And so begins another great adventure

TidyI’m always a bit ho-hum at this time of the year. Part of me is brimming with hope and expectations for the new year ahead, and part of me is filled with a sort of ennui which I assume is caused partly by the heat and humidity.

It’s summer here in Australia and we are having a hot one. Luckily for me, I live in a cool and shady house with ceiling fans in nearly every room, except for my study (unfortunately).

One of the things I have done over the holidays is cleared out my filing cabinet, so I’m feeling a little bit pleased with myself in that respect. Heaven only knows why I thought it necessary to keep every electricity bill and rate notice for the last ten years! Anyway, they have gone now so it’s too late to worry that I might need them for something.

My filing cabinet is looking very tidy, but the rest of my office needs some attention. Oh well…

I’ve also updated my blog theme, so you might like to check it out and let me know what you think? The eggs don’t represent anything in particular. I just like them!

I hope that the new year finds you excited about where your life might take you.

Simplify your life

cat ashtrayThere have been a lot of articles in the paper lately about how to simplify your life. These range from helpful suggestions for de-cluttering your home, to articles about being less connected to our digital devices. All of these resonate with me because I have reached that age where my elderly parents and in-laws are needing to move to smaller accommodation more suited to their needs.

This means that they need to divest themselves of all the memorabilia that they have collected through their lives and many of these items (some lovely, some less lovely) are making their way into our home. It’s quite a challenge because my husband and I are also going through a phase where we would also like to get rid of a lot of the things we no longer need, but they are being replaced by things that our parents no longer want or need. It feels like there is an endless stream of stuff that no-one really wants or needs that is insinuating itself into our lives. The problem is that it’s not just stuff of course. Every item has a story or a childhood memory attached to it, so whilst its easy for me to say ‘we don’t need that in our home’, it’s less easy for the person to whom the memory is meaningful.

I have read a few articles about how to deal with the problem of too much stuff, and the solution I like best is to take a photo of the item as a keepsake, and then divest yourself of the actual item. Another suggestion is to keep one representative item from a whole batch. For example, keep one teaspoon from a whole collection. Keep one linen tea-towel from a pile of a dozen. This can feel a bit less like you are being ruthless and uncaring.

I am only too aware that it is not the stuff that’s the problem. It’s the emotions that are attached to things that trip us up. We are human and need to recognise that our attachment to things is natural but we also need to recognise that there is only so much stuff that we need to remind us of who we are and where we have come from.



The truth about learning styles

Let me say straight up that I’m not a big fan of learning styles. You know, that’s where we do a little test to see if we are kinaesthetic, visual or auditory learners. I think that unless you have a disability and are limited in the use of one of your senses, then you are highly likely to learn using all of your senses. I have never met anyone who didn’t gain value from putting a set of ideas into practice (kinaesthetic learning) even if this is just by way of a scenario or a case study. It’s obviously not a good idea to practice your brain surgery skills on a real live person!

I think it’s more realistic to say that we all have preferences in the way we absorb information and this relates more to quantity and timing, rather than to learning styles. Some people really like lots of detail early on in the piece and other people (like me) much prefer to get an understanding of the big picture before they get into the nitty gritty details. I like to see the long term prospects of an idea and find details boring if they are provided to early in the piece. Other people like to know the ‘how, why and where’ right up front and can find it frustrating when people like me talk in broad generalities about why something is a good idea.

Not only can these two types of people drive one another crazy, it can lead to differences in opinion about the level of detail required in a document or a presentation. Have you ever written something lovely and detailed, only to have it come back with a request to cut half of the content? One of the main reasons that people put too much information on their slides is that they are ‘detail people’ and they think that everyone else wants to know every little detail about the project/plan/product. This doesn’t mean that big picture people are shallow or that detail people are pernickety fuss pots. It just means that we have to strike a balance without cluttering up the slides or ending up with a 40 page document when a 10 page document will do the job.

How can you work around this?

As a whole picture person, I am inclined to develop minimalist slides covering broad concepts. I have to constantly remind myself that some people like details but I really hate cluttering up my slides with text. On the flip side I know that everyone benefits from examples, so what I try to do is support my claim with evidence. This is known in presentation world as the ‘assertion- evidence’ method.

It works like this:

1. Make your claim in a clear simple statement. This can be in a complete sentence, for example “people are more likely to live longer if they get adequate amounts of sleep”.

2. You can support this claim in a number of ways. You don’t have to use statistics, although this is definitely one way of doing it. Other types of support can be images, anecdotes, charts and info-graphics. Remember that supporting the emotion behind an idea can help people absorb the message, so this counts as a type of support even though it’s not really evidence in the traditional sense.

Here’s an example of using an image to support an idea.

Assertion evidence method

Another suggestion is to let your audience know where they can find additional information. This includes providing links to websites, research reports and other supporting documents. Some people like to know the details and you have to satisfy their needs. What you shouldn’t do is clutter up your document or presentation with extraneous information. Remember simple is smart, you can do it!