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Gnifeirb Sdrawkcab. (Work that out.)

In my book, Police Time Management, I propose an alternative way of conducting routine, start-of-duty briefings. It is a method intended to reduce the stress of continued imposition of new work that has to be juggled along with yesterday’s priorities, last week’s initiatives, next week’s court commitments, and the course you must attend or you’ll have forgotten how to hit someone with a metal bar because it’s the anniversary of when you were last told. I’ll not go into too much detail because it’s an idea that’s supposed to make you want to buy the book.

But you can imagine my smugness this week when I read that the famed ‘Getting Things Done’ pioneer, David Allen, thinks the same thing. In his deeper work, ‘Making It All Work’, he writes, “It’s a great idea, when starting meetings that are held regularly, whether in a department or a family, to have everyone contribute what primarily has their attention at the moment. (–) I learned that trying to move things forward without at least a nod to the issues pulling on everyone’s psyche is an exercise in futility.”

You’ve been there, probably. Overladen with work, and the first thing that is addressed at the morning briefing is how much new work you’re about to be allocated, you lucky thing, you. This is primarily the result of faulty thinking: not malevolent thinking, which would be designed to make you miserable, but thinking that is the result of unconscious responses to the reality of being an emergency service.

What happens is that something urgent happens, followed by something else that is also urgent. After a while, we conclude that the only way to deal with anything is to treat it as urgent, as ‘gotta be done NOW!’.

(Which would explain why, in my day, a crime complaint had to be completed by your end of tour on Friday at 5pm so it could sit in the post tray to be forwarded to arrive at Divisional HQ next Tuesday.)

We teach ourselves that we don’t have the time to anything because something ‘might’ happen that needs urgent attention. But the truth is – while the initial response to some things might be justifiably urgent, the post-urgent investigation and administration rarely is. It’ll take as long as it will take. But we see that list of those non-urgent tasks and they scream at us to be done now, just in case that next thing happens.

So the briefings routinely add to your work while manifestly failing to address the fact that your earlier urgencies have created routines that need to get done. But the new work might not be urgent enough to stall the taking of action on your current list of things that need to be done. Nevertheless, the briefing puts the new work ahead of the old work.

My advice, like that of Allen, is to think differently. Do it backwards. Allocate new work after the room has outlined its current commitments.

Granted, that will be a fluid approach. There will be times when ‘now means now’, but just being given the opportunity to the room to outline the occupants’ needs, before allocating new ones, will have an amazing effect on stress levels and productivity.

I go into more detail on m’book. But give this idea some thought, Sarge.

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Questioned! And Answered.

After I posted yesterday’s article called ‘Get a Grip – It’s Liberating’, I was intrigued by a reply sent to me by Stefan.

He wrote: “You could add one funny detail: once you listed it all, how “old” was the oldest item on the list? Once you clarify the related action, it often becomes clear that you did not do something for YEARS, because you did not spend 1 MINUTE to think about the first action, which would have started it…”

In answer to his first question, the reply is “I honestly can’t remember” because, having listed them on my smartphone To Do app, I deleted them on completion – I went from 39 home tasks to about five within 48 hours because they were there, in my face, and demanded attention. Some needed an hour’s attention, some even less. And in my defence as a time management writer, I was pretty up to speed with work as a whole.

As to the second sentence in Stefan’s comment, he makes a very good point. Quite often, we put something off for a somewhat longer time than we are prepared to admit. Some people have left things on their list for years, and months are probably a regular timeframe for ‘get to laters’.

Notwithstanding the fact that people regularly procrastinate acting on their task list because they don’t want to do them because of inconvenience or potential conflict, there are other things that go on To Do Lists that never get done for a different reason.

We never wanted to do them in the first place.

Sometimes, we add something to our lists because someone else has suggested it. In the moment we may want to do it. Or we feel obliged because of the relationship we have with the individual making the suggestion. Last year I accepted a challenge from friends to do a spectacular cycle ride in the Alps. In the moment, I was swept away by the idea. A month later, when overtraining (oops), I looked at the project in the light of day and realised not only how hard it was going to be (in a sport I exercise out of a need to be fit and not because I necessarily like it), but how much money it was going to cost me just to travel to the venue and stay a couple of nights – thousands. Just so I could say “I did that” to a disinterested audience. And it was money not spent on wife or family. It was certainly not going to be a holiday!

That’s a spectacularly over-played example, but it does show how we sometimes we put things on our lists that we want to do ‘in the moment’ but which, on reflection, will never get done. But the shame of deleting them from our list plays on our mind so we leave them there.

My advice is (work aside) that if you find something is on your list that you really don’t want to do – delete it. Forget about it. It’s just sapping your mental strength, because every time you see it undone you feel guilty and it takes up valuable thinking time. But if you do feel you can’t completely get rid of the task, put it on a  list called ‘Someday/Maybe’. It means you still like the idea but it’s no longer a commitment – it’s an If. No-one feels ashamed that they haven’t done something which is an If. Provided that the If means ‘If I ever want to’.

So, Stefan, that’s my answer. Nothing on my list was so old that I needed a minute to realise it needed to be done, and/or that I could have done it a long time ago. I still rely on the methods outlined in Police Time Management. But those methods include and are supplemented by the GTD® methods so I was pretty much ahead of the game. It was the smaller tasks that perhaps I didn’t realise needed attention until I did the Physical and Mind Sweeps that brought them to mind. And that was the thrust of my article – get on top of the things you’d forgotten needed attention.

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Get a Grip – It’s Liberating!

A little while ago I skirted with using the famed Getting Things Done method for planning tasks. Essentially (but not ‘just’) a list management process, it is a very popular productivity method, although the somewhat precocious reference by some to having a ‘GTD Practice’ as if they were medical or legal professionals, does smack a little of narcissism.

The method revolves in part around a philosophical statement which its founder, David Allen, uses. He says, “You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what it is.” That may well be a statement that addresses a cause of stress that is almost intangible in nature. Do you feel the most stress when you have so much to do that you can’t even begin to list them all? Cue Allen and GTD.

Allen suggests that the first thing any stressed producer should do (after setting up the office / workspace / home in preparation for the whole process) is capture everything that is on their mind. Everything. He starts by suggesting you go around whatever space you’re working on in the moment, and make notes about things that don’t belong where they are, in the condition they’re in, or need action taken I some other regard. That addresses the physical environment.

Next, he suggests a Mind Sweep, where you consider all the things on your mind. For police officers and staff, that’s your list of cases, projects, tasks, calls to make, people to see, appointments to make, and so on. (In his book, “Getting Things Done” Allen provides trigger words to help you remember such things.)

He suggests you note each separate ‘thing’ on separate sheets of paper, because once you’ve finished making the whole list you’ll have a lot. And they are easier to work with as separate sheets, than a list of umpteen things on one page.

NB: You aren’t allowed to DO anything about these discoveries at first – only list them.

Once that’s done, you go through your pile of paper and clarify what each one means, and what’s your next action. (GTD Specialists – I’m really breaking it down!) Now, at least, you know what you have to get done. As you do that, you organise those tasks into ‘where or when can I do them’ lists, like At Computer, At Office, At Home, At Phone, etc, but that’s for another blog.

Why do I mention this? For the first time, last week I did all that properly, and I took three days doing it. I walked around my house and listed the things in the wrong place or that needed action taken on them. I used the trigger list to do a sweep of my mind. I captured about 100 thoughts and used up 100 pages of an A5 notebook.  I then went through them all and decided where I’d have to be and what I’d have to do to get them done. I put them on the appropriate ‘At’ lists.

BTW, the initial sweeps I did on paper, but the final ‘At’ lists are on my ‘phones Microsoft To Do app, which synchs with all my devices, including my desktop. Which means they are with me everywhere I go ,so I can do some, or add to the lists, as tasks come to mind or opportunities arise to get them done. And I have a permanent ‘Errands’ list for shopping…….*

And in the two days since I did that, I have been so productive at getting them done (and capturing and clarifying more stuff as it arose) that I amazed myself. Half the resultant list is gone already, and the rest are awaiting the appropriate time, money or other resources needed to get them done.

Stress. Free.

Something new comes up – what is it, what is the next action, where/how/with what can I take that action? And act when you can. You know what you can and can’t do, you know what it is you still have to do, but you NEVER panic about what you’ve forgotten about – because you need never forget about anything.

I recommend this as one of the cures for what ails ya. Not the only one, but certainly a good one.

*And when the phone ‘pings’ because you’ve ticked off a task…..wow!

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Start the New Year ORGANISED. (Because other people don’t.)

The Christmas period is officially over, and the world kicks reluctantly back into motion. All those tasks you had to put off because other people weren’t available (either by choice or because ‘it’s Christmas, it can wait’) now proliferate your to do list – just as more work comes in that was itself generated by the Christmas period. Meanwhile, all those people who left you alone from the 20th of December are now demanding that you respond to their demands, ignorant of the fact that if they’d made them when they were ‘leaving it for after New Year’ then you’d have probably already done it. But now, they’ve reduced your timescale and will blame you if you can’t comply.

Aren’t people fun?

I know, from reading reports and social media posts, that many front line police officers and staff feel that they cannot cope. I think you can. The problem is less about feeling overwhelmed than it is the fact that you’re not being told how to whelm. (MS Word recognised ‘whelm’, much to my surprise!)

Think of it this way, with a bad analogy. In times of real challenge, like World war 2, people coped. People always do. So can you. You just need to organise your head. Which, of course, you can’t do. Your head is not an organised planning system. It can keep everything in itself, but it doesn’t do so in an organised system with a simple retrieval method. It’s just a library with books all over the place.

Instead of trying to keep everything in your head, keep it on paper. When something comes up, the immediate thought is ‘another thing for me to remember’. But once you write down what it is, you don’t have to remember, and you know you won’t forget. The stress reduces.

Next, you decide what you can do about it, now. And if the answer is ‘nothing’, it has to wait. If the answer is ‘plan’, then start making a plan.

David Allen of Getting Things Done fame, makes a salient point. You can’t ‘do’ a project: you can only do tasks or actions towards getting that project done. So your mindset shouldn’t be ‘I have to detect this immensely complicated fraud’: it needs to be ‘I have to visit the complainant.’ No more. Until that complainant is seen, there is no immensely complicated fraud.

Once the complainant has been seen, the next actions can be planned, and executed one at a time. And when they aren’t being planned or executed, they can be ignored, and your attention directed towards other things.

One at a time.

So when someone passes their festive season procrastination down the slippery slope to you, write it down, and only give it the appropriate attention. Not deep, angst-ridden, stress-inducing overthinking. Just. Enough. Attention. For. Now.

You can manage quite a serious workload if you do that. I currently have about 30 projects on the go at the moment. I know I can’t do everything about all of them every day. But, for some reason, many of you feel like you should.

You can’t. But you can know what those projects are and manage them effectively.

Just by doing what I suggested. And, perhaps, a little more. Seek out training on how to manage multiple tasks. You can buy my book Police Time Management, which addresses your particular situation in depth, or you can look at YouTube videos which proliferate on how to do what I have proposed.

It really isn’t complicated, once you understand you can do it.

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I Promised This Next Action, Didn’t I?

Moving on from my plagiarised advice about how to keep a list, I hereby come through upon my promise to address thing about a context list that needs to be considered IF you want to reduce stress, as per David Allen’s (etc) advice.

You recall how I suggested that the short list of projects the DC had was also a huge list? If not, refer back to my post and read it again. We all had lists, or something similar, kept on a computer or in a book or on a piece of photocopier paper. Items such as those listed on last week’s article would be called Projects – you might call them cases, or investigations, but in the end they are all Projects – things that are being done that need more than one step for completion. Remember that definition, because you have a lot of those.

But here’s David Allen’s key point when thinking about the mammoth size of any Project.

You can’t ‘do’ a Project – you can only do the Next Action towards its completion.

That really was worth pressing Ctrl+U and Ctrl+B, it’s that important. Allen is very focussed on the term ‘Next Action’ as being the key to stress-free productivity. (Yes, I know, no such thing but you can reduce the stress by thinking and acting like this.)

And here’s the funny thing. The Next Action is often the tiniest, simple, swiftly completed ‘thing’ to do.

For example: You are dealing with a rape. Huge. You need a victim interview. Big. It has to be done by a specialist. Fiddly, involves someone else. So what’s the next action?

Look up a specialist. A minute. Then contact them. Another minute. Then leave them to it, with your only responsibility in that vein being to wait for the result. (The @WaitingFor list you keep on your phone/computer/paper.)

When all is said, everything that’s peppering your list of Projects is a set of next actions, but it’s the perception that you have umpteen billion next actions that causes the stress. But they are predominantly tiny things that need doing which, when actually done, feel like a win. And then another win, and then another. Even an obstacle is nothing more than another project that contains a next action that can be identified, planned and then done.

You see how this works?

Change of mindset from a huge list of (thought to be) unmanageable projects to one of a lot of easy tasks that can be done when the context allows.

Remember: It may not feel like it, but you CAN only do one thing at a time, even if you have a lot to do. And you can only do them if you are at a place, or with a resource that enables you to do that one thing. And if another thing comes along (as it invariably will in policing), just add it to the Project List, and leave it. If it needs immediate attention, decide the next action and act on it or put it on the appropriate ‘where/when/with’ list for later. Then forget about it.

It really is that easy to understand. It may take a little longer to start using it and gain expertise to the degree that you finally become stress-free, but like driving a car it is nothing more than matter of practice.

I really wish I show you, face to face, but I can’t. But there’s a lot you can learn from YouTube. 😉

If you see value in these posts, please buy my book Police Time Management, which conmtains a lot of usable time management advice. Really. I wouldn’t lie, would I?

(Or buy David Allen’s Getting Things Done Workbook, which is a cracking step-by-step guide. But when you choose which to buy, remember he’s a millionaire and I aren’t.)

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The PolFed was right – partly.

In a recent post relating to five ways for overcoming stress, the Police Federation of England and Wales’ first suggestion was to make a list. I acknowledge that this is a great idea, but added that there is more to making a list than just making a list.

For example, imagine this list of a Divisional DC. (I know it doesn’t reflect reality!

  1. Evans rape allegation.
  2. Jones GBH allegation.
  3. Smith harassment investigation.
  4. R v Kane court case.
  5. Phipps fraud

Two things I’d say about such a list.

  1. It’s nice and short. Only 5 items, so the DC has a hold on what he or she is responsible for.
  2. It’s actually HUUUUGGGGGEEEEEE.

A list that reflects the reality of policing is not, and never could be, short. Each of those five items contains within or behind it a number of calls and tasks – quite a number, in fact. And each of those calls and tasks will likely create more calls and tasks. But (a) no-one is ever formally taught how to make a to-do list so (b) any to-do list they create is rarely anything more than a reminder of just how busy they are. And is therefore utterly, mind-numbingly morale sapping.

Another thing about a ‘simple’ to-do list is that as big as it is on Monday, and as much as you get done all week long, it’s often just as big, if not bigger, by Friday. A to-do list is the very definition of perpetual motion – it just keeps moving: all you get to do is change where you put it. More often than not, in my experience, on a bit of A4 paper whipped out of the photocopier.

All that said, there IS a way to create a more do-able to-do list, or rather to utilise a to-do system.

Promoted by David Allen of Getting Things Done and Graham Alcott, The Productivity Ninja (whose ideas are suspiciously similar…) and paraphrased by me in my own book, Police Time Management where I focus on how a busy police officer can use them, there is a better way.

They propose the idea that one to-do list is useless because it’s usually like my illustration – headings rather then details. Secondly, it is useless because it is not organised around context, in the sense that the tasks require you to be in different places, with different resources, at particular times or with particular people in order to move through them. So a list of tasks that have to be done with a computer when you’re on cell guard, or in Bristol when there are no cars available, or on the phone when you’re in a courtroom, or at home when you’re in work, or at work when you’re off duty – just looks like a confused, and therefore stress-inducing mass of stuff that needs doing, that you can’t do.

Allen et al propose the use of lists that address context. They use the ‘@’ symbol, so you may have @computer, @calls, @home office, @patrol – you decide the context, because you know your working and home needs. You now have a list that says you can do Task A, but don’t worry about Task B because you need to be somewhere else – note it, move back to what you can do.

To be frank, this is an absolutely minimal explanation that they and I provide in our books. (And they perhaps go deeper than officers need today, and a lot deeper that I can provide in about 500 words.)

But organising lists around context – and keeping them in some sort of system like your ‘phone’s listing app, or in a bound notebook – you can de-stress your to-do lists so that they don’t undermine what the PFEW is trying to encourage.

Next time, I’ll add a bit more depth to how you need to be more specific in listing your tasks so the list is effective, but not so big as to terrify you.

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Time Management is Common-sense. So you NEED to learn it.

Jim Collins, author of business books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last” once wrote:

True discipline means channelling our best hours into first-order objectives.*

Just to be clear, he was not promoting blind obedience to the Empire’s replacement in the latter Star Wars movies. That’s not the First Order he meant.

He was promoting the idea that success in any venture is best achieved by making the best use of time available, and wasting as little as possible. He also suggested that the better use of time was a discipline. Not desirable. Required. And, by implication (if you define discipline accordingly), difficult.

The truth is that time management as a discipline isn’t physically hard. It’s just seen as mentally draining. The simplest time tech – the To Do List – is draining because it constantly expands and is a visible reminder of all the things we haven’t yet done, along with all the things we know we must do, but don’t want to.

However, like any discipline – and I am positive that I mean any discipline – once the basics are learned and applied there is less and less need for ‘discipline’, because it becomes second nature. But until it becomes second nature, it seems hard.

Returning to the quote – what is so profound? If you think about it, that’s one of the most common-sense pieces of advice you’ve probably ever heard. The more time you spend on ‘doing’ something directed towards ultimate success, the quicker that success will come about. But no one ever thinks that learning a methodology that will help you apply that common-sense, is common-sense. (Sorry to labour the point.)

Moreover, many public organisations don’t seem to think that training in time management should be made available to anyone earning less than £80k per annum, in my limited experience. They provide that kind of training only to people who can delegate their work downwards, meaning the people to whom that work is delegated – the front line, coal-face operative – aren’t provided with the training that they need in order to cope.

Of course, they could seek out time management input themselves, and I would encourage them to do so. But there is one problem – it isn’t common-sense.

My goodness, what a convoluted, Mobius Strip. “I don’t know I need this, but I need this, but I won’t learn this because it’s common-sense and therefore I am expected already to know it, but I don’t.” (Don’t analyse that sentence too deeply.)

I stress. Yes, it may seem to you that time management training is either unnecessary or too hard, but a workforce trained in time management, that is using common language in its respect, can massively improve productivity simply because it is psychologically committed to what it has been taught. Each individual empowered to say to another, “I need you to be proactive in how you deal with this. Begin with the End in Mind and do First Things First.” No need for further explanation if everyone knows what you mean.

But if all you do is say, “Make a list,” everyone knows what you mean – but hates you for it!

*In his foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

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The Challenge with Organisational Values

For those who haven’t heard of him, retired cop Alfie Moore has a comedy programme on Radio 4 entitled ‘It’s a Fair Cop’, where he addresses policing issues from a cop’s perspective, and with a sense of humour familiar to old hats like me. A week or so ago he covered the concept of the Student Officer, and I laughed for half an hour. But one thing he said, made me think.

He was speaking of his probationer’s thoughts on some issue, and he mentioned that it is ‘expected that your values will align with those of the organisation.’ Hmmm.

First of all, why wouldn’t they? Why would anyone work that hard to join an organisation that didn’t align with their values, or at least one with which they expected their personal values would be congruent. Malice aside, no-one joins an organisation that they would consider opposes their personal views and beliefs unless they wish to destroy it from within.

So they join in the belief that the organisation’s values align with their own, and the organisation expects that any small gaps will be closed, over time. This seems fair.

Except….

(Dinosaur warning.)

When I joined in 1986 we were a law enforcement agency. Laws were enforced and, first-time offending kids aside, there was no such thing as a caution for an offence committed. And even then, you only got one before you saw the inside of a Court. The smallest amount of drugs in your pocket resulted in a possession charge. The only discretion was, pretty much, at the first point of contact – if the cop didn’t ticket or nick you, that was the end of it.

By the 2000s, kids were getting caution after caution after caution. Thieves weren’t charged, they were ticketed – assuming the cop even went to the shop to deal with the shoplifter. Drugs were forgiven and pre-court diversion methods abounded. And then, the law enforcers started helping the druggies by giving them clean needles, thus implicitly aiding and abetting their possession. Yes, I know there are legal arguments against, but the point stands. Which is….

The organisation’s values had changed. But mine hadn’t.

And what is more, the organisation was being directed in this direction by politicos. (I shan’t explore the university education of the senior officer class and the possibility of their indoctrination by academia, which is notoriously left-wing. That’s a long debate.)

And what’s more, the old values with which many a copper had (a) already possessed and (b) were aligned with the law enforcement ethos of their organisation, were now being punished if they acted in accordance with the values that the organisation had, until then, been perfectly happy with.

That’s not to defend the poorer behaviours of some, such as overt racism, bullying and sexism. Although I didn’t see a lot of that, there was some as defined now. But what I saw was contradictory – you’d be sexist one minute, then risk your own welfare in defence of the person you’d just slagged off. ‘Twas ever thus.

When you impose changed values, you meet resistance because you changed the rules by which those upon whom the new rules had previously worked, quite happily.

So don’t blame them for resisting change. Question whether the change was worth alienating your best staff. And whether the reason you did it was self-serving or politically directed.

For a deeper discussion on personal and policing values, got to Chapters 17 and 18 of my book, Police Time Management.

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Overcoming Distraction

A question oft asked of people is “Do you find it hard to focus on what you need to get done?” A better question, which arguably leads straight to a workable solution, is “How easily do you get distracted?”

This morning I was in m’shed, exercising on my rather well-used, former clothes-hanging spin bike. Not one of those silly and over-priced but gadget-rich Peloton thingies. Just your basic £125, Chinese model with a read-out that shed damp has left barely legible, but useable in a pinch. The other advantage of this equipment is that rather than watching other, fitter people outride me, I can use an old Samsung tablet (other tablets are available) to watch YouTube videos. I watch personal development stuff and debates, but on Sunday and Monday mornings (if I’m not on my real bike) I watch Match of the Day. Which sounds bad but it means I do well over an hour on those mornings.

(Get to the point.)

Today’s video addressed the aforementioned question, and as I rode I realised the presenter was right because while I was focused on him, I suddenly noticed that a shed slat had been dislodged and risked admitting water if it rained. So having seen that problem I became concerned that, pedalling furiously as I was, I had nowhere to write down that I needed to address it, which made me think I should download a To Do app to the tablet, which I subsequently found I couldn’t do because the tablet was so old, so I had to go on-line and create an Internet bookmark so that I could note such things down as they came to mind. (And breathe.)

Then I found myself wondering what the presenter had said while I was thinking all that.

He was right. You could be thinking you are really ‘in the moment’ and suddenly something comes to mind which distracts you and fuzzes your focus on what you should be doing. And now you’re thinking about two things, which easily leads to three or more, and this is when you think you can’t cope. *

There is an answer, and it is implied in that long paragraph.

It is to pause, make a note of what distracted you and needs future attention, and then return to the task at hand.

Yes, it IS that simple. Me, I use the aforementioned To Do app (Microsoft’s, to be precise – other To Do apps blah blah blah). Something enters my mind that I can’t do anything about in two minutes or less, I put it on an appropriate list on my mobile phone or tablet (as they cross-pollinate), and check back in when I don’t need to be as focused.

This is the basis of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen. It’s so mind-bogglingly simple, yet few people think of doing that.

In my case, my To Do Lists include At Computer (things to do when I need a computer); Book Stories that pop into my head (to go into my policing autobiography); Errands (for shopping and other out of home tasks); and Waiting For (a list of things I am, er, waiting for). If I am doing Thing One and Thing Two pops up, Thing Two immediately gets put onto the appropriate list and I resume Thing One. (Not Allen – Seuss.)

If you apply this method, as described in a lot more detail in my book Police Time Management, you can keep your mind clear and focused on the Now, secure in the knowledge that any interrupting thought has had enough of your valuable attention and will get acted upon when you can do something meaningful about it, and not before.

You can’t avoid distractions if you have an active brain. But you can redirect that distraction if you adopt a method that puts it back under your control.

Read my book or Allen’s. They’re both good, but mine is cheaper.

(*Reminds me of my first CID days, when we were dealing on the street with an alleged abduction. A local youth kept interfering and distracting us. Eventually I decided it was quicker to arrest him than try and convince him to go hence. More paperwork, but once he was in the van we could focus on the kidnap.)

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Be Your Best. Always.

“Nobody who ever gave his best regretted it.” George Halas.

Okay, you’ve never heard of him in the UK. He was an American football and basketball player and coach, and like many such professionals acknowledged the truth of the saying that people who do their best usually get the results they seek. Although it may be fair to say that the people he was working with and coaching were pretty much ‘up there’ in terms of talent, ability and skill when he described them.

But the fact that they are at the top of their game and are paid good money to be their best, should not absolve or excuse you, underpaid as you are, from doing your best whenever you are called upon to do your job.

No, I wasn’t perfect.

Like you, I had days when I was tired. Periods when I was distracted by events outside of work, and days when in-work issues affected my performance. And a time when I made a huge mistake which cost me dearly.

But, in the main, I tried my best to do the best I could with what I had available to me at the time, including knowledge, ‘things’ supportive and colleagues. Sometimes colleagues didn’t support me – maybe they had their own things going on, too. Who actually ever asks?

Right now, the press has got it in for the police. I have my own observations about what’s going on, and question whether the compassionate, PR-focused approach has gone from being a sensible means of engaging the public to one that utterly undermines our ability to enforce laws and detect crime, and is beset by pandering more towards extra-loud, minority interests. (Without fear or favour…..)

But on a day-to-day basis, and in any one-to-one interaction, I still firmly believe that (without interference) the vast majority of you go to work every day intending to do your best.

And I salute you for it.

Which is why I wrote this book. I hope to help you be the best you can be by counselling you on methodologies designed to enable you to be your best in the moment, by managing those moments with the appropriate level of attention and priority.

If you can manage yourself in such a controlled fashion as to be able to give your best at any one point in time, can’t you do anything other than be your best in the moment?

Think about that.

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Two Kinds of Bottleneck. Them…..and You.

You know those days when you need something done and it isn’t happening as quickly as you would like? You need a reply to an e-mail quickly (try the phone, but hey-ho) but you haven’t received it? You’re on hold with someone or some company and you really need to be elsewhere? You need a piece of kit but the quartermaster is out of the office? That kind of thing.

The generic term for someone or something that is getting in the way of your productivity is Bottleneck. The stasis created by the other person involved in the transaction is preventing you from moving forward. Naturally, this disappoints or frustrates you – they mean different things – and you’re inclined to tell the world that X is preventing you progressing on something. They are your reason for the delay.

And do you know what?

I’m willing to be a week’s wages that somewhere, somebody is saying exactly the same thing about you. Somebody is likely explaining to a third party that they have sent you a memo/e-mail/letter and they can’t move until you reply, and therefore YOU are the bottleneck. And experience tells me that the bottleneck is sitting in your work tray begging to be answered but, in the moment, the five minutes it will likely take feel like the longest interruption to your day that you have ever received.

I’m guilty. Or at least I used to be. I’d look at an overly-long and pernickety demand from a retired-detective file-vetter, and put off working on it for as long as I could.*

That was until I discovered that – brace yourself for some serious wisdom here – I didn’t have to do everything on the memo at once. Instead of treating the memo as ‘A BIG THING’ I treated it as a ‘LIST OF SMALL THINGS’, none of which was as onerous as ‘THE BIG THING’ appeared to be. And in no time at all the little things were addressed in two-minute bursts, the memo was returned and a bottleneck was opened again.

Some things will take time, I realise that. But it’s our procrastination that annoys others as much as they procrastination of others, annoys us.

Try and remember that how you feel is how others feel if the situations were reversed, and act with respect for that reality when considering how much less of a bottleneck you can be. If you’re not freeing up your own bottleneck, you can surely be freeing someone else’s, and that freedom might just serve you later on.

The bottleneck you free me from, allows me to serve you, faster.

None of us lives and works in the vacuum we think we do. We all have bugs on our backs, biting us. Even the bugs have bugs.

Don’t be a Bottleneck while moaning about how long other people are taking to do what you need done. It’s hypocrisy, is that.

*Oddly, when I went from PC to DC, the pernickety requests lessened. And the requests were expressed in more polite terms. And on one occasion, said file-vetter wrote out all my charges for me. How elitist.

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Expect the Unexpected – And Deal With It Easily.

A great man once said (and I paraphrase) “Take my word for it. In the next three months, something unexpected is going to happen, and you are going to have to deal with. How well you deal with it will be a reflection of how prepared you are in terms of how you’re dealing with what you have on your plate now.”

He wasn’t predicting the future like some soothsayer. Furthermore, his intent was to tell everybody that anything could happen. He’d certainly be right more often than he is wrong. An event, hopefully not calamitous but which would require some positive action on your part, is en route to spoil your day.

What he wasn’t doing was addressing one reality of front-line policing life.

Something unexpected is, pretty much, the bread and butter of your day job. Never mind what might be “comin’ atcha” in your personal lives, you open every day with the likelihood that ‘an event’ is coming along to change your plans.

How do you deal with those challenges?

Think about it: when you started work as a police officer or staff member, everything was a challenge. When you began you learned to deal with things, initially by thinking hard about what to do and in what order. But as time passed and experience taught, you by-passed the ‘thinking’ and did everything that you had to do in the most effective and efficient way, in the right order, to get the outcome you expected.

Which is why I find it odd, occasionally, when people who have arrived at that level of competence in their working lives don’t notice that the same learning curve applies to their private lives, and therefore fail to spend their time planning their activities to the same degree they do their work. They don’t use the time and experience of just ‘being’ as a means to inform themselves how to prepare so that emergencies have a lesser impact on normality than they do on the unprepared mind.

I plan my week, every week. By accident as much as by design, my tasks are usually completed by lunchtime (yes, I AM lucky), which means my afternoons tend to be free to cope with the unexpected, the added-on, the challenging. But I am not so bound by my plans that I can’t work around or even drop them when something comes up that deserves more attention than ‘the plan’.

But here’s the thing: A To-Do List is not a Plan, as valuable as it is when compared to having no list at all. The best that you can hope for from a To-Do List is the knowledge that, having put everything on it, you won’t forget it needs doing. Of course, it will always need doing as long as it remains on the list. It hasn’t been planned.

You have to put the tasks on your list into a ‘proper’ plan, OR have a system for just deciding when, in the moment, you can do something off that list because you have a moment to spare in which to do it.

And for many things on such a list, you also need to know HOW to do it in the most efficient way possible, so that it doesn’t take longer than planned. That’s where a weekly plan can be of benefit. If you decide that, next Thursday, you are attending a training course, then you can add any pre-course necessities to Tuesday’s calendar and that day’s task list. Not only to an A4 sheet containing a random To-Do List – you’ll see that on Thursday morning just in time to say “Oops.”

 And ALL of that advice supports my contention that you can cope with the unexpected because if you learn and apply what I teach then you’ve already chosen when and where and how you are going to deal with the expectations that already exist on your Plan. No more thought is required for those things, which means your mind is now empty.  Which in turn means you can now use the spare mind-space for dealing with the unexpected, and do so with as much focus as is needed.

You can learn to cope with any personal emergency just like you did any work ‘emergency’: List what needs to be done, plan when and how to do it, and get it out of the way as soon as you can.

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Choose your Communication Method More Carefully – and Don’t be a Mobile Phone

You know how it is when you start seeing the same thing popping up again and again? It sticks in the mind unless addressed. Like the word ‘brouhaha’, which I’d never heard and then heard three times in a week. Suddenly, it was part of my own lexicon.

This week, he ‘thing’ that has repeatedly assaulted my mind has been the concept of synchronous and asynchronous communication. “What’s that?” I hear you not ask.

Synchronous communication requires that both parties to said communication be present and active at the same time, while asynchronous means that presence and immediacy are not required. Head gone, yet?

Talking is synchronous – radio and telephone comms are the most obvious examples, and on-line helplines are supposed to be examples,. As well, unless you’ve been stuck in one.

Examples of asynchronous communications should be letters, e-mail, texts and other social media messaging methods such as Messenger and WhatsApp. I say should be, because…..

Are you one of those people who sends an e-mail and wonders why the person hasn’t answered it within an hour? Do you send a text expecting an immediate reply? Are you like my children, who actually try to conduct conversations by asynchronous methods?

Then you’re a (deleted).

The purpose of this blog is to remind you of what you knew before the advent of digital communications, and that is that because when urgency is a concern the quickest way to get something done is to speak to the person you want to do it, then synchronous communication is the best way, supported by text/email/letter as a written confirmation of what was agreed.

When urgency is NOT a factor, then sending e-comms is perfectly acceptable. However, expecting, nay demanding that the other party attach urgency to that which you did not consider urgent (or failed to properly apply real urgency by using e-comms) is bloody rude. It’s also ineffective, because the relationship you damage by ‘expecting’ other people to drop everything at your whim will need repairing.

Now, it may be that you’re not the problem, and that those who communicate with you are. In which case, maybe it’s time to start a synchronous communication with them so that they stop expecting your immediate, unquestioned obedience to their diktats.

I am convinced that the mobile generation has resulted in a phenomenon I only used to see with infant children. I was once in a supermarket. At one end of the aisle, a supervisor was chatting to a team member. At the other end of the aisle was another team member – who started shouting the name of one of the other parties, evidently seeking attention despite the fact that the others were already engaged in their own chat. I se it time and time again – people just butt in, never patiently waiting for a suitable pause into which they can insert their desire for assistance with their own issue.

We have begun to expect that, like a mobile phone, people will drop their other conversation and put people – who are present – on hold for us!

I delve deeper into this phenomenon in my book Police Time Management, but for now I’d ask you to consider – what is the appropriate means of communication I should use for ‘this’ situation, and act accordingly. And try not to interrupt people when they are engaged with others – hopefully you will earn their undivided attention by their seeing you not dividing theirs.

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The Key to Success in EVERYTHING. Including the washing up.

This week I have been mostly taken by a concept that the ‘better’ coaching writers espouse as a specific, rather than ‘work it out for yourself’ idea. The oldest writing I find about this is from the 1930s in the name of Napoleon Hill. It was later reframed in 1989 by Stephen Covey, and Jack Canfield provides the same overarching advice in his 2005 book “The Success Principles”. It is an idea that underpins any level of success in business and personal relationships, and without it everything else fails.

Napoleon Hill, paraphrased it thus: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Covey calls it ‘Be Proactive’ and Canfield calls it ‘Take 100% Responsibility.’ All have the same meaning.

They mean that in order for things to happen, it’s all down to you. You either do it, or you cause it to come about.

I have taught this in personal development classes and often met resistance. It was understandable: in reality, other people and circumstances do have an influence on what we do. In truth, our success relies on us making ourselves relevant, and it relies on us dealing with those external influences. Which is where the resistance loses the argument.

Whatever happens, we have a choice. That choice is to deal with the circumstance, fight it, or accept it. As Covey described it, we have Direct, Indirect, or No Control over what happens to us. Direct Control means we can deal with it ourselves, and overcome the challenge. Indirect Control means either we deal with it in concert with other people, or we nudge it in the direction we wish to go, adapting as we do so. No Control means we smilingly accept it, rather than waste time and emotion fighting the insurmountable.

But we aren’t only talking about severe challenge. We are also talking about little things, small annoyances. I can’t tell you how much emotional effort I find myself putting into the avoidance of a two-minute annoyance! This morning I have hoovered, dusted, stocked, emptied and sorted multiple little things that really have always been someone else’s responsibility. But today, I chose responsibility and it’s all been done.

Have I gone from serious stuff to trivialities? Maybe.

But how about you? What things are you avoiding because they are annoying, in the knowledge that the person responsible is you – but you really don’t want to do them? And is ‘not doing them’ creating the result you want to achieve?

Here’s an example. I am an introvert. I’m reluctant to mix. I have found that most people are: when a group of strangers assemble, there is abundant awkwardness until – I start the conversation and introductions. Me. Shy bloke. Until I, or someone like me, starts the mixing off, it’s awfully quiet. I take 100% (etc.) for communication.

What does this have to do with policing? Everything.

Think of other things: Paperwork. Cleaning. Maintenance. Shopping. ‘That’ conversation’. All yuk jobs, but all necessary for a smoother existence. All or some of which are things which you think you have delegated, but which the delegate ain’t doing.

Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the moral victory when you make it plain that you’ve briefly, and pointedly, taken responsibility for someone else’s work. Rub it in their faces. Let it be known far and wide.

Sometimes, the mantra ‘I will take 100% Responsibility’ means doing the ‘thing’ so that you can move on from it, and move closer to your desired outcome. Even if that ‘thing’ just means clearing the dishes from the work surfaces you won’t need for three hours – but will now be clean and ready when you get there.

Take charge of as much as possible. Even if you don’t want to do it – do it.

And that really does apply to your policing role, even if you didn’t think so as you read this.

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French Lessons about Stress

At the moment, the Channel Tunnel access is chock-a-block with cars and lorries waiting to travel across to la Belle France, obstructed by the inability of les Francais to provide sufficient staff to man -sorry, resource – their side of the border control posts. As a consequence, X numbers of cars and lorries are having to try and get through X/2 passport checking facilities. Trying to get the normal amount of holiday traffic through half the usual number of access points is creating a blockage. There are only two possible solutions – open the closed posts with more people, or stop doing the checks. Neither of which is feasible in the circumstances.

This is a perfect example of one of the eternal truths – clogged systems create stress.

Recognise the parallel, yet? Yes, it is policing in a nutshell. Notwithstanding the reduction in the number of officers available to work at any given time, the fact is that unlike border crossings that fluctuate with holiday periods, the amount of work police officer – you – are expected to do never fluctuates, and has no controlling pinch-point to manage the flow of incoming ‘stuff’. It is coming whether you like it or not. While some events can be pre-planned, the vast majority of police work (crime, public disorder, traffic incidents and domestic violence) exists wholly outside of your control, and is not normally subject to weather/holidays/seasonal environments or sporting calendars. (There are some exceptions.)

So as bad as the border situation is, when the French get well, the situation will repair itself. But policing incidents ‘as arising’ won’t. Which, in turn, means that if your system for managing your work is clogged, there is no immediate expectation that it will unclog itself.

You need your own system for dealing with the waterfall of work, OR you need the organisation to create a system for you. And guess what? Despite the many reports from over twenty years ago that promote the training of such a dark art as time and task management, I know of no police organisation that trains people in time management (although I understand Devon and Cornwall have adopted a training course that included it, a bit).

Of course it’s a pitch for my book but you are not obliged to buy it.

What I am promoting is the idea that absent the training I think you should be given, you are not prevented from getting such training input yourself. There are books and courses out there (more expensive than mine, he smugly wrote) that will teach you great procedures for managing incoming and ongoing work better than you are managing all of that, now.

Such input can help you prevent the unnecessary clogging, manage the inevitable clogging, and free up some of the stuff that’s creating the clogging, all of which will (I guarantee) reduce the amount of stress that clogging creates.

I’m not sure I can guarantee that the stress will go away – you picked the wrong job for that. But, for example; the stress created by looking at your To Do List and wondering if it will ever go away can be lessened if you realise that having that list creates an element of control. Too many people look at the list and think they have no control, but they’re wrong – having a disorganised list is stressful, but having a considered list, and a process for managing it, is not.

You just need to know why that is so, and proper training can help you with that.

Stamping on a hose blocks it. Squeezing the end of a hose creates a massive jet. So yes, a clogged system creates stress, but knowing how to control that clogging, like any pressurised system, can result in a powerful force coming out of the other end – if you know how to create that.

Get some input.

This is one way.

Go HERE for this.

How the French can teach you about stressed systems.
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How to live on what you earn – Time Management style.

Following the Police Federation Conference there was a lot of media interest in the colleague who stated that her accountant had suggested she quit, work 22 hours a week and claim benefits because she couldn’t live on £40,000 a year. Of course, I don’t know her personal circumstances, but my first thought was – what the h377 is she spending her money on? I never earned that much and was the sole earner for a household of six, but I never (a) screamed poverty (even though I frequently screamed ‘skint’), and (b) could never have afforded an accountant. As I said, though, I do not know her circumstances and as such my knee-jerk response was a bit focused on my experience and not those of serving colleagues.

But.

While the cost of living has certainly rocketed of late, I’m not sure the Retail Price Index takes into account the Starbucks that people take for a drive/walk on the way to and from work, the factoring-in of the price of the less-than-five-year-old cars I see as normal in a police car park, nor the cost of an armful of tattoos – which my brief research suggests is easily £1,000 an armful (£700 for an 8×8 pic).

All of this research and personal experience underlined the fact(?) that people are not taught, in school, how to manage their income. This was a point also raised and mis-reported by MP Lee Anderson recently, where he suggested people were not taught that, nor how to cook. I know I never was, and nor were my children. Life lessons? In school? Heaven forfend, they need to know Welsh and Spanish!

So here is my advice, which I never took because I, too, liked ‘things’ unless and until I couldn’t afford them. But I learned this ugly truth.

There is a time management tool called the Time Matrix. It is divided into four quadrants, where how your time is used is identified by two criteria, Importance and Urgency. It looks like this.

I’ll not insult you by explaining it, although that can be done by reading my book Police Time Management, but as you can see, tasks in each quadrant are identified as (for example) Urgent AND Important, Urgent NOT Important, Important NOT Urgent, and neither.

Now consider your spending habits. What have you bought, recently? Where did that purchase sit? I recognise there are some value judgements to be made, here, but I would respectfully argue that some of the aforementioned purchases (e.g. a new or leased car as opposed to cheaper, paid for older model; tattoos; the latest iPhone; Starbucks other-expensive-luxury-coffee-brands-are-available drinks; nights on the lash) RARELY EVER hit the top half of the Matrix.

If you are struggling, you really have to decide for yourself where economies can be made – and your ego and feeling that self-worth is dictated by what other people think of your car/address/body art/coffee choice should be utterly ignored when making those decisions. Leasing a new car is great, except at the end of the lease period you don’t own a car that is an asset you can sell. Duh!

Until I retired and got my lump sum the average age of my car, by choice AND imposition, was 10-15 years. I got bank loans to pay for a 2k and (even) an £800 purchase of cars, when one car was all we could afford. When we needed two, they were also old. Even now, my mum’s estate paid for my (then) 5-year-old sports estate which I will run until it dies. (Which may be a while as it’s still only done 60,000 miles.) Of course, if I win a lottery, I may go nuts. But not until then. And I never left the UK between 1985 and 2015.

How about a mortgage? If you’re renting, find a house that the same monthly amount will buy (but wait until interest rates shrink). Read and listen to Martin Lewis moneysavingexpert.com stuff. But above all, don’t moan about the cost of living when you’re sitting on something that really was purchased from Quadrant D.

I’m sorry if these suggestions hurt your feelings. You earn money to spend it as you want, in a perfect world. But the facts don’t care about your feelings, and you know in your heart that blunt as I am, what I’ve suggested is common sense.

Think hard. It may not solve your problems in a week, but a new approach to spending will make life a little bit easier over time.

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Don’t Pull Your Own Trigger

(Bit of an add-on to my last blog, but important, anyway.)

It’s the week after Mental Health Awareness Week, which is the UK’s week-long answer to the American Mental Health Awareness Month – maybe a reflection of our shorter attention span or their inability to understand things quickly, who knows?

 During this period I have been inundated with posts on various social media where people have disclosed their struggles with mental health, and I have to admit to being torn. On the one hand, they are struggling. On the other hand, they seem to be saying ‘Look at me, I’ve got it bad’, as if having mental health (stress) challenges is a competitive sport and they’re winning, or at the very least they have got your attention for a minute or more.

Yes, I KNOW that seems unfeeling. But here’s the thing.

If you are genuinely suffering TALK TO SOMEONE. But Twitter isn’t someone. Twitter is a place to get attention.

(Incidentally, if a Twitter ‘friend’ discloses mental pressures, perhaps you should make sure that they WANT you to retweet to complete strangers. Moving on.)

Then I read a tweet from someone who disclosed that a third party had ‘triggered’ her, knowing that he was ‘triggering’ her, and there was, naturally, some sympathy expressed for her situation.

But I have read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and here’s Stephen Covey’s take on ‘being triggered’:

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow. But our character, our basic identity, does not have to be hurt at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal powers, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances in the future and to inspire others to do so as well.”

Covey, Stephen R.. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (p. 95). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.”

I cannot know the poster’s situation. And I did not comment on the tweet, nor would I expect such counsel as this to be welcome. And I certainly don’t find it easy to act upon it, myself. But my own awareness of the idea that I can CHOOSE not to be ‘triggered’ does, occasionally, result in a better response than choosing to be miserable. And this is the advice I would like to offer to the offended (and to the easily offended, but that’s an argument you can’t win with those who are too busy being offended on behalf of those who aren’t offended by what SJWs are offended by).

  1. Choose not to be offended.
  2. Challenge those who are trying to offend you.
  3. Give them one chance to apologise.
  4. If they don’t, escalate it to someone, because these days there is someone to whom it can be escalated.

BUT FIRST, give them the chance to apologise because believe it or not, some people don’t realise they’re being offensive, in part because the rules on being offended have changed since COVID.

I gave a speech a while ago, and I bemoaned the fact that modern police organisations spend more time on diversity training than on criminal investigation training. Two people in the audience took offence. One, a diversity trainer, decided I was attacking diversity – I wasn’t, I was attacking my perception of an over-focus on it – and was really (excuse me) triggered. Her argument was made quite aggressively. She chose to be angry.

The other, a trans woman, was measured, and listened to what I was saying (which included an apology if my words hadn’t accurately expressed my intended meaning). I suggested that most people are good people and didn’t need extensive ‘be nice’ training. She was patient and just said, “Some people need to be taught how to be nice.”

And THAT was the more powerful argument. Made politely, gently, and all in one extremely profound sentence.

Two people, same trigger. Two different responses. And the patient, considered response won my heart.

So don’t ‘be triggered’. Choose your response and feel better for it.

And no, I don’t need to read about it on Twitter.

For more on ‘policing your own stress’ through better self-management, read ‘Police Time Management’ by David Palmer, Retired Fraud Squad and Divisional CID Detective, available HERE on Amazon.

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Stress Annoyance Month

Apparently, it’s Stress Awareness Month – which seems to last twelve. It’s an opportunity for people to pontificate about how wonderful they are at understanding stress when, in reality, they couldn’t give a hoot about that message in marketing and on social media posts when it isn’t that Month. And I have my own take on stress, born of my reading of some excellent works, and it is this.

Stress is self-inflicted.

Okay, that’s a blanket statement and there are a few qualifiers, but in this Twitter-led world of black-and-white, no-one’s interested in those qualifiers.

Stress is a mental and physical response to stimuli, and we have the ability to choose our response because we are intellectual beings with the ability to think about what we think about, so we can decide to think “Wow that bus nearly hit me! I could be DEAD!” or “Wow, that bus missed me! How lucky am I?” Most otherwise healthy people opt for the first response and start a downward spiral that would stop – if they just chose to take control.

Which is the primary benefit of the art that is called Time Management. Yes, managing the way you utilise your time has a great productivity benefit, but there is huge scientific opinion that being in control is the greatest vaccination against stress there could be. Of course, you can’t prevent nasty things happening, and no-one is pretending that making a positive choice is easy – but if you are clever enough to read, you’re clever enough to pause, consider, mull, and then decide that what happened or is happening will not control you – YOU will control your response to the event.

How do I know this is true? I know because not every war veteran gets PTSD, not every depressive commits suicide, some people thrive on being busy, and people can forgive some serious wrongs committed against them. The difference is not the event, it is the ability of the individual to deal, and they deal by taking charge. Some people’s ability to deal may well be compromised by any one of a number of good reasons, and they deserve sympathy, help, treatment where appropriate.

But if a man like Viktor Frankl can survive a concentration camp, and the experience of seeing his family killed by Nazis, you can cope with an excessive workload. And in that poor analogy, you cope by taking charge of the workload, by staring at it and thinking, “Poor Me.” That approach makes the problem bigger because inaction breeds work. The pile gets bigger if you leave it, not smaller.

(Although in my book Police Time Management I do mention an arguably unethical way I did reduce my workloads by inaction. Not sure I could do that, today. But it’s an interesting thought, surely?)

You want to suffer less stress?

Take charge.

End of.

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How To Complete EVERYTHING in Two Minutes

Admit it. There are occasions when you have a task to do, and you spend more time and effort in avoiding it than you would have done in doing it. Everybody I know does it, even the most productive people of all. But those last examples don’t do it anywhere near as often as most of us.

Of course, you ‘ve all heard of procrastination, so I won’t insult you by defining it. That would waste time. (LOL) You already know the meaning of something you routinely do.

The most effective answer is to apply a rule outlined by Getting Things Done author and productivity expert, David Allen. His rule is – if it will only take 2 minutes, just do it now. One caveat – if you have a 5-minute task, then do that if you have five minutes. Basically, the time span of the rule is dictated by your personal circumstances.

“But the things I do will take longer than two minutes!” I hear you cry. I know you thought that because I thought it, too. But here, as Shakespeare would say, is the Rub.

Starting anything always takes less than two minutes. The decision to stop procrastinating and to start taking action is instantaneous. Let me illustrate by example.

If you’re like me, you have a hatred of taking routine statements from witnesses – particularly the routine drivel that the CPS memo has demanded from you. The one that’ll take an hour but has no evidential, procedural or practical value whatsoever, but because the lawyer has stretched a reason for wanting it, you’re stuck with having to take it. You procrastinate. You find excuses to put it off because of more urgent tasks. Then there are night shifts, court commitments, training days and other reasons, and before long that one hour statement has taken two weeks and you haven’t even put pen to paper.

But then you decide to apply the two-minute rule. First moment – decide to do it. Next – find the contact number and call the witness to arrange a time. That’s the job progressed a short way, and you haven’t even left your chair. You have also created an appointment, thus managing that period of time. You are now in control of the job. That is enough to make you feel better about what you have to do. When the time comes for the statement to be made, you assemble the necessary documentation (if you haven’t already organised your ‘stuff’ so there’s always a S9 form to hand), travel and start, and it’s done.

I’ve written before about how small, unfinished joblets like this mount up, and that is one cause of stress. But “I’m too busy” is a poor justification for procrastinating, if procrastination is the reason you’re busy. Work doesn’t go away: left undone, it builds up.

You want to be known as a productivity wizard? Apply the 2-Minute Rule to get progress on all of your tasks and the rest happens almost by magic. (Metaphor stretched, sorry.)

In my book, Police Time Management, I tell of how CID colleagues made a critical mistake in terms of putting work off because more important work came up, thus creating unnecessary personal stress. I always organised my time so that my own work never got put aside for something bigger. I just organised myself so that I could do both. And it wasn’t tiring or tiresome. In fact, it was easy.

It only took two minutes to plan.

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Effective Memo Management

You’d be amazed how badly people deal with incoming mail. Not e-mail – that’s an essay in and of itself, but paperwork, including documentation received through electronic case management systems as well as internal memoranda and general mail. The main problem is a reluctance to deal with it, and that reluctance comes from the fact that you just know that opening it will lead to more work, and you have enough of that already.

This paralysing reluctance to dealing with mail is easily cured. You just need to create and apply a systematic process for dealing with this incoming ‘stuff’. Here are a few hints.

  1. If the memo/letter can be answered in a sentence, write that sentence on the original and send it back. But be polite. I once had a loooonnnngggg memo from a file vettor. I answered each point at the end of each point with comments like ‘attached’, ‘yes’, ‘no,’, and ‘not necessary’. He went ballistic.
  2. If it can be answered with a short e-mail, do that. Better still, if the circumstances permit, use the phone.
  3. If there are multiple tasks associated with the document, treat it as a To Do List of many separate items. This may seem odd, but that approach takes a huge mass of undoability and turns it into a list of completable tasks. The huge ‘build a car’ level memo turns into a ‘buy a tyre’ level of required effort.
  4. If it is a big list, get a manila folder, put the master document into it, and then do the work while inserting the completed work in the same folder, if appropriate. Keep it all together and watch your completion take place before your very eyes.
  5. If any item on the list is itself a big task, break that down into its own To Do List and start working through that.

Above all, do NOT fall into the trap of doing nothing, or managing what you ARE doing so badly that the resultant pile of paper becomes even more psychologically problematical that the original memo justified. Don’t let it fester while more memoranda come in to add to your stress. That, more than anything else, is the biggest time management trap into which so many of my colleagues fell. They thought that putting it off lessened the stress, but that method always creates more stress because our work is always replaced by new work, so incomplete work just builds up unless and until some action is taken.

In my book Police Time Management I go into copious detail about the creation, management and execution of To Do Lists, much more detail than I have put into this article. In fact, 16 pages on lists alone. That sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. What that chapter provides is enough information for you to develop your own approach to managing your workload and your productivity.

In fact, it becomes so easy if you apply it that you’ll wonder why you ever felt stressed about memos. Apart from the sheer stupidity of some of the requests from the CPS that you can’t believe came out of the mind of a qualified lawyer. Sorry, I can’t do anything about those.

Except suggest trying the ‘not doing that’ response I put on that vettor’s memo. Probably why he went bananas…..

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Cheaper than a Jack Reacher novel, and a lot more useful to YOU.

I believe there are a couple of challenges when it comes to convincing people they need ‘time management’ training. First of all, front line officers and staff see the word ‘management’ and think it isn’t for them because it has ‘management’ in the title. They don’t see themselves as managers and think it is a management task, therefore not for them. Secondly, the whole world is now focused on the buzzword ‘leadership’, which implies a hierarchical focus and one that is executed ‘from above’. Neither statement is true.

Tied in with both these misunderstandings is the fact that, as a rule and in my own experience, time management training is usually provided ONLY to higher level supervisors – who can delegate all their tasks (if not their decisions) down the proverbial pecking order. In other words, to the people who AREN’T provided with time management input. Who therefore assume that time management isn’t for them because only bosses get told how it’s done.

Let me change all that.

First of all, you are all leaders, because leadership is a choice, not a position. (S Covey) You can self-lead as much as you can be led by others of higher rank. You can influence, should you take the time to learn how. That is the main purpose of leadership, and many great initiatives have come from the shop floor.

And just as you can lead yourself and decide where you are going, you have to – have to – manage yourself in order to get there.

Which leads me to a third challenge with the term ‘time management’, and that is that you aren’t ‘managing time’, because you can’t. it’s impossible. You can’t take 3pm – 4pm and execute it at 7pm. It’s too late, it’s already happened three hours ago.

So don’t think ‘time management’. Instead, as Charles R. Hobbs and Hyrum W. Smith opined, use the expression ‘Event Control’. And in using that replacement terminology, recognise that it is all about taking what happens to you and choosing how and when you will deal with it.

Of course, some of the ‘event control’ will be dictated by the event itself, and some more will be dictated by systems and protocols and resource availability.

But how you deal with it in terms of your attitude, and where you can mould the way you deal with the current event in terms of all your other priorities, are found in the study of (back to the old term) time management.

My book, Police Time Management, is a 300+, A4 sized, compendium of mindsets, skill sets and toolsets about how to prioritise and execute your massive workload in such a way as to reduce stress, but it also covers self-leadership – about deciding where you want to go and how to go about getting there. It covers your working and personal lives. It’s cheaper than a (non-discounted) Jack Reacher novel and the benefits last much, much longer.

When I was in the job, ‘time management’ made a HUGE difference to my stress levels and to my productivity. I took on projects that weren’t strictly ‘mine’ because I found that I could learn, manage and execute better, all because I had developed a system for doing what had to be done, in the way it had to be done, at the best time for it to be done, without ‘it’ taking control of my ability to do it. (And later made money as a result. 😊 )

And at the same time, I watched other people take ‘emergency leave’ because their heads were about to explode, all because they hadn’t discovered or been taught the benefits of event control training. Which is why I took it upon myself to provide time/event management/control input to my former colleagues by putting all that I had learned into the policing context, and into print.

Because your organisations won’t. But I’m willing to help them if they change their minds……

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DC W.S. Churchill, 2005. How Auto-University Solved a Murder.

I’m not sure if it’s my age, my musical taste or any other issue but it drives me nuts when I am passed by a yoof in a car and all I can discern from the ‘music’ being played inside it is a rhythmic thudding, which is assaulting the occupant’s ears far more aggressively than Napoleon’s Austerlitz cannonades assailed the ears of the Austrian and Russian Armies. These drivers and their passengers WILL suffer poor hearing later, but their inability to actually hear the melody itself is painful now. (Or ‘Right Now’, which is American and Scottish for ‘now’.)

But that isn’t the only sadness that is evident in these circumstances, and the sadness I am about to impart may be one to which you, too, subject yourself, albeit with perhaps a little less gusto.

Music is something to be enjoyed, but there is an alternative sound that I would encourage you to listen to. Words.

I am student of personal development and I have CDs up the wazoo (a word Microsoft Office recognised) about self-improvement (which some may say was wasted money), and productivity. Hence my authoritative tone on those subjects. But when I travel anywhere, they are my go-to source of entertainment, or even infotainment. I regularly drive long distances accompanied by the great thinkers in these fields, where I will listen to whole training programmes. I even possess things called ‘cassette tapes’. Some of you may remember those.

As a result, what I hear through repeated playing gains a secure foothold in my psyche. I can produce some practical quotes, I can summon up speeches on the subjects at the drop of a hat, but above all I am learning.

I once had a DS who used Auto-University as a means to study material for his promotion exams. I anticipate you can get audio training for those exams, but you can always supplement anything purchased by creating your own audio using a book and a smartphone. (And if you can sing the definition of Theft to a well-known ditty, you can “Sing your way to Superintendent.” © )

And why stop at ‘organised’ education through your car’s audio-system? With the way mobile telephones are funded these days most of us can afford to access podcasts on any subject under the sun, and I listen to subjects and opinions that just aren’t getting any play through the main media routes. I fancy it makes for a slightly more objective and informed outlook on life.

And who knows – something you hear may well impact your work. Indeed, one such CD gave me a quote that I read to a murder suspect’s wife as she gave him an alibi. No lie. I had listened to her providing the killer’s alibi with some doubts as to its authenticity, when I used Churchill’s own words. I said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

She paused, thought for a moment and said, “Will I get in trouble if I tell the truth?” Following which she said he’d come home on the relevant night and said he’d need an alibi, and his clothes washed. I tried not to dance around the room.

Of course you should listen to music in your car. It reduces stress and, if you’re like me, you love to belt out a ditty with the greats. I also do karaoke and am available for parties.

But might I make a suggestion? Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on a variety of subjects on your ride into work, and music on the way home. The one will get you ready for a serious approach to your work, the other will take your mind off it.

And as for the way police officers are being portrayed in the left-wing press these days? Ignore it, and as Churchill also said, “Keep Buggering On.”

For more on Police Time Management, please read my book, available HERE.

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Push Their Stuff Away With Your Stuff -When You Can.

One of the key psychological barriers to stress-free living is the internal conflict that arises between what others require us to do and what we want to do. Most of the time and for most people, we choose our professions and we love to do what our professions require of us. Unfortunately, what we perceived our professions would require of us are rose-tinted. That is because while the operational element of our professional expectations usually meet our expectations, the administrative, legal and procedural realities don’t.

For example, as a copper I was fully prepared to catch the bad guys and send them forthwith to ‘Er Majesty’s ‘Otel. I probably realised that there would be some paperwork involved – I’d seen the files on Jack Regan’s desk in The Sweeney. But between 1986 when one piece of paper was occasionally all that was required for a pre-CPS guilty plea to a public order offence, to 2019 when I had to write War and Peace every time I spoke to a member of the public, the non-operational burdens soured my early professional expectations. And fun.

There are numerous reasons why all this happened, but one thing remains certain – a lot of the bars to enjoyment of our work result from new expectations laid upon us that are outside of our control.

And this was something I realised this week when I was feeling miserable. I was writing some journal notes, and found myself asking wondering why I wasn’t getting some of the results I wanted. I found that my thinking processes were jumbled, frantic, messy and disorganised. And that’s when it hit me.

I’m so busy thinking about other people’s stuff that they aren’t being displaced enough by MY stuff.

My focus on problems outside of my control was preventing me giving due consideration to the things I CAN do something about – but the changing of focus from THEM to ME is constantly thwarted by the attention seeking demands placed upon me by others. Even when I am finally giving myself the attention I deserve (and tell me this doesn’t happen to you) someone or something interrupts that train of thought and my brain moves its focus there, instead.

And what about when that interruption is ‘someone’? They come into the room and start explaining their discovery, demand, dilemma or whatever, without even a ‘have you got a minute?’. This is, I find, particularly routine withing familial relationships. Don’t you just feel obliged to grin and move your attention to them, just to be polite?

I guess the answers are to know what is important to you as an individual, and to be willing, when necessary, to state clearly that you’re busy and not willing to be interrupted, thank you. The exact words may be softer depending on the situation or relationship, but a verbal ‘Keep Out’ is the best way to retain a sense of mental control and focus on what you need to be doing now. Assuming that what you are focusing on is something that warrants that attention because it is truly important and (in the moment) requires your attention more than the relationship might.

And if the situation allows, a closed door is the softest way to say Keep Out. It’s funny, but if a door is closed, it rarely gets knocked or opened unless the interruption is truly important.

It’s a minefield, I know.

But if you want to give important things the mental attention they need, you have to prioritise them over other things that are less deserving. You have to put you first, whenever you can.

Getting other people’s stuff done first is nice, but if you never get your own needs met ….. Mental Health Awareness Week (month, year) is your only refuge.

For more on the subject, visit https://policetimemanagement.com .

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Help! I need input from those ‘young in service’ officers and staff.

Are you a relatively young-in-service officer, or a fresh member of the civilian support staff? If so, I’d love some feedback.

As a veteran in more than one sense of the word, my own experience of managing my time and productivity is based on a history that started when we had a single breasted, belted and multi-pocketed suit, a stick to defend ourselves and a whistle to decorate our breast pocket. Yes, we had radios. I’m not quite that old. There were some advantages, though.

 Owing to the reality that the fastest non-radio communication was a fax machine, we had time. No-one expected an immediate response to anything. They left you to it, and you did it. Statistics required laborious effort to collate figures, and so they were more ‘broadstroke’ than they became.

It ended with smartphones, instant communications and internet access, all the productivity hacks to make life easier – and a world that was busier than ever before. Every taks was measured and sub-divided and assessed through a number of prisms, so that you could tell who was detecting which kind of crime compared to anyone else in the team, the division, the force, cross-border and inter-force. How long it took and what they missed. No hiding place.

And more criticism, less understanding and more (arguably) unnecessary accountability than ever.

Yet still only the ’40-hour week’ in which to do all that was asked, and to maintain records so that other people could hit you over the head either with those figures, or when you hadn’t provided the data they could hit you with.

So my take on time management in the police service may seem a little out of date. But I don’t think so. I don’t think so because my methods are about an approach, not the tools.

For example, on a podcast yesterday I heard it said that people blame e-mail for interrupting, directing and overcomplicating their working lives. And the podcaster made the observation that this was like blaming the hammer because you have one too many cabinets to build this morning. It isn’t the tool – it is the mental approach to the work that makes the difference between happy and sad, productive and slothful, quality and quap. (J. Ross)

My book, Police Time Management, is as much about the mental approach to managing your time and life as it is about specific processes for using (for example) your smartphone to best effect and not just for tweeting. It’s about a method that starts with ‘why’, then ‘how’. Instead of ‘must I?’.

BUT I really want to know what the challenges facing new officers and staff actually are, just to be sure that the approach I propose is as effective as I would wish.

Towards the end of my career, someone in my office expressed wonder about how new officers coped with all the expanding pressures, practices and protocols being heaped upon them. I responded, “This is their normal. This has always been the way it is, for them. In ten years they’ll be asking the same question about their new colleagues.”

So I am asking that question of you, today.

How do you cope with your workload? How well trained are you in terms of Information Technology, for example? I know that MS Windows was introduced in the mid-1990s and I have still to  receive police training in its use.

And –  this is important – I want to know what methods you are being taught that helps you cope with your workload. If any.

Let me know at ipitrain@aol.com, or through LinkedIn.

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Brief Backwards – Put your Team before the Organisation

That’s a title that most managers would consider an anathema to good policing, but it really isn’t a threat to good order and effectiveness. In fact, I would argue it will enhance effectiveness big time. I shall explain.

The traditional operational briefing process starts with what’s new and needs attention, followed by some justified sighing and pleading on the part of the team whose members have just had yesterday’s priorities stamped on by today’s new priorities. This displeasure can be exacerbated if the teams are subject to different leaders every day, as I know some CID teams can be – DS Smith does things that way, but today DS Brown is team leader and she does things another way. It is an unfortunate fact of life that despite all the management training people are (not) given, there is a tendency, an unconscious bias (ooh, buzzword) towards decisions that favour some over others. But that’s not why you came.

I have a suggestion. Instead of leading with the bad news, open with a desire to see what the workload already is. When the team assembles, whether face to face or over Teams (what was wrong with Zoom?), don’t start with what is happening and needs attention – ask the team what they are dealing with and what their needs are. This has two effects.

Perhaps the most important, the team feels that its needs have been taken into consideration whatever happens next. That has a massive psychological benefit. People who are heard, listen. They feel so much better having been heard that they will then actively help to resolve the oncoming storm.

Which is the second benefit. Once people have been able to air their needs they become responsive to the organisation’s needs. Of course, the organisation could have demanded attention – but by identifying and acknowledging the teams needs first, the organisation engenders the use of patience, understanding, initiative and positivity by the team – and they start solving the prioritisation problem that has been presented.

In effect – and you’ll be amazed if you try it – the work on today’s priorities gets done in better humour and more effectively, while the team works its priorities around the organisations and BOTH get the appropriate amount of attention.

Just by swapping the order of attention from us to you, to you then us. Same, even better results, and happier team members.

Or you can just take the short cut, make your demands and then wonder why you spend so much time chasing people up for their failure to do the things your re-prioritisation method prevented them from doing.

I read a lot of LinkedIn posts about putting people first. I notice that a lot of policing professionals are on LinkedIn. I assume that they look at it now and then and read all about how putting your staff first is the Branson Way (Covey did it first) and happy staff create better results. Then, in the interests of efficiency, they make urgent demands that are not necessarily urgent, and could be requests if they just used their language and patience.

I had bosses like that, men and women who were leaders as much as they were managers, who got the organisations’ priorities done while recognising and allowing for the fact that, the very day before, they’d produced demands that their team members were still needing time to work on.

Now, if I can just convince the CPS to think along these lines….

For more on this idea, buy Police Time Management for £12.99 at Amazon. 300 A4 pages for that price…… beats Blackstone’s.

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I Told You So. But You Do Have Time. Happy New Year.

Well, did it happen? Did you put things off ‘until the New Year’ that are going to bite you this coming week? Or, if you didn’t put things off, are other people now chasing you up to take action on things that they could have asked you to do weeks ago but procrastinated because “You know, it’s Christmas”? Either way, shame. ITYS.

If either of those circumstances have arisen then things that were Important but Not Urgent are now Urgent. Congratulations! Now, your own Important but NOT Urgent projects just got firmly sent to the proverbial back burner while you engage with other peoples’ urgencies because of their unconscious (or occasionally deliberate) adherence to the ‘nothing gets done between the 20th of December and 4th of January’ approach to work.

All is not lost. I recognise that this depends on your position in the organisation, and/or your ability to formulate the words and sentences needed to engage with the following suggestion, but here it is, anyway.

“Unfortunately, your self-created urgency does not trump the importance of the tasks I didn’t put off until ‘after Christmas’ (air quotes needed if you’re in a face-to-face) and I will deal with your urgency at the appropriate time.”

You can amend this.

The less sassy version is this: “When do you need that done by?” if your relationship is a good one, and assuming that the request is not being made by a bully, then a deadline will be identified that means that while ‘now’ was implied in the request, ‘when you can manage it but before X’ is the new default. NOW you can manage your work with the new responsibility catered for, and without creating other pressures.

In this job, urgencies area a given. If you’re front-line, emergencies area daily event. If you’re fron office, urgencies are all you get because you can’t plan for the next attendee and their individual problems until they’ve made it to the front of the queue.

That doesn’t mean you surrender. It doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t plan. It means that you have to develop a strategy that means you can provide the appropriate response in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time. One way of doing that is to try, as far as is meaningfully possible, to deal with each event/thing as far as you reasonably can until its ‘next step’ is either out of your control, unreasonable given the next demand, or passed (correctly) into someone else’s care.

(That, dear Ops Room staff, does not mean ‘adding to someone’s list’ (see m’book) if they are busy. It means keeping it on your list until there is someone available. It’s just pixels on a  screen; it’s not an incoming Asagai chucked by a closing Zulu.)

Time management is Task Management. Yes, some tasks are drop-everything emergencies. Unfortunately, our work creates an incorrect psychological imperative that makes everything a NOW task when nine times out of then it really isn’t. Just take your time to allocate the appropriate level of attention to things rather than simply thinking if you don’t do it now, all the other stuff coming will get you.

There. Is. Enough. Time.

As you may have noticed when you prepare for a leave period and manage to tidy all your work up before you go home. Funny, that.

M’Book. Available at AMAZON. (Click the link)

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Christmas, all year long. Intrigued? Read on….

It’s a dichotomy, is what it is. This is you, during this period.

You have a deadline, the 25th of December. You have a list of relationships, a list of resources/items to acquire in respect of each. Some will need getting before others due to the need to anticipate delays in delivery. They will be obtainable from different sources. So you list the items, plan their collection – day, distance, transport means, funding as necessary. Then you execute the plan and trust that your operation will be a success. In between, you will be attending various ‘meetings’ of varying social circles and communities. Your kids, family, friends, customers (if any) and colleagues will all get their presents, or your attendance, on time. All this needs organising, and you do a grand job.

Then you go to work, and you emit the plaintive cry, “There’s so much to do and I can’t get a grip on it all!”

Hypocrites.

When you want to do something or feel obliged to put yourself out because the season demands it, you create and execute on plan to ‘get it done’.

When it’s work, it’s ‘all too much’.

I would argue it’s exactly the same.

You implement exactly the methodology for buying Christmas presents and attending social events as you do for your work, if you think about it. But for some reason you don’t let interruptions put you off your pressie-collecting. And drinkies – nothing will get in your way (unless you want it to, wink-wink).

I can’t do much about your mental approach to a workload, but I can tell you that there is a natural inclination to planning that most people can utilise to good effect, and there is a ‘master’ version for planning which is (a) based on the natural model and is therefore (b) easy to learn and implement if you choose to learn it.

If you are flummoxed by ‘stuff’, then it is in part because you either don’t realise that there is a natural planning method, or because you know there is such a method and you simply cannot, in the moment, be bothered to utilise it.

Yes, I’m nagging. And people only nag because the naggee simply isn’t acting on the sage advice they’ve been offered. They like the status quo, even when they don’t like the status quo. Well, whatever you want….. 😊

Use your common sense to make a plan to deal with things, or use your intellect to discover and utilise the ‘higher level’ of organisation that life management training can provide.

And don’t just have a Happy and Organised Christmas – have a content and well-managed LIFE.

Happy Christmas and a Well-Planned, Effective New Year to all My Colleagues, Past and Present.

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I did this today because it’s Christmas. Unlike you, I bet.

Right this minute, I KNOW you are procrastinating. I know this because it is the 6th of December. From pretty much this first Monday of the month through until the first Monday of the New Year, you will be using the expression “Let’s leave it until after Christmas” to justify not doing something, today, that would be better done, today. Even the two minute joblets.

Let me tell you what that means.

It means that all those joblets will mass, like a cancerous tumour, to give you nasty headaches from the 2nd of January, that’s what. That is because while your heart is telling you it will be alright, and your mind is justifying it, the world, the people in it and fate are all conspiring to have accidents, commit crimes, engage in arguments, overdo the alcohol (leading to the previous three problems) and generally create more problems to add to the ones whose solutions you are deferring for ‘later’ when you have some time.

You do it, the CPS does it, the Courts do it.

And then they all blame each other for their own procrastination strategies, all of which are based on the ‘good intent’ of managing their current workload better by slowing down the rate at which they deal with it. (Breathe.)

Every decision you put off, and every bogus action you add to someone else’s task list, doesn’t mean less work. It just means the same work gets done later.

And Christmas, like no other time of year, seems to cause more of this activity. And for the life of me I can’t think why.

You can’t shop for presents while you put the work off. You can’t put the decorations up at home, you can’t go to the pub any earlier. Your work day stays the same length right up until, and occasionally including Christmas Eve (where the occasional early finish may happen. Yet there you are, on the telephone, making an ‘appointment’ for January the umpteenth. And if you’re like the worst offenders, you cater for the deferred by making those appointments later in January than you otherwise might have (unethically) done.

Which means if you have a busy Christmas they’ll get done in February, and if you have a slack, uneventful one, you find you have nothing productive planned, anyway. Which is a paradox but you can’t rely on people behaving during the festive month-that-used-to-be-two-days.

You know, as do I (because I did it), that doing the work as soon as reasonably practicable after it arises is Best Practice. Always was, and always will be.

So keep your action lists up to date, do the small jobs the instant they come about, and plan blocks of time for the bigger stuff. Get them done as soon as you can because the next great big huge and humungous challenge/project/Major Crime is approaching, and your eyes will be ripped off the ball.

This is best practice because you know that those little tasks will still need doing, will become urgent because another department has decreed that their figures are more important than your service. And then instead of doing something you enjoy doing, you’ll be tied up involved in executing what you could have done before Christmas.

You know it makes sense.

Happy Christmas, folks!

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Utilising ‘Nothing To Do’ Time

Yes, I know. “What’s he on about, when do we have nothing to do?”

More than you think. For example, front office duties at night (assuming yours hasn’t been shut) or on early weekend mornings; scene guard ‘after hours’; that moment when you’ve arrived early for an appointment; waiting around in Court to give evidence just before you’re sent home again; that sort of time. Time when you can’t really commit to something that will take massive amounts of attention and input because the interruptions are inevitable or you simply don’t have the resources (although I again acknowledge that smartphones and individual-issue laptops do make some work possible).

You do have moments when you have gaps. Maybe not many, but you do.

How to fill them?

Use your imagination, first. On the basis that such times exist, you need a strategy that you can apply at a moment’s notice, because if you have to think about the gap too long, it’s over and the time’s been wasted. Decide, in advance, what you can do in those moments.

Here are some suggestions, but you need to use YOUR imagination, not mine.

  1. Make telephone calls that need making but aren’t necessarily planned for; for example, update the witnesses you didn’t have time to update in your original plan for the day, or make appointments that need to be made.
  2. Study. If you don’t have a study manual handy you can still go to the Web and read articles on your chosen area of study.
  3. Solve other problems. Again, Google and YouTube are amazing sources of education and personal development. I stress, here, that better use of your time does not include watching Strictly on iPlayer. LEARN. (It’s easier to explain surfing Legislation.go.uk, than it is using the iPlayer, too.)
  4. Meditate. Listen – I’m not the greatest advocate of ye Mindfulness obsession but having quiet time can recharge your batteries if you’re not quite the Type A productivity obsessive.
  5. Carry a book in your ‘stuff’. A thin one, maybe, one that educates or informs.
  6. Practice public speaking. Might make you look a bit weird of you’re talking to yourself at the scene of a murder but keep your voice down and imagine making a properly constructed presentation on an interesting case you’ve dealt with.

There is ALWAYS something you can be doing that isn’t just idly thinking about life in general.

That said, perhaps you’re really over-worked (or just think you are – which is psychologically the same thing with the same effect) and you need a chill. In which case, see (4) above as your first port of call. Or you could use affirmations – just repeat a mantra to yourself that serves you: for example, some staid old tenets, “This, too, shall pass”, “I am capable of this,” “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better”. They may seem cheesy, I know, but these sayings invite your brain to think about HOW to make yourself more capable, better and more content. Which is the idea.

You never have nothing to do IF you have a sense of purpose, a personal vision or sense of where you want to be that you aren’t, already. You serve that vision by making sure that what you are doing in the moment pulls you towards it, rather than away.

Carpe Diem, as they say. Every Diem.

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Policing – it’s just like Baseball.

For those who don’t know, and until I read about it myself neither did I, baseball is a game where no-one scores a point until a runner passes the baseline, having completed a full circuit of the diamond. I was always under the impression that some credit was given for those runners who stole the intermediate bases. The fuss the crowd makes when someone just beats the fielder to the punch through one of those spectacular slides suggested some benefit for the effort expanded, but no. Until s/he gets all the way back, nothing.

Do you sometimes feel as though policing has it back to front? All the measures we dutifully record seem to be more about the smaller tasks than the bigger picture. How quickly the 999 phone was answered, how quickly the other call was completed, whether or not you submitted a crime report/NICHE entry on time, if the misper form was completed correctly. And we seldom seem to get credit for – taking the right action after the 999 call was received, taking time with a caller, submitting timely paperwork and finding the missing person quickly. Although to some degree that’s a jaded view, I suspect that you often feel that way – you’re badgered about minutiae but only ever complimented on a good job at relief/team level. And the plaudits always seem to go to the lucky ones who landed what I used to call a ‘spectacular’, both in terms of what happened and what they did about it.

The real test should be the final score – did you win? Was the result the one that you wanted?

There is a film starring Brad Pitt called Moneyball. It’s based on a  true story of a baseball manager/coach who recruited a statistician. The manager (Billy Beane) suffered from a lack of capital to back up his desire for wins. But he worked with a statistician named Alderson who identified that the big, expensive ‘hitters’ weren’t the ones winning the games. They did the spectaculars – home runs – but Alderson showed Beane how other measures predicted wins not by home runs from big hitters, but by inexorable, careful play in terms of bases stolen (from the batting perspective) and catches, interceptions and strikes from the bowling side.

They won lots.

This demonstrates how some measures predict success, even though they may not seem to be successes in their own right. Another way to look at this idea is, say, an effort to diet or get fitter. The end result may be spectacular, but it’s the daily measures that caused them – eating better and less, or building weights or distance by daily, incremental improvement. It was once suggested that a Grecian athlete from millennia ago used this method by lifting the same calf every day from its birth to its full maturity. The spectacular resulted from the smaller measures being planned and met.

In Beane’s case, home runs weren’t key. Getting batsmen onto bases was. And stopping the opposition doing the same was important. So he focused as much on short-length sprint speed, catching ability and brute strength of his fielders as much as he ever did his big hitters’ ability to smash the ball out of the ground. And those less spectacular players were cheaper, too.

So don’t knock all of the incessant measures with which you have to comply. Some certainly are unnecessary, serve managers and the Home Office rather than the public, and look pretty but don’t catch no bad guys.

But the odd submission of intel, the right question at the right time, the properly completed report or application – all can have a massive impact on whether your players get back to Home or just sit out there waiting for someone to do their bit so they can progress.

Your form might turn out to be the submission that solves a murder. I know that – because I saw it happen.

For more on police time management, go to http://policetimemanagement.com and get the book by the same name.

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Put Purpose before Process. For a Change.

Last week I suggested that you look at designing routines that serve your professional and personal lives. This week, I am going to suggest you shouldn’t be over-reliant on routines. What a hypocrite I am.

Well, not really. Routines are wonderful things, but there are two caveats to the use of routines that you should bear in mind.

First of all, they can be boring. If your time is spent only in routine activity, it won’t be long before your standards drop, and your interest wanes. And that will happen in either order. You’ll get bored and stop trying, or you’ll feel the effort isn’t worth it and you’ll get bored. Ithink that experience is a given.

Next, they can frustrate initiative and growth. I know from my own experience (matched, I suspect, by your own) that the over-emphasis on routine eventually results in the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ attitude to change, which helps no-one, causes inefficient and ineffective thinking, and stifles true innovation. Over-emphasis on routine doesn’t take into account that not every circumstances follows a previously set pattern.

I have always hated blind compliance. Routines are important, but only to the degree that they serve the purpose, and not to the point where the process is served – but the purpose not met.

You should absolutely, unquestionably know the routines. And in many circumstances they are important – like checking your brakes when you start driving, at a low speed where discovery of a fault won’t have a nasty effect. And doing your other daily vehicle checks.*

But you should also know and understand the rationale behind them. Doing this underpins your execution, but also enables you, when appropriate, to save time and effort by not doing those elements of the routine that serve no purpose in the precise circumstances you are faced with. Or by delegating them to a more appropriate level.

Oddly enough, I read a Twitter tweet about just that, this weekend. A barrister was reading or transcribing a PACE suspect interview and stated that the first 17 pages were the ‘rapport building’ stage, the content of which was irrelevant, and unnecessary in the circumstances. I know I’ve omitted that bit with suspects who just want to confess – leave them to it, I say. And I am also aware of Judges who criticised cops for including, in JICA witness interview transcripts, all the pre-evidential guff about who kids support and who their favourite pop stars are.

Like routines, checklists are effective ways of learning routines, and of checking whether things have been done. But they are routines, and just like routines should be seen as guidelines and not The Holy Bible. You wouldn’t ask the mother of a missing child if she happened to know his driving licence number, after all. You know that would be stupid. Apply the same thinking to some of the other lists you follow. And apply your experience accordingly.

To be frank, this advice might not apply so much to your private life. Checklists and routines tend to be professional-life activities, but if you gave it some thought you might come up with some homelife routines that just get in your way. Like ‘I always walk the dog at X pm’ will cause frustration when you have something else you could be doing and you prioritise ineffectively. Or cause you to feel guilty because you’re not walking the dog at ‘her time’.

Use routines, don’t let them use you. Remember – it’s not process at the expense of purpose. It’s better to be the other way around.

*I know.

For more, get Police Time Managent at AMAZON, by clicking THIS LINK.

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Routines Work. So Develop Your Own.

In my book, Police Time Management,  provide a template approach to planning your policing time – albeit one that you can apply to both your working AND personal lives – so it would be a little imprudent of me to reproduce it in this article. But I CAN promote the idea of having a routine that works for you. I already hear you saying that you already have a routine. Fairy snuff, but I still have one question.

Who designed it?

In an organisational environment like the police service, the Armed Forces and the other emergency services, routines are established that serve those august bodies. Some best practices cross the organisational borders, as it were, and as a result the operational approaches change, now and then.

But those are system-imposed, and generic routines. They work for those organisations. Compliance with them is expected. But the very fact that they are occasionally altered automatically suggests that they are not perfect, and they will very likely never be perfect. Objectives change, lessons are learned, mistakes are made and, to be frank, the ethical rules change every time Cressida Dick has to apologise for one person’s failings in a way that results in us all suffering the upheaval of ‘new protocols’.

I am not, however, going to bemoan those operational routines – I use them only to illustrate that change is possible. And if it’s possible for the organisation, it is possible for you, too – for the individual office or employee.

Most of the routines that you endure (sometimes) and accept, you do so without question. For some, like me, you do question the routines, but you don’t do that much about them ‘cause ‘you can’t beat City Hall’. But now and then, also like me, you raise your helmet badge above the parapet and, to paraphrase Harry Enfield, you shout “Oy! Organisation! NO!!” and you submit a report, suggest an initiative, perhaps experiment and see how that particular flag flies. Good for you, and good for any organisation that encourages such practices.

And then there are YOUR routines. Not those imposed upon you by the Chief and her staff. Your own. The ones only you know about. They tend to have been introduced to you by your parents, friends, prior team members and for officers, your Tutor Constable. They aren’t so much the institutional routines, just the ones that other people used, and you adopted because at some stage they seemed to work for you.

In m’book, I invite you to rethink what you do as a routine. You’ve learned from others, people that you no doubt respect. But what they taught you is what they learned and adapted to suit their situations, and now it is incumbent upon you to do the same – adapt your routines to your situation.

And by ’situation’ I don’t mean location. I do include your role, the nature, make up and overarching mission of your team, and how all that fits into the Greater Good. But mainly your perspective on all that. I invite you to consider what you’re for, and what you’re going to do about it. And I invite you to develop personal routines in that regard.

But I also, admittedly, provide a template planning routine that you can use so that once you know your place in the previous paragraph, you can utilise your time and other resources to making sure that what you produce is the best you can produce.

None of what you do is done in a vacuum. But your bit is down to you, and you alone.

Design a routine that works for you, On and off the job. and use my template to plan it all.

For more, and that secret template, get the book at AMAZON, here.

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Overcome Your Nastiest Habit

Edwin Bliss, author of respected time management literature, wrote, “Misuse of time seldom involves an isolated incident; it is usually part of a well-established pattern of behaviour, and to change for the better we often must grapple with a habit that has been developed over many years.” Those habits, I would suggest, come under a singular title. Procrastination.

And procrastination is another term for fear.

“Watchoo talkin’ about, Willis?” (If you’re under 30, look it up.)

Yes, fear. Not a phobic fear. Yes, that would be a silly thesis to promote. In procrastination terms, it is a fear that exists on a continuum, but it is not a ‘frightening’ fear.

Procrastination can arise from a fear that you aren’t enough. Your self-esteem is at a low ebb and what you’ve been asked to do is, in your mind, beyond your capability at that moment, if not ‘forever’. Or it’s a technical challenge and you ‘haven’t been trained’. Took me years to attempt a tap washer change. Oh, the testosterone rush when I did it!

Connected to your own sense of inadequacy, there is also fear of being seen to be silly. I used to feel that way – until I discovered public speaking. Then I also discovered Karaoke (sorry, birthday party attendees). Then I started trying (nearly) anything. Except cold-calling. Still can’t do that!

It can result from a fear of loss – if I do what is asked of me I may lose something I value. For example, money. Have you ever wanted something but keep putting it off because you feel you can’t afford it? I have. When I retired, I still felt I was ‘poor’ despite my lump sum being 100 times the amount of handy cash I’d ever had in my life.

It can arise from a fear of missing out (MOFO) on some other event or opportunity, when that other opportunity still has to arise. “I can’t commit to A because B might yet happen.”

And the funniest one is, “I fear that don’t have the time.”

Let’s cure them all in turn.

You have joined the Police. You have overcome the challenge of interviews, education, training. You are enough, you always were. And in turn you’re going to be even better. It takes time, and an enthusiasm to ride the learning curve.

Accept the silliness. Own it. When you make a mistake, you do the jokes first. People c*** up occasionally. Sometimes it will your turn in the box, right up until the next fool makes a mistake. Do karaoke and speak in public. Boost your own confidence.

Ask if you can afford the loss – can you make it good, IF it actually happens (it tends not to)? If not, then it’s not procrastination, it’s prudence. But make sure the assessment isn’t just that fear.

MOFO is harder. But knowing your own values can help you make a better decision – yes, you’ll miss out on something, but if you’ve decided in advance what the ‘right thing’ to do for you is – do that. You will feel good about it IF you know what the right thing to do actually was.

And you have as much time as you need, as much time as there is, and all the time in the world to MAKE A PLAN TO DEAL WITH IT IN A TIMELY WAY. Sorry, I shouted.

If you take the time to consider your priorities, and the priorities of those you serve, you can apply time management philosophy and methodology to ensure that you get all you want, learn what you need, and face your fears in favour of something that is more important.

Pity that you can’t get a Procrastination Patch. You’re going to have to go cold turkey.

For more, read Police Time Management, available HERE on Amazon.

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Think before you App.

This one is more about personal time management than work, because the arguments I am about to make have already been ignored by your organisation, anyway. 😊

Seeking inspiration for this week’s article, I googled ‘time management’ and was immediately presented with an article on time management apps. And my heart sank. There was good reason for this.

There are too many apps on the market, and people interested in the subject have a tendency to seek the best one by researching all of them, trying them all out, rating one against another and eventually….

Wasting time.

I recently considered moving from paper to pure digital, and looked at Microsoft’s To Do app. I now use it solely for shopping lists, but while I was looking at that also noticed that Microsoft had a number of ‘time saving’ apps in their suite. I did look at them and I realised – they were pretty much all doing the same thing. Making lists. There were tweaks that arguably made each slightly different from the others, but they were ultimately list managers. Then I elected to give OneNote a good try, and even then I realised that apart from its very handy document retrieval, it’s basically a list manager, too. I now use it as an on-hand repository for ideas that come to me when I’m out and about and have no access to my planner, and as a handy place to keep documents I might need on the hoof – but the truth is that DropBox would be just as useful for that.

What I have noticed, therefore, is that there are a lot of useful tools out there that are truly useful for self-management.

Moving on, I listen to podcasts about the popular Getting Things Done methodology espoused by its creator, David Allen. There was a debate about Evernote vs OneNote, and mentions were made of ToDoist and OmniFocus* and blah blah. What I observed as I listened was while each has merits, the users were explaining their preferences and I heard many say ‘I can send an email and it goes straight to the right note in the app.’ And I thought, “Why are you sending an email when you could just open the app and write it straight in?’

And that’s when I realised that people are sometimes using technology purely for the sake of using technology, and not necessarily for the purpose that the technology was created to serve. Like collecting books to have a great library of books you never read, using technology when it isn’t necessary, or using it in a fashion that doesn’t save any time (and in fact increases the time needed in using it) is a waste of time and effort. It looks or sounds good when you tell people you’ve mastered an app, but when mastering the app took months, and that mastery means you can make notes in only twice the time it took when you used paper or a simple To Do app, you really aren’t underlining your intelligence. Okay, maybe you ARE intelligent – but you are evidencing a severe lack of common sense.

I recall a short-lived ‘case management’ programme used by my force. It was sold as a marvellous way of recording investigations but – it was basically an email system. Boss sent an email, you did the thing and emailed back. Magic!

It lasted half of one investigation, but it cost thousands.

Surprisingly, I am not promoting a wholesale return to paper planning, although I encourage it. 😊 What I am suggesting is that instead of blindly using tech, think about what you want it for, choose one app, and then stick with that.

And to be utterly frank, if you use Outlook at work I’d recommend you select ONE other MS prog that will synch easily with it.

And don’t forget to keep a pen handy for the note you have to take which you then put into the digital world….

*And I baulked when they said how much it costs!!!!

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Brief Backwards, Reduce Stress

Every day, two or three times a day, people meet to be told what happened between tours, and to identify what needs to happen that day. Routine, yes? The agenda of every briefing is what’s happened since we last met and what are we going to do about it while also preparing to deal with whatever comes before we go home. ‘Twas ever thus.

Meanwhile, the entire room is still focussed on what happened yesterday/last week/last month that they are still dealing with, with (usually administrative) deadlines pressurising them. With threats of disciplinary action peppered around failure to deliver on those (often artificial) deadlines. Yes, we do that.

Stress. And as outlined in paragraph one, stress that is created because we give no thought to an alternative, slightly less stressful, and arguably more professionally respectful approach.

Which is to discuss what the shift’s current workloads, appointments and commitments are well before addressing, even identifying any new problems.

Now, before you start, I acknowledge that stuff happens and I, too, have experienced the day when you’re just settling in when it hits the fan and that’s your day gone. (Great fun!) But they are always genuine emergencies, not system-imposed activity.

But imagine you have a list of things to do and the briefing sergeant asks what they are before allocating ‘new’? How would you feel? As a supervisor, how do you think your team would feel? Let me tell you.

The team would feel cared about, validated, and calm. The supervisor would be seen as someone who understands and remembers what it was like when they were the doers and not the tellers.

And oddly, even if work is then allocated as demand requires, the mere knowledge that their needs have been considered creates a greater sense of calm.

Now, to be frank, this can only work in an atmosphere of trust. Trust that the team members will ‘confess’ when they aren’t over-committed so that they can take the slack for those who are. Day by day. If you can’t trust a team member to support the others you, as a supervisor, have to adapt. But that’s why you are a supervisor, innit?

Remember how you felt when you had a plan and – emergencies (fun) aside – you were granted the opportunity* to do something else that was not fun, and which caused a straw-level increase on a workload that was already spine-threatening?

Utterly deflated. Sergeants – watch the shoulders droop when you give a stressed officer/colleague a new opportunity.

Stress is caused by a number of factors, but trauma aside is caused by the feeling that you are out of control. Notwithstanding the severe and debilitating lack of training in task- and self-management provided by the service, each new task dilutes the ability to deal with everything, including that task. And conflicting priorities that are routinely created by new impositions, create more stress. It’s inevitable.

Want the cure? Try the reverse briefing process and see if there is an improvement in the response, the productivity, and the attendance of your team.

*The phrase used by politically astute senior officers when granted a political powder keg job like DV, or a non-starter like dog thefts during a pandemic.

For more on this idea, read Police Time Management, available inexpensively from Amazon.

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Are YOU a Mobile Phone? On Priorities and Closed Doors.

If this post just popped up in some kind of inbox and you were alerted to it, let me suggest that you open the tab and then go back to what you were doing. Read it later, when you have a clear, spare two minutes.

Can you imagine if other people did that? Allowed YOU to decide when to be interrupted?

I have noticed that people are now imitating mobile phones. (Eh?*) When a phone rings, we answer it without thought. We have adapted to the urgency implied by the self-selected, jolly amusing ringtone and, even if we are engaged with someone else, will usually interrupt ourselves and answer it.

Unconsciously, people have now adopted the belief that they are smartphones, and I bet you have experienced the situation where you are chatting to a colleague and someone interrupts – and the conversation sways that way instead of where it was. Absolutely unbelievable and incredibly RUDE.

A wise man speaking as I did a spin session said, “An interruption is something that happens when someone thinks you care.” I like that. It’s a little blunt and it doesn’t apply to all interruptions, of course – but it is funny.

Interruptions – unwelcome interruptions – are those events that interfere in an untimely way with what we are doing that is more important. If an event intercedes with what we’re already engaged in, but the new event is more important, it is NOT an interruption – it is a new priority until it is effectively dealt with, even if that only means arranging the response for a later, better time.

That’s why a firefighter isn’t ‘interrupted’ by a fire alarm – that is their job and their greater priority. And given the aforementioned definition, they care.

But a lot of ‘interruptions’ are lesser priorities, and we need to (a) manage ourselves to have the discipline to negate their impact and (b) teach other smartphone-people that their urgency is not necessarily ours. (In fact, we often need to teach people that their urgency is their fault, but each occurrence has its own characteristics and we can’t generalise. Some such interruptions need our input.)

The proper response to a needless interruption is – “I’m sorry, I can’t deal with that now*, come back at/email me about it.”

I was once asked by a manager how he could prevent unnecessary interruptions. I asked him if he, like many managers in the organisation, routinely left his office door open. He replied that he did.

“Close it when you’re busy,” I suggested. He later provided feedback to the effect that shutting his door when busy was the most effective time-saver he’d ever used.

The key to managing interruptions is to know what your priorities are, plan your time to maximise the impact you have on those priorities, and manage everything else around that plan.

And ensure you communicate that system to those around you. If they know how you manage, they can adapt their needs (priorities, plan, execution) around yours, too. And little fleas have smaller fleas, as they say – the systematic approach to work, properly communicated, cascades downhill until only those interruptions that matter come to your attention.

Which in itself frees up enough of your time to make reading this article the best use of your time – and the best thing you have learned – today.

You’re welcome.

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Numbers Aren’t ALL Important – a Plea to Number Crunchers.

A wise man (named Roger Merrill) once wrote: “The degree to which urgency drives an organisation’s activities is the degree to which importance does not.” This is a foundational explanation as to why you, front line officers, are permanently busy. But not for the reason you might think.

“Urgency R Us”. We’m the police, as they say – an emergency service, therefore a service that deals with emergencies which are, by their very nature, urgent. Of course the truth is that (a) emergencies are not the only things we deal with, and (b) events that aren’t emergencies create just as many administrative and management problems as any emergency – possibly more.

Now, hear me out. I suspect this Urgency v Importance problem became particularly prevalent with the digital revolution, and with the immediacy of telephone access (and social media access) of Joe Q Public. Suddenly, things could be obtained with levels of immediacy that typists, telexes and faxes could never manage. But instead of thinking ‘Hey, we CAN do things a bit quicker than we used to’, the environment was created instead that shouted, ‘WE MUST DO EVERYTHING FASTER THAN WE USED TO.’

Suddenly, getting paperwork in with due haste became ‘by the end of the tour of duty’ for the front line officer (yet was only produced by the end of the month for the people who demanded it be submitted by the end of the officer’s day. Hm.). This automatically created a sense of urgency for bits of paper, which meant – bear with me – that everything else had to be done commensurately quickly in order to get the results in as quickly as possible.

Digitisation also meant that results could be fed into computers so that statistics could be created, adapted and monitored. And since (someone decided) they had to be constantly monitored AND programmes created that could measure everything, the data became more important than the work. And since knowing all this stuff was important, and obtainable immediately, it HAD to be.  

Unfortunately, all this data-immediacy failed, and still fails, to take into account that the work – conversations, crime scenes, arrest, interviews, statement taking etc – still takes as long as it ever did. As for the sheer stupidity of transcribing digital interview records – the interviews are quicker than pre-recording, but the courts, allied to the CPS, developed a system that then increased the time officers spend writing about them! (BTW, ever get the feeling that we have to work on a ‘by the end of the day’ cycle, while the Courts work on a three-week cycle. Not just me, then.)

Digitisation increased the demands – urgency – but no-one thought about how those demands would impact upon the importance of what we actually do. Yes, a lot of the data informs our response to events, but a lot of it is just numbers, does not represent in any shape or form the actual work that is done, and that is needed to be done, in order to create those numbers.

So I make a plea:

“Dear administrators and statisticians. The numbers aren’t all important, and they are rarely urgent. They serve our service: they are not the service. Our clients don’t give a monkeys about most of them – in fact, they are rarely even aware of them.

Making ‘submission by the end of play’ demands upon an officer who’s spent all day dealing with a paedophile predator helps no-one, least of all the victim. Having officers’ attention on delayed paperwork when they are dealing with crime scenes, RTCs, murders, rapes and missing children really isn’t helpful. Lower your timing expectations and cut them some slack so that they don’t have 6 months off for stress, because the number-crunching really didn’t help.

Love, David”

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Do YOU carry a Personal Disorganiser?

I am an enthusiastic member of a couple of quasi-professional organisations that reflect my varied interests, and I am grateful to those dedicated individuals who spend their time diligently managing the various activities that these bodies provide. And in two of those, the ‘main men’ have a bad habit that amuses me.

The individuals concerned turn up at meeting after meeting with a formal looking briefcase. Weather-beaten, obviously well-used and of some sentimental value, these people carry bags. (Gotcha!) Seriously, these people carry cases that are weather-beaten, obviously well-used and of some sentimental value – or they’d have bought new ones.

Then they open the bag and what can I see?

Piles of paper. Not files, but piles.

During the subsequent meeting these individuals will either raise important issues, or they will be called upon to assist other members with the provision of material facts – and the search begins. “Where did I put that ………” followed by “It’s in here somewhere…”

(I frequently see them read relevant facts off a sheet of paper, the reverse of which is a gas bill, random note or page torn from a magazine. There is some serious recycling going on, here.)

Is that your method? Do you live with piles of unorganised paper? Is your work drawer, filing cabinet or portable form-carrying organiser, er, disorganised? Do you find yourself having to deeply delve every time you want something? And while having to do that drives you nuts, do you persist, presumably in the hope that this material will magically sort itself out?

Take a tip.

The organisation has lots and lots of stationery that is specifically purchased in order for officers and staff to organise its paperwork. Use it.

Those foolscap sized manila folders that are purchased without any thought having been given to the fact that the drawers they provide officers and staff are A4 – well, they can be cut to size. When you have a new project, grab such a folder, label it as best you can, and keep project related paperwork in that one place. Bigger projects, get a lever arch file and some divider pages, and organise things into evidence, admin, disclosure, and any other subset that comes up.

Do the same with computer ‘stuff’. Keep it properly filed into separate folders, and stop saving things with poor file names.

The time you save by properly administering and managing your paperwork – and the emotional upset you will prevent – will be very noticeable. Not to mention preventing the embarrassment of having to revisit an important witness and asking them if they wouldn’t mind making that lost statement again.

I realise that a lot of ‘paperwork’ is directly created on a computer, these days. But let’s be upfront about this, a lot of it isn’t.

Look, I hated working major investigations on HOLMES, but the one thing that the Major Incident Room does best is manage its paperwork. Their methodology, adapted for the individual, works marvels for efficiency. I cover it in depth in my book Police Time Management, so if you want more then consider that a relatively inexpensive investment.

It’s already paperback bound so you won’t lose it. I promise.

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How Full Is Your Box?

Let me put something to you.

You open your e-mail account at work. There are a number of new emails present. You open each, in order, and read them. So far, so good.

Then you consider them fully read and understood, and you think “I really have to do something about ….”, your mind triggered by what each one has demanded from you.

And then you carry on either with whatever you intended to do before your routine perusal of the in-box, or you put all your effort into dealing with those emails.

Wrong on both counts, conditionally.

Wrong, because you’ve already failed the Importance/Urgency analysis required if you want to do the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right reasons. (Deep breath.)

E-mails are great, and e-mails are evil. They are great because they are a quick-ish way of communicating that which needs non-urgent attention, and they provide a detailed record of who said what and when. They are evil because they also replace faster, telephone calls where answers can be obtained in seconds, and decisions called for and made just as quickly. The problem is that because e-mails exist, few people give thought to whether or not they are the most effective means for communication. They (and other electronic methods such as Messenger and WhatsApp) have become the default contact media.

They are also evil because they come in clumps, and they have replaced the properly-assessed and prioritised To-Do List because unless and until you take the time to make that assessment, they are all staring you in the face – and one of the reasons for that is because you aren’t manging them properly.

Here, therefore, is my sage advice.

  1. If a call is quicker, and whenever you do need an immediate response – use the bloomin’ telephone – the speaky bit, not the texty bit.
  2. When you receive e-mails, read them one at a time, and decide on the action required as you read it. If the action takes 2-5 minutes or less, do that action before you read the next e-mail. This is because the next e-mail will split your attention, as will all the others you elect to read before acting on any of them.
  3. If the action required takes longer, plan the action required and move on to the next e-mail AFTER you make that plan (whether it be an appointment or a longer task).
  4. Once an e-mail has been dealt with, delete it if you can.
  5. If you can’t delete it, you need to manage it in a sensible, considered fashion. (I detail how to do that in my book, Police Time Management).

Above all, do NOT ‘convert’ your email in-box into an ever-expanding To Do List. By all means use it to trigger your planning, which you should do elsewhere (including on the programme in terms of making appointments and tasks in Outlook, for example), but once the trigger is pulled, get it out of there.

The biggest fault with an improperly managed and misused in-box is that each time you open it as it gets ever larger, your brain sees only a huge amount of incompletes. If you complete and delete (must TM that), or plan and file, then your head can manage the remainder – and the new – much better than when it sees ‘lots of stuff’.

As I write, my in-box is empty. How’s yours?

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Popmaster Policing

In 2007 I was an involuntary part of a Major Incident Team. A man had died in hospital as the result of a beating, and although it transpired that the beating itself took place 170 miles away from the hospital in which he died, our tiny force’s SIO decided to keep what turned out to be our biggest ever murder enquiry, rather than pass it ‘back’ to the country’s biggest force – the Met. Hence I was kidnapped and allocated the sole Disclosure Officer position.

Unhappy as I was to be there, we had a little daily routine which alleviated the tension and stress. This routine took place at about 10.30am every weekday for the entire period, and it became evident that even when I left the Incident Room the ‘tradition’ continued for many, many years afterwards.

This tradition was joining in with Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 Popmaster Quiz. Ordinarily, contestants are individuals, but we entered as a team. I don’t think we were ever that successful, but it was 15 minutes away from the stresses that accompany the urgency and importance of a murder. (unfortunately, during the quiz it was hard to communicate to incoming callers that their timing was poor.)

Why mention this in a time management context? I mention it because while it may seem to have been an inefficient use of our time, it was an exceptionally effective use of our time. It was effective because it created an amusing, stress-reducing and team-bonding break. We laughed, we were competitive, we exercised our minds.

And then, we went back to work reinvigorated and, I would suggest, sufficiently more productive as to grossly outweigh our ‘absence’ from the grind. I believe that this absence was far more productive than the fag breaks and coffee breaks that were common at that time, too.

I have long advocated the ‘step away’ from work when it gets too much, and even the anticipatory step away when things are building up. You can be incredibly productive while stressed, right up until the point at which the stress actually breaks you – and you aren’t productive any more because you’re not even there.

This doesn’t excuse mickey-taking. A regular, routine step away can take into account the routines of your work. If you’re a Mon-Fri worker, and emergencies don’t impact on your routines, you can choose a time in the week when your team can relax together. If you’re responsible for your own case load, you can work around your planned work. If you’re front-line, Sunday morning can be a great time for the team to have a shift breakfast together before launching into the fray. Not every suggestion I make can be applied – you need to plan your own.

Don’t dismiss this idea – think deeply about how and when you can relax as an individual or team, and consider the benefits. And if you really can’t find time to step away in work, organise a team bonding event after work – five-a-side footy was another stress buster in which my colleagues and I indulged before our first night shift.

Do I do this?

This article was written while listening to Popmaster this morning. I got 3 and 12 points.

The combined score of 15 MIR staff was usually a lot better than that.

For more on taking a break at work, buy Police Time Management, available on Amazon HERE

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Apres mon deux minutes, le deluge.

The organisation has its mission statement, and you may have your own. Hopefully, both are inspiring although the former tends to come across as a set of PR-drafted, pandering platitudes that have little to do with the actions you take at the front line. I recall reading one mission statement on LinkedIn that caused me to reply, “Beautiful mission – but what do you actually do?

But there’s a problem bigger than the accuracy or floweriness of a mission statement. It is that no matter whether or not it is inspiring, its not the mission that takes precedence. Ever.

It’s the minutiae of ‘things to do’ that focuses your attention. Always.

For all the high-fallutin’ talk, your ‘mission’ is just the top of a peak that is made up of hundreds and thousands of old, current and future tasks. To paraphrase David Allen of Getting Things Done fame, you don’t ‘do’ a mission – you do all the tasks that lead to its success. Or you don’t.

Which is probably (possibly accidentally) why I wrote Police Time Management back to front. By that I mean that other TM books traditionally lead with the mission and setting of goals, and then go into the management of stuff. In PTM, I felt that you already have enough stuff that needs addressing NOW that I’d start with that and thus create the time you need for the higher level considerations.

Every day you walk in to work, if your experience is typical of police officers and staff that I worked with, the first thing you have to do is check your emails and other incoming notifications (e.g. NICHE and other management systems) that will either support the plans you had when you walked through the car park, or will scupper them completely. These are the tasks that others are demanding of you (top-down) begging of you (bottom up) or are the result of your own input (self-generated). The key to staying on top of this workload is possession and disciplined application of a system.

The tendency for most is to do the easy things first, but the trap for the undisciplined is that they never get to the important stuff. The strategy must be to look at everything, assess the time needed to do them, their importance, when they can be done (i.e. not how long but are the resources/people available) and therefore what you can fit in and what you simply can’t.

Once you’ve done that – assessed the whole load – only then can you do what Allen suggests, which is get all the two minute tasks done and dusted as long as they ARE 2-minute joblets and you still get the priorities done as well. By that, I mean that you can leave two minute tasks alone in order to do the important, bigger things because you know that a two minute task can be fitted in just about anywhere in your schedule. But doing them early has the benefit of easing you into work and providing some moderate wins for the day.

As I said, this clears up the minutiae which will, eventually, lead to the mission’s completion, while clearing your mind of the stress that the list caused when you first saw it. You feel the control that you’re experiencing as you work through your planning, and then your plan.

I’ve never seen a house built by plonking a completed domicile on a plot of land. They’re all designed, and then built brick, by brick, by brick. So is your organisation’s mission – lots of bricks. Some less important than others, maybe, but imagine if the brickie left out the bricks he thought were the less important ones.

In the same way, the Dambusters’ success started with an old man playing with a rubber band and some ball bearings on a garden pond.

Imagine if your next two-minute task was as important. It just might be.

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Shhhh….It Happens

One of life’s little realities. You have a plan involving someone else, and they bail out unexpectedly. Perhaps you have a group appointment, set in agreement with the rest of the group, and then a key player suddenly announces they ‘made a mistake’ and can’t make the original, and the unstated result is the ‘can YOU do all the re-arranging, please?’. We have all been there. We may have been the cause of it.

Always the result of poor planning (if a genuine excuse) or absolute lies (if a better alternative for the other party arose and they didn’t want to tell you what it was). There’s not a lot I can advise about the latter, part from ‘have fun when you find out and let them know what a duplicitous imbecile they have been’, but I can provide some counsel on the former situation.

The obvious advice, first off, is to make sure, at the point at which the arrangement is made, that EVERYONE is asked to check their availability before they make the agreement. Ask if they have their diary to hand – if not, offer to call back when they do, or at least only pencil in the appointment pending later confirmation.

(I have noticed, many times, that the instant I make an appointment in my planner using ink, I get the call cancelling it.)

A bit of tangential advice – make the appointment as early in the day as you possibly can, so there is less of a likelihood of a conflict.

And the second piece of advice is – accept, based on your own experience, that (a) people aren’t perfect and (b) sometimes ‘it’ really does happen and as your priority may not be their priority, the least you can do is be understanding.

And accept, too, that rearranging things is seldom that much of a bother. A couple of minutes, more often than not. We tend to conflate things because we all tend to value order – particularly our own – and all that is really happening when an appointment needs to change is a values conflict between what we were set on, and what must now be.

And hard as it is, perhaps we can all just acknowledge that while one value (order) may be important, the relationship with the other party has value, too. Perhaps more.

 This article came about because a relative did that to me, on an important issue. But I realised, as I tutted, that the issue was already six months old and a minor change in an appointment really wasn’t going to stretch the project length a great deal.

Shhhh….it happens.

But it can easily be cleaned up.

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Media Situation Normal

It’s our fault, again, as always.

Last week’s tragic events in Plymouth unfolded as they so often do. A madman goes on a violent spree. Police officers attend at speed, not knowing what they will face both in terms of their own personal safety, and in terms of the traumatic images they will be living with for some time to come. They deal with the immediate aftermath, doing so well what they’ve done for so long.

Then the press come in and within minutes they ‘ask questions’ about what the police did wrong. I write ‘ask questions’, but the unfortunate fact is that such questions imply fault immediately they are asked, and the more they are asked, the more assumptions guide them. The pot is well and truly stirred with no consequence to the asker except improved profile and profits, while those asked are assumed from the off to be covering something up.

And all the while, the uninformed public is convinced more and more that someone did something stupid. As if a licensing officer went, “Give this nutter his gun back, I don’t care.”

Never have I heard the question asked, “What laws were created that made this possible – you know, the laws that the police don’t really like but have to comply with?”

I see both sides, here, to be blunt.

First of all, legal precedent is binding, and all too often a higher court decision impacts the ability of those ‘below’ to act in any way other than blind compliance. There are things we can’t do anything about, and properly considered court decisions and precedents are one of those things.

But on the other hand, there is also a blind compliance born of unwillingness to question, to debate, to argue for alternatives. It’s one thing to say that (in this example) “A court decision meant I had to give his gun back”. It’s another to say, “He might sue us and that would cost us time and money”. Or worse, “I’d have to justify my decision and argue it in court. And I’m too weary/scared/unwilling to do that.”. That’s a get out. That’s surrender. That’s moral and ethical cowardice.

That, ladies, gentlemen and others, is an unwillingness to stand up for what you truly believe.

Standing up for what matters is often time consuming and can be expensive. But the quick and cheap alternatives are seldom any better.

NASA once had a motto: ‘Better, Faster, Cheaper!’. Some wag defaced one of their prolifically-placed posters with the expression, ‘Pick Any Two’. Think about that. You can have better and faster and it’ll cost you. You can have cheap but it won’t be good, even if it’s faster.

Now apply that thinking to what you believe. You can resolutely stand for something but it won’t be cheap in terms of time or money. Or you can take the quick route – but it won’t be better, and you might have to pay more. Or someone else will.

So when comes the time for the argument about whether or not what you’re being asked to do is quick/best/cheap, then stand up for the best, values-based option. Stand up firmly. Know the absolutes (unchangeable) and conditionals (debatable, changeable, influenceable). Know them better than those with whom you will have the aforementioned debate. Thereafter, if the decision goes against you (as it so often will) then at least you know you did your best. What happens afterwards is someone else’s responsibility.

And write it all down – when, where, to and with whom, and how it was said.

Never mind the time saved later – your conscience will be clear as well.

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Why you’re barely managing – but also seldom leading.

I seem to be having a devil of a job convincing people of the importance of what I am trying to teach, so here’s a 5-minute article on exactly why I think it is important, and why you should seek out training, whether from me or another, though book or interactive learning. Here we go.

In our job, there are two ways to look at how you spend your time. Experience and our terminology will tell you what they are. We speak of Proactive Policing, and Reactive Policing. From any perspective – individual, team or organisation – you could look at those expressions in terms of self-generated work, and jobs coming in.

Proactive policing means you are doing something to deal with a  problem before, or as it happens. It means identifying trends and forming a plan to deal with those issues, and then putting that plan into action. It is patrolling where you know something is likely to happen that will need your attention. Reactive policing is waiting for things to happen, and then dealing with them. To be frank, there is an overlap between the two and there always has been. Proactive policing requires a trend to react to, surely? Or you’re guessing! And Standing Operating Procedures are the proactive result of reactive policing in the past – stuff happened, the old way didn’t work and a new way was developed.

Problem is – time doesn’t give a monkey’s about which mode you’re in when stuff happens. You want to be proactive when a murder happens, scuppering those carefully made plans. Or you’re allocated to a ‘reactive’ role for the day but are still reacting to the results of yesterday’s proactivity. As I write this it sounds like a comedy script in development, but that is exactly how front line policing is experienced. Plans are made, God pees itself laughing, and the pee falls on your chips, as they say.

Another way to look at the differences between proactive and reactive policing is to use a tried and tested time management concept, that of ‘Urgency v Importance’. Reactive policing is, by its very nature, firmly situated under the Urgency heading, while Proactive policing is by definition important. But never Urgent. The two compete for attention, but we all know (particularly in CID) which gets the attention – the squeaking wheel, the noisiest problem, the urgent. Yesterday’s Urgency is today’s Important but guess what – here’s another Urgency to replace it.

And the important keeps getting pushed back, rearranged and poorly done.

My book, Police Time Management, look at both of those factors, and further identifies other ‘headings’ under which either can exist – those of Leadership and Management. Leadership focuses on the Important, the proactive. Management focuses on the Urgent, the reactive. That is an valuable distinction.

Yes, to a degree the terms are interchangeable: Leadership is Proactive is Important, and Management is about Urgency and being Reactive. And the good news is that learning time management will underpin any effort to focus on the appropriate ‘thing’ at the appropriate time provided you are taught time management from a leadership, as well as a productivity perspective.

Like in my book. I am proud to say that I was able to address a lot of important stuff during urgent enquiries because I planned my time in order to do so, and that included planning on the hoof. I learned how and now I want to teach you how.

If you are, like I once was, running around just to stay still – take the time and invest in something that will help. I beg of you. Before you give up, give in, and leave the greatest job in the world.

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Complaints and Time Management. And eye-pokery.

Time management applied to complaints? Nonsense! Or is it?

When I was a uniform PC during the Jurassic Era, I was ‘proud’ to be top of the force for the number of complaints I received in one month (or quarter, I may have been less productive….). I was also pleased that my own relief sergeant was third. We were busy, he and I. One time, we were complained about together. Ah, the good old days.

Like you, I suspect, in your early career the threat of a complaint devastated you, if you knew you’d done no wrong. By the day of my personal best, I understood the strategy of one particular solicitor was to get the client to initiate a complaint at the tiniest, even sub-atomic level of cause. It meant he could raise it in court. I learned to bounce them off him.

And I learned that the best way to deal with complaints was to be proactive.

If I was complained about, I made sure that I was prepared. I’d be so up on the law about the particular matter that the ‘other side’ couldn’t bamboozle me. I used to ache when I saw younger (in service) colleagues buckling at some veiled, nonsensical threat made by a legal advisor. Knowing the law and being confident in that knowledge is a massive time saver.

I was with a DC when we arrested someone for burglary, and on searching his home we found all the evidence of a drugs party. We told the legal adviser (non-qualified, social justice, ACAB type) and he said, in front of the custody sergeant, “If you arrest my client for allowing his premises to be used for the consumption of drugs we will make a complaint about you.”

At which the DC turned to the client and said, “ I am arresting you for allowing your premises to be used (etc.)” Then he looked at the runner and grinned. He knew what he was empowered to do, the lawyer (term used loosely) didn’t.

Know the law.

Next, assemble all ‘your’ evidence as diligently as you would any related to a criminal investigation.

And finally – and this one will blow your mind – chase up the Standards Dept and demand you be interviewed. They won’t be rushed, but there is a certain self-confidence to be gained by taking control of the situation. Give them everything they want, even before they ask for it. Make it clear that you’re ready when they are.

You see, another thing I eventually learned was that Professional Standards have a job to do, the same as you. If you’re innocent, they tend to find you innocent. There may be some advice – “Don’t put your gloved fingers in the suspect’s eye sockets and threaten to blind him, in case you slip” was one piece of advice that I was given. The good old days.

But psychologically, and they may deny it but it has an element of truth, a co-operative interviewee tends to be treated a lot more leniently than an obstructive and unhelpful one.

You know that, because you do it.

In conclusion, then.

Don’t misbehave deliberately, know what you can and cannot do. Document everything you possibly can – the Officer Safety Trainers are right in that – but also know the law so that omissions can be countered, e.g. “You didn’t write that you’d double locked your ‘cuffs” can be countered by “I didn’t write I used the toilet, either, but I assure you that I did.” An inference is hard to draw on an explained omission, like it or lump it.

Nevertheless, accurate records are always hard to counter so make sure yours are as good as theirs.

It saves so much time, and that allows you to apply your emotional focus to better things.

For more on this subject, buy Police Time Management at AMAZON. (Click the link)

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Work Less, Produce More, Go Home. For 0%, why not?

That’s that, then. After 18 months of COVID, where your attention has been on working a lot harder just to stand still, and with having to adjust working practices to that end, you are going to have a 0% pay rise. And you also know one thing for certain.

All the stuff that was delayed or put off during this whole shebang will now effectively become additional work that will have to be done on top of what is going to come, and all for an extra 0p an hour. You will have to work harder and the only way to profit will be to work bucketloads of overtime.

IF the C-suite (commercial jargon for NPCC-level ranks) can, or is willing to, allow that. Experience suggests that the Home Office will NOT want to up the funding. Assuming the Treasury would even let them. Despite BoJo’s announcement, today, that crime will be important (again?). And the local ratepayers – which include you – can only be stretched so far, monetarily.

And they’ll also change the rules (laws and practices that used to work but need tinkering with, e.g. Bail and PACE), which means you’ll have to re-learn what you knew, on courses that are twice as long as they need to be OR aren’t even held.

Right then. Given that your income won’t go up (even if your rates and taxes do), and you’re unlikely to be given the time to do what needs to be done, you have one choice left.

To TAKE BACK the time you’re wasting. Calm down. I know.

But I also know that some time is wasted. It is wasted accidentally. It is wasted accidentally because you haven’t been trained to maximise its use, properly. And you, like me, occasionally fall into the procrastination trap created by a need to have a few minutes away from ‘things’ with colleagues who are all to eager to have a few minutes away from their ‘things’ too, only for neither of you to remember to kick back in as quickly as reasonable possible.

BUT that goes both ways. You also waste time when, instead of chilling because you genuinely need to, you continue working and make the silly mistakes that result in the work needing to be done again. I’m pretty confident that a good percentage of assault allegations (assaults by police) could be prevented if those colleagues hadn’t been wound up by the stresses created by the demand placed upon them.

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s not about ‘just’ being productive in the sense that you ought to be on the go 100% of the time. Police Time Management is about doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons and at the appropriate time. And if the right thing (etc.) is to stop, pause, break off and calm down, then that is productive. Whereas going from call to call in the vain hope that at the end of them all you’ll have time to make the notes you should have been making all along – ain’t.

We aren’t cranking widgets in a factory, an altogether automated process that requires no more thought than switching a machine on and off as targets are met. Our work requires thought – and therefore requires time to think, and while Joe Q Public might see your furrowed brow as inactivity, you know that thinking about your response to any incident or demand is the best way to deal with it properly the first time. And only that time, if appropriate. That way, you go home having earned a stress-free crust and your family doesn’t bear the brunt of your stress.

Wouldn’t it be great if you were taught this stuff on a  training day?

Tell your L&D Section.

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You HAVE to Let It Lie.

This might not seem to be about policing, but bear with me because it really is.

I am executing a will. It is an easy will, but despite being a qualified legal executive (which was handy in police work, believe it or not) I have found the process to be somewhat wearing. Just as you think all is going well, another mole jumps up to be whacked. Yes, exactly like police work.

And here’s a mistake I made, and one which you may occasionally make yourself, and the ‘time management’ solution.

Of course, in this example there’s money involved, money needed by the estate’s heirs, and the letters tend to be ‘taking’ rather than ‘giving’. And you will be happy or completely uncaring to know that all the problems sorted themselves out quite amicably (so far).

Anyway, on the Friday I’d be made aware that another executor had received a brown envelope from the DWP or HMRC – it is utterly uncanny how many of those arrive on a Friday. So I’d open said letter in the early evening, see the demand, realise that there was a new workload to add to the overall project, further realise that addressing, even just researching the demand involved others – and that they’d all gone home for the weekend. So now I have a problem in my head about which I can do absolutely nothing for 72 hours.

My solution: when the next letter arrived – on a Friday – I let it lie. I put it on my desk and left it until Monday afternoon. Only then did I read it, and make the enquiry related to its content.

No stress, problem addressed while in a better state of mind, and therefore while not starting an argument with the poor messenger at their end.

It is a simple solution, although I acknowledge that it might initially be seen to be impossible at work. But here’s a thought.

If it is mail, in an envelope, then it IS NOT URGENT. It’s 2021. Even the sender knows it’ll take time to be responded to. Nothing urgent is now sent by snail mail. If you are busy doing other projects – and you always are – then, assuming you have planned your day as best you can as per my advice in earlier posts, opening the letter and adding further demands on your already full mind is almost guaranteed to be stressful.

And never, ever, EVER open a letter just before you go off duty or onto rest days. The content – not urgent, remember – will play on your mind when you can’t do anything about it.

Let it lie until you aren’t as busy, and you have the time you need to deal with whatever comes, with the people needed to deal with it, actually available.

I grant you this isn’t as easy with e-mails, which ping, but I still suggest that if you can possibly train yourself to do it, don’t open e-mails after the mid-point of your tour of duty unless it’s by pre-arrangement (you expect it and know what it’s about), or marked with a great big red exclamation mark that suggests the sender thinks it IS urgent. (£10 says it rarely is.)

But don’t tell your Inspector I told you. She will still be living under the old ‘do everything now’ mentality that is as ineffective now as it was in 1986, when I started.

For more on comms management, read this HUGE, cheap (£12.99) book and learn how to enjoy your work all over again.

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Focus – NOT Mindfulness – is what you want.

Something about myself about which I have become aware is an overly active ‘what’s next’ approach to living, and it’s driving me batty. In the excellent drama ‘West Wing, President Josiah Bartlett had a saying, which he repeatedly said during crisis meetings. They’d all be chatting away about a problem, then they’d solve it and Bartlett would say, “What’s next?” It was a declaration that said Decision Made and also Move Along.

That’s in my head all of the time. The impulse for this article was me realising, as I sat on the porcelain throne, that my head was buzzing with all the things I had to do today, the order in which to do them, what have I forgotten, where’s the gizmo I need, and so on. Not conducive to the job that was at hand which, although concentration was required, did not warrant haste. Haste may make waste, but in this case the waste had already been made. But enough of that vision…..

I find that whatever I am doing, I am thinking about the next thing. This means that my focus is not on enjoying the moment, but on the stress of not yet doing that ‘next thing’. Even as I write, my left hand hovers over a camcorder I need to charge for tomorrow’s appointment, which leads me to remember the other things I need to prepare, and when am I going to clean the car and

So on.

Mentally wearing.

Some might suggest the Mindfulness is the answer. I disagree. I disagree because (to my mind) mindfulness is abandonment from the moment, even though it’s supposed to be connection to the moment. To me, mindfulness implies separation from the ‘activity of the moment in preference for the ‘wholeness’ of that moment, and I don’t want to disassociate from what I am doing to seek a nirvana-like state of bliss. I’m too busy.

I DO want to focus only on what I am doing and allow the space in my head to be used just for that productive effort, at that particular moment.

Maybe there is a crossover between focus and mindfulness, but I’m too busy to find it.

Moving on….

Having a plan for the day in advance of that day, helps. Making a prioritised list means looking at the appointments and commitments you have for the day, and then reviewing the order so that you can be doing the appropriate thing at the appropriate time, or so that you can amend your priorities as interruptions and conflicts arise – as they inevitably do in this line of work.

I deal with that in detail in the book Police Time Management, but in a nutshell it means allocating an ‘Order of Events’ to the planned tasks – in and around and in anticipation of set appointments – so that you can fit in the important things that need to be done. Then, having set that order, focus on those things in that order in the knowledge that each will get the appropriate attention as and when you have planned to do it.

Your current practice of an A4 To-Do List contains all the things you want to do, and as a result you have no plan – just a head full of stuff written onto a bit of paper. That’s not a plan, that’s a mess.

My advice – learn how to prioritise and plan each day. Plan each day at the start of the week, and then adapt at the start of each day. That means that on Sunday (for example) you plan things you want to do every day that week, and then at the start of each day, you plan the order of events, and then execute accordingly.

It’s amazing how focused you can get if you have something to focus on. Other than birds singing and trees a-rustlin’.

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You NEED Structure – to be Flexible.

“I don’t want to manage my time, I like to be spontaneous.”

An amusing falsehood I often heard during the time management input I provided to my colleagues when I had that opportunity. Now, in their defence, the people who routinely made that statement were office-based: I can’t say I ever recall those responsible for incident attendance EVER saying that! Imagine a uniformed patrol officer saying, “I don’t have enough opportunity to be spontaneous.”

Nevertheless, it is a feeling some people have that their working life (and personal life, given the crossover between the two in these modern times) is too restrictive and they feel that they want some time to be more in control of what they’re doing.

There is a balance to be had between two apparently conflicting types of working practice, I admit.

The two types of work pattern to which I refer are Structure, and Flexibility. A lot of my participants would have sworn that they worked completely under the one or the other ‘heading’, but the truth is that everyone works somewhere along the continuum between the two. Patrol officers are definitely at the ‘flexible’ end, withing the structure of shift work, briefings and pre-planned operations. Office-based staff tended to work towards the ‘structured’ end – turn up, deal with the in-box, go home – but detectives, control room staff and operational managers (e.g. Inspector ranks) were closer to the flexible side than data analysts (for example).

The real challenge is – to be effective, you can only be flexible within the structure that serves it?

It is the structure that serves your ability to be flexible, so that you don’t completely randomise your work and in doing so massively reduce productivity, and undermine the purpose, aims and objectives of the organisation for which you work.

Imagine turning up when you want, doing what you feel like doing, then going when you feel like it? Stupid? Well, yes, but that’s what total flexibility would cause to happen. But knowing what is expected of you, within the timescales that apply, means you can plan what you have to do – and be flexible around that plan. Both sides win. And the same goes for your personal life, although you can probably be a bit more spontaneous there. Providing you don’t forget your partner’s birthday…..

In my book Police Time Management I delve much deeper into the subject of flexibility and planning. Why not have a look at the ‘Look Inside’ facility and see if there is something that will serve your ability to do what you want to do at work, while still doing your duty?

It worked for me……………

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Better Teams are made from Better People

The police service prides itself on how its staff works in high-performing teams, but my own experience suggests that these teams are often a loose set of professional individuals with conflicting priorities who are occasionally brought together in a different order to deal with whatever comes along. Mostly very competent professionals, but the teams are very ad-hoc.

Murder? Grab whoever is available regardless of experience, knowledge, specialism or location, this is important.

Of course it is, and of course you need to do that. But it’s Gareth Southgate like waiting for the final of the Euros and calling Ole Gunnar Solskjær (yes, I had to look it up) on the Saturday afternoon asking who’s available that is English. Not efficient, and its effectiveness is partly blamed on luck.

That situation was imposed on the service until they started establishing Major Incident Teams, but there is still that “un-abandon ship!” element to any incident.

To be blunt, the fact that we deal so well with this approach is a testament to how good we are, but the existence of MITs is also testament to how good/better we can be.

I confess I don’t have the answer, but I have a suggestion. Make sure everyone is good at the basics, and when you find someone who is exceptional at something, let them do that while teaching others, even if only by the traditional osmosis created by them working together for a bit.

When is say good at the basics, I mean really good. Making sure that statements are the best they can be, or training and monitoring those whose statements evidence excessive, lazy brevity and disorganised thinking. Establishing a successful interviewing method informed by PEACE and drawing circles, but where flair and ‘inquisitive initiative’ is applauded.

You see, I can’t help thinking that too much store is set on ticking procedural boxes and creating drones, and not as much as could be on rewarding, encouraging (and even forgiving) initiative and creativity within the legal and practical boundaries of police work. Not to mention artificial bars to doing a good job, like removing PNC access from front-line staff, thus increasing the workload for the Control Room and delaying criminal investigations when the one with access isn’t there.

As to your own responsibility as a team member, it is to be the most supportive and well-informed person you can be in respect of what you do, which in turn creates an obligation to research and explore what you do, at a deeper level than your training permitted when you got it. I know I became good in a particular area (tracing and arresting wanted people) and went on to be a source of learning (and a paid author/trainer😉) as a result. Which saved other people time, improved results for the team, and stopped all this ‘why has it taken so long to come to court’ cr4p we read about in the press, these days.

And forgive the ‘banging on a bit’ bit, but learning how to manage your workload can be a major support for your efforts to become a better employee, manager or leader than you already are.

If you want to get better at something specialist, find, buy and study the book, training and other people that have the knowledge required. That last bit is actually called Modelling and is a great way to learn as long as it isn’t the only way, and the person teaching it is someone trustworthy!

I recall a few people who had to overcome the training their tutors provided……

If you all try to be the BEST one in a team, you will all benefit.

A Timely Reminder

I make no apologies for this reminder.

Right this minute, I KNOW you are procrastinating. I know this because it is the 12th of December. From pretty much this first Monday of the month through until the first Monday of the New Year, you will be using the expression “Let’s leave it until after Christmas” to justify not doing something, today, that would be better done, today. Even the two minute joblets.

Let me tell you what that means.

It means that all those joblets will mass, like a cancerous tumour, to give you nasty headaches from the 2nd of January, that’s what. That is because while your heart is telling you it will be alright, and your mind is justifying it, the world, the people in it and fate are all conspiring to have accidents, commit crimes, engage in arguments, overdo the alcohol (leading to the previous three problems) and generally create more problems to add to the ones whose solutions you are deferring for ‘later’ when you have some time.

You do it, the CPS does it, the Courts do it.

And then they all blame each other for their own procrastination strategies, all of which are based on the ‘good intent’ of managing their current workload better by slowing down the rate at which they deal with it. (Breathe.)

Every decision you put off, and every bogus action you add to someone else’s task list, doesn’t mean less work. It just means the same work gets done later.

And Christmas, like no other time of year, seems to cause more of this activity. And for the life of me I can’t think why.

You can’t shop for presents while you put the work off. You can’t put the decorations up at home, you can’t go to the pub any earlier. Your work day stays the same length right up until, and occasionally including Christmas Eve (where the occasional early finish may happen. Yet there you are, on the telephone, making an ‘appointment’ for January the umpteenth. And if you’re like the worst offenders, you cater for the deferred by making those appointments later in January than you otherwise might have (unethically) done.

Which means if you have a busy Christmas they’ll get done in February, and if you have a slack, uneventful one, you find you have nothing productive planned, anyway. Which is a paradox but you can’t rely on people behaving during the festive month-that-used-to-be-two-days.

You know, as do I (because I did it), that doing the work as soon as reasonably practicable after it arises is Best Practice. Always was, and always will be.

So keep your action lists up to date, do the small jobs the instant they come about, and plan blocks of time for the bigger stuff. Get them done as soon as you can because the next great big huge and humungous challenge/project/Major Crime is approaching, and your eyes will be ripped off the ball.

This is best practice because you know that those little tasks will still need doing, will become urgent because another department has decreed that their figures are more important than your service. And then instead of doing something you enjoy doing, you’ll be tied up involved in executing what you could have done before Christmas.

You know it makes sense.

Happy Christmas, folks!

THE Cure for the Productive Procrastinator

There is an unstated cause of procrastination. One seldom admitted to by anyone having any sense of self-esteem. It is often noticeable in the newest of recruits and staff but is nevertheless present in the most experienced of colleagues. But is a kind of ‘reverse-procrastination’ in that it does not cause the putting off of tasks. In fact, it does the opposite – it creates massive productivity. The trouble is, it’s the wrong kind of productivity.

This misdirection of effort is caused by people who have never asked this question.

“Does my desire to do a lot of things reflect a lack of confidence in my ability to do a few important things well?

This kind of thinking occurs when we haven’t quite mastered something. I recall when I first started in the Fraud Squad I had a debilitating attack of Imposter Syndrome. This resulted in my making offers to others to help them, and to do any menial task as long as I didn’t have to progress an investigation I was finding hard to fathom, while therefore not ‘having time’ to simply ask for help and thus reveal my inadequacy.

Busy people are often people who look as though they’re working hard, but they’re working hard at avoiding something else they should be doing.

And there is another sign of misdirected busy-ness. People who don’t ask themselves, “Do I get angry at interruptions because I lack confidence that I can manage my time well enough to deal with them?”

These people (and I suspect I was one of them) believe that everything they are asked to do must be done immediately, and is therefore a threat to their planned tasks. This, I believe, is partly the fault of an organisation that allows itself to believe that everything must be done NOW. This creates a sense of Urgency that is applied to everything regardless of its actual importance, and which also shoves more important or time-sensitive work into the background, where it awaits the day it can jump to the fore and shout, “Hah! I am URGENTT now, as well!” And it, too, becomes an interruption that it would not have been had you just stopped following the ‘Everything is Urgent’ mentality so debilitating to personal and organisational effectiveness.

Enter the Stimulus-Response Gap cure to both problems.

Now and then – whether looking at something that is initially terrifying, or which seems to demand attention you need to put elsewhere, and decide : What is he appropriate action to take, now?

In the former case, the only first action may be to do little more than seek the help or knowledge required to progress. And in the second case, it may be a chance to decide that, “No”, this can wait, or “Yes”, it needs attention. And that attention may be nothing more than to note what needs to be done so that it can be done latter.

Every problem – EVERY problem – can be addressed using that SR Gap. Just take the moment to THINK. And then the problem becomes a project, and we manage those all the time.