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    A Piece of ‘Art’ a Day in 2024-5

    May 21st, 2024

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    The single most important thing to make project management for creatives work

    May 15th, 2024

    The single most important thing that will make your project management work for you is the ability to break down your process.

    Here’s why:

    Without the capacity to understand your own process, in tiny pieces, project management is a big, ugly, crying-making kerfuffle.

    A little story about Gantt charts

    A long time ago, when I was first getting serious about project management, I fell in love with Gantt charts.

    These magical little charts would solve my problem, I thought. They’re pretty, and petite, and simple, and it seems they are the holy grail of project management.

    For these little charts were indeed in every book, article, and blog about project management.

    I didn’t understand them. But I wanted them anyway. I didn’t know, then, that the micro-level view of the work was what made them fly.

    I found software that would create them. I found tools that made them out of software I already had.

    But because I didn’t even understand my own workflow, I was literally pissing into the sea in a rainstorm and hoping to turn the ocean yellow.  In other words, it was never going to work.

    So I gave up on project management for the longest time.

    Once I unlocked the secret, everything fell into place easily and effortlessly. Including the money.

    Most of us come to project management because of money

    Generally this means that we don’t understand how to create value-based pricing and are wedded to a money-for-time exchange. That’s a story for a different day, however.

    What you do is say, gosh I’m doing all this work and feel like I’m not getting paid enough! (Usually, because you’re not getting paid enough.)

    Then you say yes to everything that comes along because of a scarcity mindset.

    And then before you know it, you’re doing a gazillion hours of work, never having a rest, and burning yourself out at a rate of knots. All you want to be doing instead is crocheting blankets on the porch with a mug of coffee and enjoying watching life go past, which is what you envisioned when you started freelancing. All that time!

    What you got instead is an employee’s understanding of money, paired with the fervent desire to avoid living in your car.

    Then when you come to project management, you have no idea how much time you spend on parts of jobs. You don’t even understand your own workflow, why it is the way it is, or even what you do on a micro scale.

    Some entrepreneurial creatives get to this point and onboard a virtual assistant. But then what they do is create videos of their own process as it is, without asking whether or not the process is in its best possible form (meaning, most effective and most efficient). What they embed is the worst form of their process, not the best.

    The only way to know that is to write your process.

    Writing out what you do is the only way to get visibility over what you do

    Writing forces you to think. If you have messy thinking, you’ll have messy writing.

    Similarly, if you have a haphazard work process, then as soon as you begin writing it down you’ll start to see just how haphazard it is.

    Documenting your work is the fastest way to assess its effectiveness and efficiency. When you see each step laid out on a page (or screen), you suddenly start asking questions.

    Questions like, why do I do that there when it makes more sense to do it over here instead?

    Questions like, wouldn’t it be smarter to put all those types of tasks together rather than leaving them scattered through the week?

    Questions like, why did I think that the making part of this job was the same thing as the thinking (or researching or planning, or reporting, or documenting, etc) part of this job?

    The answer is: Because until you wrote it down, you didn’t understand your job in the first place.

    So how micro is micro? How small must be each piece?

    Each piece must be a discrete task.

    For example, if you were writing an article for someone, you might have pieces that look like this:

    • 1. Set up a client file
    • 2. Create list of requirements
    • 3. Brainstorm what you know vs what you don’t
    • 4. Identify areas to research
    • 5. Conduct the research
    • 6. Write what you learn
    • 7. Create an outline
    • 8. Write draft one
    • 9. Rewrite draft
    • 10. Run draft against requirements
    • 11. Review internally
    • 12. Edit draft for SEO (or accuracy, or grammar, or whatever else)

    … You get the point.

    The tasks are many. They are not:

    • 1. Write article
    • 2. Client review
    • 3. Finalise and deliver.

    When you think about your work in such macro pieces, you very quickly find yourself in a tangled mess, because it is absolutely impossible to understand how much time you require.

    If you know your work to the absolute micro level, and are willing to face the reality of it, you can add times that are realistic.

    Once you have your draft set of tasks and times, you can run a timer with the next job you do and tweak the baseline times.

    After that, you will understand how much of a “time margin” to establish. To do that, you think of doing the job again, but on a topic or for a client you despise. That dragging feeling you get? That tells you how much longer each part of it would take.

    Build the ability to break down your process

    It’s the only way to understand your job. And it’s the only direction from which project management actually works.

    Building that capability begins with a notepad and a pen. For a week or two – or a month if you can stand it! – write down what you do, every time you do something. When you have a list, you can then review it over coffee. The way you write it down is the way you work; if it is illogical, haphazard, messy, difficult to follow, or jumps around, you know how to fix it: Put like tasks with like tasks.

    As a creative, you must also understand the enormous effects of switching. Analysis and planning use different parts of your brain from creating. Never do them in the same session.

    Roll with the changes

    If you find that changing things around panics you because of your client flow, that’s ok! Changing your schedule will only impact deadlines for a short while, because once you have a new flow in place you’ll become more effective and efficient immediately.

    And if you can do this, then the next step of building project management into every project as its first task will be a walk in the park.

    xx Leticia

    PS. You can get my book The Ultimate Guide to Project Management for Creatives, here.

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    Contractor handing your service? Here’s how to screw your customers.

    March 27th, 2024

    When you farm out a service to a Contractor, the fastest way to screw your customers is to wash your hands of the service.

    Delegating anything to a Contractor adds customer service burden. It does not remove it! I’ll explain why, below.

    The attitude that you can wash your hands and divest responsibility is especially problematic in local government (local Council).

    Recently I’ve had several interactions with my local Council that demonstrate how not to do things. The stories are helpful for you, so I’m about to tell them.

    And in a move different from my usual perspective, I am going to name and shame today. I’m choosing to do so because City of Marion Council publicly pretends to be all about its residents.

    Use a “process” that fails over and over again

    I first lodged a No Spray request with Council in September 2023. This was via phone call and via Snap Send Solve, a complaint lodging app used by many Australian local government organisations.

    After complaints, I began getting calls directly from the Contractor, without my consent and without any interaction at all from Council. This meant that my details were passed to a third party without someone having asked me first. And each time, a failure to solve the issue occurred.

    When finally someone deigned to inform me that there was a No Spray Register form online, I filled in the form. This form was supposed to solve the problem, by enabling Council to inform the Contractor of the No Spray requirements; sprayers are held to account against the Register.

    But, guess what happened? Failure.  Demonstrated by someone hoofing poison from a vehicle into my property.

    It wasn’t until I threatened to present this at a Council meeting that the issue was apparently resolved. “Apparently”, because we have yet to see whether sprayers bypass the property as directed.

    It transpires that the internal process had failed, from every dimension. The No Spray Register form process had failed also, which is a damning indictment of failure internal to the workings of the organisation. Once the form had reached the apparently responsible person, where did it end up? Who knows!

    When finally a person with authority got involved, she was shocked at how poorly her team had acted on the issue. But she shouldn’t be if she was involved in any kind of quality improvement program.

    That process took six months instead of one day.

    Factoring staff time, Contractor time, and handling, you might say that this one simple issue cost Council an estimated $200, if the handling time is factored at $34/hour. (Plus on-costs. If the Contractor charges more like $120/hr than $34, it is more in the order of $600). It doesn’t sound like much, but if this is representative of how residents’ requests are being handled, multiply this by many thousands and you have an absolutely dire picture of where ratepayers’ money is going.

    In terms of customer aggravation and staff panic, the cost has been immense.

    Fail to maintain information about your own services to handle simple enquiries

    My favourite failure lately has been the handling of simple enquiries, because it’s endemic. I’ll stick to my example for today though.

    This Council, like all Councils, delegates waste management to a Contractor.

    But instead of maintaining simple information for its customers, it completely washes its hands of all customer enquiries. They make customers jump through many hoops just to get a simple answer, as if Council were a signpost instead of a service provider. (They can’t be a switchboard unless they actually do something.)

    When I phoned City of Marion to enquire about the price of an additional bin, I was told to call the Contractor.

    It took me 15 minutes on hold before I was offered a call-back.

    The call-back came about an hour later.

    The call-back told me to phone someone else. No phone number was offered to me. I would have to go and search for the number, spend more time on hold, and effectively waste half my day.

    This could have been solved by having information at reception, and the receptionist saying, “it’ll be $80/year”. Or whatever it is.

    Bam. Half a minute longer on the phone, happy resident.

    Now, imagine what would have happened if the receptionist had not only provided this information but asked if I wanted one. The Council would be up some dollarbucks, and everyone would be far happier.

    When your customers phone you, the confidence and knowledge your staff members have about your organisation and its services is reflective of how the entire organisation functions. A receptionist who won’t even go a little bit beyond a literal question is therefore a liability, not an asset.

    Service failure is a key indicator of a Quality system breakdown

    In terms of Quality indicators in accredited organisations, this type of simple service failure is a key indicator of a system breakdown.

    Take, for example, high call waiting times. Sometimes this is unavoidable, such as times of staff shortage. But in this particular case I’d suggest that it’s more likely due to rubbish service delivery and high complaint levels.

    When I was re-emerging into employment after closing down my first business, I manned a frightfully busy switchboard for a a furniture company for about a fortnight (I was temping). Call volumes were high; but call bounce-back was also high. After a few days, I decided to track the nature of the calls. It transpired that the call volume was a direct result of unhappy clientele: The vast majority of calls were complaints! Many of those complaints were about the chosen delivery contractor. When I presented the data, complete with charts and extensive notes, to the appropriate management bods, I was given a surprised and tight smile. Then, the next time they requested a temp, they asked for a junior. The company went bankrupt soon after, and I for one was completely unsurprised.

    Customers are a key pillar of any Quality Management System for many reasons. Customers are the lifeblood of your business, and a customer interaction triggers your systems.  How your organisation handles all types of customer interactions demonstrates whether or not the organisation is committed to quality output, quality function, and continuous improvement.

    That commitment is integral to ISO 9001. Without it, you cannot achieve certification.

    And when your commitment to your customers fails, so does your business.

    In summary

    If your organisation provides a service, it is your organisation’s responsibility to handle that service effectively from start to finish.

    This means:

    • You can answer any question that comes in, easily and quickly. (Or, if not easily and quickly then at least on behalf of the customer.)
    • You are responsible for problem-solving, out of sight of the customer.
    • You close the loop for the customer.
    • You reduce the burden of effort for your customer in every way possible. And no that doesn’t mean telling them to go to your website. Probably they’re calling you because using your website is untenable right now, or it’s failing them in some way (website is the first port of call in 2024, not the last).

    In all cases, the quality of your service is indicative of your leadership’s attitude.

    If your service treats customers with disdain, then I will bet you $100 that your leadership’s attitude is all about itself.

    In any organisation, that’s simply a fast track to failure.

    And as a final, personal, aside, I genuinely hope the City of Marion doesn’t have an ISO 9001 certification! If it does, I’ll be wondering who is certifying them and what they’re not checking.

    Xx Leticia


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    Are you there, God? It’s me, Leticia.

    February 24th, 2024

    Are you there, God? It’s me, Leticia. I’ve been absent a long time because I didn’t realise the very nature of the world.

    I remember telling the world that I wasn’t a Buddhist, but that I did Buddhist things. I chanted the mantra of compassion and wailed. I did loving-kindness meditation every day without realising that this state of ever-love was something I was taught by a Church when I was a kid and too young to understand it or care.

    And then I became mother and the entire world changed. I walked through a fire unlike any fire of my life. I faced one of the most significant deaths of Self I have ever encountered, and it spilled out into my world and fractured everything for such a long time – including my marriage. When I re-formed back into a recognisable human being, I embraced art and creativity in new ways. I even published a collection of poetry about how I struggled to come to terms with what I was never told about the sheer beauty of motherhood. So filled with angst was I about how I felt like I had wasted my life despite all of the “achievements” I had made.

    Are you there, God? It’s me, Leticia, and I remember you. You were there in the beginning.

    Not just the beginning of all worlds and all creations, but at the beginning of Me. At the beginning of every new life. At the beginning of all new works, all new Arts, all new creations, there you are. Sometimes dressed in the shining, shimmering garments of a Muse with a hidden name. Sometimes you whisper ideas of deliciousness, inviting me into pathways I’d never seen, or heard, or known.

    When I realise the immensity of what it means to be a Source of all creation, I lose my mind with the scale. Mathematicians may be the only academics who really know you exist. When I know the sheer scale of ‘beginning’, I realise that those who thank the universe forget that the universe ‘exists’ and therefore began somewhere. I realise that those who thank the ‘Source’ are simply afraid of the word God. Without you, birth is impossible and mothers are redundant.

    Are you there, God? It’s me, Leticia. I have been afraid of recognising you in public.

    The public shames those who believe in God, and champions those who uplift any alternative term. And yet, you called me. You keep calling me to you, and I will always answer.

    I remember when I felt so drawn to pray the Rosary that I was physically restrained from doing anything else than buying a set of beads one afternoon. I couldn’t think of anything else. I couldn’t be without it. I will never forget how praying the Rosary restored to me the capacity to meditate after exposure to COVID-jabbed people who were shedding, how it restored to me my energetic body and allowed me to keep functioning. Since then, I have prayed daily and my entire life has changed direction, for the better. Society has dived into a deep hole of blasphemy since the population took the poison, and it is no surprise as to why.

    You are there, God. I am Leticia, and I know you, name you and honour you.

    Thank you for all you do for me, and long may your light shine into and redeem this darkening realm.

    xx Leticia

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    A morning with Eagle Rays

    February 12th, 2024

    A morning with Eagle Rays sounds enchanting, because it is.

    Today, I spent three hours with my gorgeous three-year-old son, at Seacliff Beach in South Australia. It was hot, and getting hotter; about 37 degrees by lunchtime.

    When we got to the beach, it was littered with boat trailers, the occasional car. The soft sand near the road had been churned up into deep, bog-like trenches by four-wheel-drives (4WD) roaring through so they didn’t get bogged. We almost got bogged, as I pulled the beach wagon by hand through the soft, softer, softest mounds, cursing my choice of entry. The little guy was loving it, even though his mum panicked a little when a 4WD came barrelling off the beach in front of us.

    We parked closer to the water, near where people were kind of gathered, a little north of the boat trailers.

    The sea was aqua, as flat as the eye could see. The type of sea that presages either earthquake or blisteringly hot weather; it darkens as the day gets hotter.

    We got out the floatie board and pretended to surf.

    We swapped out toys for water guns and pew pew‘d each other until salt water ended up in eyes.

    Then we threw them away and got properly wet. The water, freezing on first entry, was soon deliciously warm. Shallow, lake-like, and under a burning sun, it was simply glorious. Toddler son, more a little boy now than a toddler, who had been so utterly resistant about going to the beach until I’d promised trenches and jumping on sand castles, was enthusiastic. He was determined to get wet. We played a game first invented by Troy, which was to walk along and then ‘discover’ a hole in the ground that mum (or dad) falls into, causing parent-and-son to splash noisily into the water.

    ‘Ohh I hope there are no more holes here!’ I shrieked, pretending to be alarmed.

    Soon, though, we were joined by a sting ray. Well, I thought it was a sting ray. He or she was flying lazily along the sand’s surface, maybe a metre away.

    Pretty soon, one sting ray became two.

    Two became three.

    Three became four.

    They flew near us, north along the shore. Then flipped a wing out of the water, turned around and few back, capturing the attention of every walker along the beach. Some walkers abandoned their journeys and gently followed the flying beasts, venturing into the water to get closer. Some pulled out phones and filmed them. Others took photos.

    And we simply marvelled at their glorious, calm beauty.

    A woman and a dog happened along. She had a little girl, older than my boy, who captivated his attention. The girl was off splashing around and swimming. The mother yelled out after her, ‘(name), this is as good as it gets!‘. She was referring to the ultimate proximity to the rays, which were close enough that they could almost suck your toes. In some cases, they saw my toes and came steadily towards me.

    I smiled at the woman. ‘You’re right about that!’

    She came over, beaming. We had a discussion about identifying the critters. She pulled out her smartphone and searched around for them, and we determined that they aren’t sting rays but eagle rays. My mum’s suggestion – that they’re skates – was wrong. Skates have stumpy, fleshy tails, rather than the eagle ray’s whip-like tail. These were Southern Eagle Rays.

    We were privileged to watch them coast along, flip a wing out of the water to turn sharply and coast back. They moved slowly past us, totally unconcerned. We saw every detail, from their noses to their beautiful big eyes and their fins. We watched them ‘flying’ along north and south. For a while, my little man got up on my shoulders so that he could see them better. At his tiny vantage-point not far above the surface of the water, ‘me no see anything!’.

    It turns out that the rays are pretty tame because the fishermen feed them scraps when they come in from their fishing jaunts. The rays follow the paths of the boats almost right to the water’s edge.

    We swam, and splashed, and threw rocks. And in between, we stood respectfully by, watching the eagle rays swim and coast along. My little guy learned that they’re not sting rays. He learned how they swim, where their eyes are, what they look like, and how to spot them in the water. He learned that they feed on fish and molluscs. He learned that the fishermen feed them, that they follow boats along. He learned that (the ones near us anyway) seem to travel around in families, despite being solitary creatures.

    Along the way, he learned what fishing rigs look like, what boat motors smell like. He learned how boats stop floating away in the sea, and what an anchor looks like. He learned how boats are hoisted up onto boat trailers, and two or three different ways of doing such a job.

    He learned that it’s awesome to talk to new people, to share a love for the wild. He discovered a deep, abiding joy in just watching wildlife, and a real love for the glorious creatures that otherwise look so scary. He learned that they’ll come up to you and that you can stroke them if you know how (as some on the beach did today).

    It wasn’t long before our falling-in-holes game became a ‘me be eagle ray, you be Beren’ game.

    Then, when we were out having a mid-morning picnic, he cast his eyes up and down the beach.

    ‘Why no kids, mum?’ he asked me.

    ‘They’re at school, mate.’ I replied. ‘All day. Like daddy.’

    He pondered this for a moment, looking around at the retirees and middle-aged, and those who are presumably not Monday-to-Friday wagies.

    ‘Strange,’ is all he said.

    Given the incredible experience and learning we had in just three hours of fun and wonder, it’s pretty hard to see it any other way.

    I sometimes write about nature. Like this piece, about the rain. I’d love to hear what you think.

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