was too hard to resist.

I’d rather wake up knowing where the fires are, than go to bed worriyng about where they might be – but it continues to pull on the fictional see-saw in the work direction.

I always knew work-life balance wasn’t really a thing.

You’ll have to explain to your friends, family and Twitter why this is a good thing

I’ve had to explain a lot of times why I chose to work while I was on holiday. There’s a few reasons but ultimately it’s selfish (I couldn’t face coming back to the backlog of problems to solve) and selfless (I didn’t want to pile on the pressure to other colleagues who I knew would end up picking up the slack).

why are you working on holiday!! tell him off @tmchmbrs— N13 (@N13London) September 27, 2017

Whatever your reasons are, they’re yours – and they’re right. You do you, and other such trendy phrases. But people will ‘tell you off’ for working on holiday and ask why – exactly – you’re doing it. Just suck it up. Some of us enjoy our work just as much as our lives.

It’s totally worth it

At the end of it all I’ve mixed work with life in the sun and ended up with a tan, had some time to relax and I’ve still got plenty of leave for more time off at Christmas.

I’d definitely do it again – taking my own advice, though, of course.