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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.

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Don’t Get Comfortable….

One of the things I find most interesting about reading personal development books is the discovery of common themes with different terminologies. I sometimes wonder who invented the concept being explained, and who pinched it. I’d read something in a book and think how clever the author was, and then attend a seminar where a different speaker made the same presentation using different metaphors. And I’d think, “He nicked that off X!” before realising I didn’t really know who thought of it first -I’d just discovered the idea in that order. So I became more forgiving, and now I just explore the concepts more academically.

For example: two writers I respect wrote about how as individuals we tend to spend our time in our Comfort Zones, avoiding the strange and unexpected, and as a result we limit our personal growth. They identified how people go to exotic places on holiday and, on arrival, check the TV channels to ensure that what they get at home, they get there. We go to restaurants and order the same food. We watch a film several times. This ‘comfort zone’ mentality is comfortable as it means there are no threats, but it also means we don’t try things we otherwise might and – from a work perspective – we also avoid and even fight against doing work with which we are unfamiliar.

Anyway, these two writers wrote about Comfort Zones while another wrote about Circles of Concern (CofC) and Circles of Influence (CofI). Reading about that again the other day (in my comfort zone) I wondered if the Circle of Influence concept matched the Comfort Zone concept. The CofI is our area of experience where we have control over what is happening around us, whereas the CofC contains everything that we know about, but can’t do anything about. For example, the CofC contains the traffic jam, but the CofI contains our willingness or otherwise to accept it, seek and alternative route, or get really angry.

In both cases, the route to ‘better’ requires expansion: both require personal growth effort to make the zones bigger.

You need to expand your comfort zone if you are ever to improve professionally or personally, and you need to expand your Circle of Influence for the same reason. And the key to expanding either lies in pushing yourself just a little more than you otherwise might.

Which makes me think that both concepts are, as implied in the opening paragraphs, the same thing using different terminology. Realising that makes me feel clever. Doing something about it, even more so.

Next time you are offered an opportunity to leave your comfort zone, think of it less as an inconvenience and more as a chance to learn something new.

Hand on heart –  I discovered that too late in my career to not think of it as the inconvenience.

But over time I did notice how those who get ahead are very often those who, consciously or otherwise, seemed willing to go the extra, uncomfortable mile. They learned, they developed. If I avoided such chances – I did not. And that is the advice I provide you, and which I will be providing my grandchildren – to grow, you have to stretch. And while stretching can sometimes be uncomfortable, it creates flexibility in thinking and creativity.

Having said that, the Detective Chief Inspector who said she was ‘delighted’ to be co-ordinating dog thefts at a national level during the Covid crisis was lying. Some stretches just ain’t worth it.

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You lie because you’re busy. But you’re busy because you lie.

One of the biggest time-wasters I have ever experienced in policing – and as I write this I feel a compunction to confess that I have done it myself – is telling lies. Not perjury-type lies, though. The little white ones.

The one where you tell the victim of a crime that something can’t or won’t be done because of some excuse that comes to you in the moment. Ones like, “A house-to-house never turns up anything’; ‘the criminals won’t use local pawn shops, they’re not that stupid’; ‘it’s your word against theirs so the CPS won’t prosecute’; and one I experienced, which was more of an excuse than a lie, ‘I’ve spoken to the CPS and they say there is insufficient evidence’ when I know that they hadn’t even interviewed the named suspect.

All of those comments have one objective – to avoid work. Now, I’m not overly blaming people; the reason they want to avoid work is because they feel that the work they do have is more than enough to be going on with, without another hour or so to be taken on a task that experience suggests won’t have a tangible result.

You see, when the CPS keeps telling you that what you think is a stonewaller guilty verdict ‘has evidential problems’ – i.e., their title for ‘I’m too frightened to try and litigate this, I only do guilty pleas’ – then you, too, eventually start thinking that what you need to do will be a waste of time.

I’m partly convinced that this is why the new Chief Constable of the GMP has declared that all burglaries will be attended to – for too long, the poor detection rate has resulted in our doing less work rather than trying harder to detect crime. The feeling is that if the detection rate is only 30%, then we should only attend 30% of those crimes and weed out the others. Which means probably missing out, by definition, of another 30%’s worth of crimes that could have been detected if we’d gone to them.

(Weird how a 1908s unethical personal policy eventually became a 21st century force policy, eh?)

I stand by this sentence: If you can manage your time effectively and efficiently, you can do all the work that is required of you. Too many people put things off so consistently that they’ve forgotten that doing it takes less time than putting it off. The corollary, however, is that if you/the organisation do not learn time management in a systematic fashion, then you will never learn how to maximise productivity while reducing stress.

Dear senior officers: the service you provide to the public, like any corporate, client-focused business, requires that you invest in teaching your employees how best to serve your customers, and that training must include the basics of time management, whereby people learn appropriate time usage in order to put the appropriate amount of effort into the appropriate things in the appropriate way and at the appropriate moment.

The NCALT package isn’t enough. People need to learn a system the same way they learn custody processes – learning it, seeing it, experiencing it.

Invest some money in teaching your people to manage their time so that they can provide the service you want to provide with improved consistency.

Or the same problems will keep arising – incomplete, poor-quality work and the associated results. Having to do things again, and again, and again……

Like investigating burglaries committed by people you could’ve already caught, if you hadn’t been too busy to do the basics.

Blunt, I know. But you also know – it’s true.

For a police-oriented guide to time management in the policing sector, buy Police Time Management by David Palmer, £12.999 through Amazon.

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Time Mismanagement – Involuntary?

You’re busy, right? But how much of it is your own fault?

You may think that your workload is entirely influenced by circumstance, and therefore take the view that the level of tasks you are stuck with are entirely out of your control. You may recall, from your rookie years, the old ‘self-generated work’ approach that probationers (in particular) are encouraged to apply, which tended to  open you up to a little bit of self-inflicted busy-ness. Those of you who, like me, couldn’t ‘not’ deal with stuff that occurred in front of you, still influence your workloads. As a result, when you can, you step away from ‘accidentally’ discovering new work so that you can catch up. Personally, I consider that a valuable coping technique and provided it isn’t an excuse for work avoidance, then carry on, I say.

That’s work sorted. But how much of your personal life busy-ness is your fault? Your first response may be to ask what am I on – “I’m completely in control of my personal life,” you may think. To be frank, you are responsible for how busy you are, but here’s a little input on why you may not be quite as in control as you thought you were.

In his book The Harried Leisure Class, author Staffan B. Linder made an astute observation when (and I paraphrase) he suggested that everything we decide has a time impact. For example, you buy a book – and immediately you have decided that while you read that, you won’t be able to use the time for anything else. A simple ‘duh’ example, yes?

Okay. Let’s up the ante. You buy a house. Now you have a responsibility to maintain it. But – did you need that huge garden? Did you need 5 bedrooms? Did you need three en-suites? All of the decisions you make – or decisions you just defaulted – have a time impact. And not just once, but monthly or more often. Less obvious examples: you have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkledIn, TikTok (why??), Snapchat et al. You subscribe to Sky, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, NowTV and a myriad of other media channels. And in doing these things you unconsciously allocate time to maintaining your control and use of them – or rather, their control and use of you.

I confess, I have Prime, Netflix and Disney+ (or my son does 😊) and I have found that despite all the options available to me, I spend time exploring them all only to find nothing worth watching. But I’m sure there must be an element of FOMO (fear of missing out) because I still have to look, don’t I? Well, no. But like you, I do.

But only when I’m not doing something more important.

Back to my original point. When assessing how you are going to use your time in the future, one of your considerations needs to be – “When I buy/get this ‘thing’, how much maintenance effort will it cost in terms of time and resources I could spend elsewhere and on more important things?”

Personally, I suggest you adapt the Time Matrix, which I cover here and in my book Police Time Management, and consider whether the commitment you’re about to make is Important or just a Vanity project. Big house? How about one ‘just’ big enough and you spend the money/time benefit on family holidays and events? New car? How about one a few years older and spend the savings (and depreciation costs) on your hobbies? Big garden? How about you gravel it and save years of lawn mowing? (Okay, maybe only in part because green is nice, but a big garden needs a committed gardener. And lots and lots of time.)

I am personally very conscious of how much stuff I possess and how much the financial commitment I made in buying them influences any attempt to sell or replace them. I call them my ‘collection’ because it soothes my conscience, but the space they take up both physically and mentally sometimes make me wish I’d learned about minimalism a long time ago.

In conclusion, remember that when you make a choice about how you use your time, you simultaneously make a decision – usually an unconscious one – about how you won’t be using it, as well.

Think about that.

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Dealing With The Dreaded CPS Memorandum….

Ah, the dreaded CPS memo. Often a long list of truly amorphous blobs of undoability (a term I have stolen, I confess). You’re busy, this document arrives in your in-tray and you immediately enter the depths of despair. You read it, and the following thoughts go through your head:

  • I don’t have time.
  • They don’t need that.
  • What is that all about?
  • How long will that take?
  • I don’t have time.

Unfortunately, the one thing the CPS will say when you decline their kind request for you to do this extra work is – if you don’t, we won’t prosecute. It’s their ultimate sanction, the one they should use last, and the most childish one. But it remains a possibility that the work you’ve done so far, for your victims, will be wasted because the CPS are the only solicitors who tell their clients what to do, rather than just advise them. So having accepted that you’re stuck with it, what to do?

First of all, consider tis memo to be nothing more than a ToDo List. You can use this memo as a proxy To Do List but If you want, you can transfer all the items to your own Activity Checklist or To Do List document. It seems daft, but psychologically, taking ‘their’ memo and listing the contents on ‘your’ form means you take control of the work. It seems odd, but it is true – the CPS list is now your list. Having done that, what next? You may be surprised, but the answer might be to make the list longer. (WHAT!!??) Let me explain.

In my book, Police Time Management, I state that there are really only 4 kinds of ‘things’ to do. Tasks, Appointments, Notes and Contacts. All of the demands will come under one or more of those headings, but will only require one act at a time. Let me illustrate.

Any demand that is entirely within your power to complete is probably a Task. You can do it without help, resources, etc. Such a CPS request will be a one-liner – ‘Get me this…’. Maybe it’s just a question, or you need to copy something in your possession. Easy.

But other requests may be a paragraph long. Such items will routinely require input from others, so the first action you need to plan is – to make Contact. Plan that contact, make it where possible (i.e. if it can be done straight way), then plan the next action required. If you need to visit someone, make the appointment – through initial contact or directly if possible. In this scenario, Notes will initially be documents already in your possession, and later they’ll be the documents you amass in carrying out the required actions.

Having decided what items actually are (TANC), another assessment you need to make will be – how long do I have? This focuses your mind and allows you to assess which items on your TANC list are urgent, if any. Urgent ones need to be given a deadline, but you know how they work. The ultimate deadline (‘reply by’ date) provides the time frame within which you can decide what-to-do-when.

Having considered the demands as TANC-identified things to do, your list may be longer, but now it is manageable and actionable. Each action on your plan requires one, simple act. Copy something, call someone, get something, complete a form and wait. And so on. Instead of detailed, long-winded and complicated demands on the original memo, your own version will be:

  • Contact CSI re statement from Jones
  • Complete MGFSS re additional items
  • Obtain authorisation for FSS work
  • Arrange movement of exhibits as per policy
  • Call Fred re statement appointment
  • Take Fred statement
  • Print Google Map of crime location/roue of travel of suspect
  • Draft suspect movements on printout
  • Finalise and submit as exhibit
  • Research legal argument why request is unnecessary 😊
  • Etc

All single, actionable tasks, completion of which will meet the CPS demands within the timescale because you planned them, rather than just read and hated them.

This example is very much off the top of my head and therefore exceptionally simple, but take a look at your last memo from the CPS and see if you could have made it easier to complete by converting it from lawyer-speak to a TANC-related list of singular tasks. And ask yourself, “If I did this, would I have been less stressed?”

And then do that for all your work.

For an in-depth explanation and demonstration of the TANC idea, get the book Police Time Management, only £12.99 from Amazon for 300+ pages of help!

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Are you a Morning Person?

I’ve often opined that all those Californian, rich(ish) personal development speakers and writers and their ‘Rise at 5AM and exercise’ freaks should come and live where I do in South Wales, where it’s easier to pick up the dog eggs in the garden at 6AM because they’re rock hard with ice. Where the idea of a home gym is fine if you live with a spare room big enough for a running machine or static bike, said room being centrally heated to at least ‘bearable’ for that early effort. And where going to bed early so as to get a decent kip before getting up at 5AM isn’t easy because the road and neighbours aren’t 100 yards away and are living their noisy lives while you try to drop off. And fitness clubs remain an expensive luxury.

Which is not to say that exercising is impossible.

I have a spin bike, a relatively inexpensive yet reliable (4 years so far) model. I have a mount (thank you Santa) for a 7” tablet through which I watch YouTube videos which inform, entertain or anger depending on the day’s choice. And a garden shed to put it in. There simply is no room in the main dwelling. You see, I am not a financial success like all those 5AM loonies. I am a moderate professional success on that I have always been employed doing work I enjoy, on the public purse in their service. So none of that ‘earn twice as much, work half as hard’ twaddle that Brian Tracy and Jack Canfield promote – which is valid for the entrepreneur or commission-paid individual but not public servants like us. If I wanted to earn twice as much as a copper I’d have had to work 76 hour weeks AND ask permission, first.

Each of us lives in his or her own circumstances, which do not necessarily reflect those described by such writers. Some do. Lucky them.

Back to me.

What gets me out of bed at 7.30AM, or more specifically onto the bike at 7.40AM, is self-discipline and a desire to not get fat again. I don’t want to ride a bike first thing, but it would be rude of a promoter of such a concept not to try. So that’s what gets me up. My Integrity. Doing the things I don’t like to do because (a) they serve me and (b) I said I would. If only to myself.

I should also be up front and state that it doesn’t work every day. If I don’t sleep well I’d make the next day worse, not better, if I self-flagellated with exercise before starting work. (I can always exercise afterwards, if I feel up to it.) But here, the point isn’t to apply self-discipline to the point of self-punishment. That’s a route to failure.

But I will also add that doing that exercise first, and educating myself while I do so, sets me up for the day. And you may have noticed that many of your successful colleagues do, as well.

I get up. I go out into the cold shed and exercise.

I win. The rest of the day is a breeze.

So much so, this took 15 minutes to write. In the flow. And with integrity – nothing I write is a lie to myself or to my reader. Whoever you are.

Be disciplined. But be disciplined early.

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To Err Is Human: To Admit It, Divine.

I like to promote the concept of Teaching to Learn, first made known to me in reading books by management and leadership expert Stephen R. Covey. Its basis lies in the belief that the best way to encourage a student to take in what is being taught, is to oblige the student to pass on what is learned. If you’re duty bound to pass on an important message you’ll concentrate on that message. For my part I have been doing that for 20 years, in respect of the content of Covey’s books, particularly in schools.

I have committed to doing that for my next seven posts, so here is todays’ lesson as it pertains to time and self-management in the policing world.

A core approach to self-management is the concept of personal responsibility. You may assume you already possess this trait, but research and philosophy in this area suggests that we could all apply it at a deeper level.  By ‘personal responsibility’ we don’t just mean admitting mistakes – we mean for everything.

That means never blaming circumstances for problems, but seeking instead to accept they exist and to focus, deliberately, on the solutions. It means identifying what we want to do, where we want to go, even who we are – and making every effort to ‘make it so’. It also means acknowledging that it is our own fault if we fail – or perhaps, put better, our own responsibility. We can accept blame when it is ours to claim, but we can also look at situations caused by ‘them out there’ and consider how much of the negative outcome was simply down to us.

For example, I fell foul of an employment situation and admittedly felt like lashing out, but I had to acknowledge I played my own part – in some ways I failed personally, in others I failed to act on a nagging feeling I had that, shall we say, empowered and enabled that personal failing.

Taking 100% Responsibility is hard, because it recognises that fault will lie with us, but at the same time it is empowering because it almost forces us to plan ahead, to consider the options and consequences, and to plan towards the better outcome. It also, if you can take it to the fullest extent, overcomes the negativity and debilitation caused by the tendency to apportion blame and focus on revenge (even if only considered as a theory….). In other words – taking responsibility helps because it stops you getting angry.

So next time a boss has a go – accept your part and let him/her keep all the negative emotion. I used to wonder why bosses got angry when I was the one in trouble. I’d be the one being punished and truly inconvenienced. They just had to do the paperwork. But if I was in the wrong I’d look inside myself, accept what (if anything) I had caused, address it and move on. Literally, in the one case.

And all the emotional energy NOT used in blaming can be used to prepare for what is to come, to live and work towards what you want out of this job, and to provide your stakeholders with the service they deserve.

Next time you feel a negative emotion – and you will – stop for a moment and think, “What is MY part in this situation and how can I make it better?” , instead of wasting valuable time revisiting and rationalising someone else’s responsibility. Let them do that.

You’re busy moving on and going places.

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On the 26th of March 1993, I learned a valuable lesson about punctuality. Viv Martella, a DC at Sun Hill, missed a briefing. Later that day, she approached a van to ask it to move out of the way, and got shot by the wobbers sat inside – the target of the op that was the subject of the briefing. DI Burnside was not sympathetic.

We shouldn’t get our training from the media as a rule, but this one is, for reasons I can’t fathom, quite memorable. I haven’t watched The Bill for decades. But if she’d been punctual, she’d still be alive.

Punctuality. We work(ed) in a disciplined service. Yet more and more I saw tardiness excused by supervisors who wanted to be ‘nice’ rather than ‘supervisory’. Of course, occasional lateness can be caused by genuine circumstance – the motorway along which so many of my colleagues travel is prone to traffic-jam causing RTCs. But the colleague whose specific 10-minutes lateness every day  had a time named after him – “Dodge-past-9”. Every day, without fail – exactly 10 minutes late.

“It’s no big deal,” you suggest. Merely 10 minutes. Ten minutes after the target passes the stinger? Ten minutes after the Judge cites you for contempt? Ten minutes after the details of the blagger’s van is circulated? Ask Viv.

Jack Canfield, author of ‘The Success Principles’ learned early on from his mentors that ‘If you’re not early, you’re late’. I take that view. Experience tells me that if/when I am early, I get the best seats, the shortest queue, the fastest getaway, the greater opportunities. And what I don’t get is stressed, disciplined, or the last pie.

Sometimes I overdo it, but I plan it that way. This morning I’m leaving for a race circuit so that I can arrive at least 90 minutes before I can play on it. I avoid traffic jams and I allow time to be properly prepared both vehicularly* and mentally. And I get to watch other petrolheads make mistakes from which I can learn.

But perhaps above all, being punctual is a demonstration of respect for those involved, who have an interest in your being on time. When someone is late for you, how do you feel? Let down? Inconvenienced? Angry? And if a loved one is late, do you worry?

If you are going to be late, call and explain why. Tell the truth.

But ideally, plan your life so that you are early.

Be like Jack.

Not Viv. Viv was late, and now she’s late. Permanently.

*Is a word.

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You may think you’re a Widget-Cranker. You’re not.

And you aren’t (necessarily) an executive, with a secretary – sorry, personal assistant – to manage your tasks and appointments. You fall somewhere in between, and if you compare yourself to other professional service providers you’ll find that you can easily match your working style to other professionals whose work requires constantly managing appointments, tasks, interruptions etc,. For example, like a lawyer or a doctor.

But unlike them, without a dedicated administrator to manage those events. Or the money. When YOU get a case, YOU have to do the paperwork, YOU have to file it, YOU have to manage your appointments, YOU are responsible for your diary. Just YOU.

And at the same time, EVERYTHING that goes wrong will be YOUR FAULT.

That’s your policing existence. All the responsibility and accountability, but none of the physical assistance.

How do most colleagues manage this? With a To Do List which, despite the ever present mobile device is more than likely on a bit of A4 paper.

Regular reader of my posts will say I am banging on, but I make two ripostes to that criticism.

  1. Not everyone has read the earlier posts: and
  2. If YOU have read it and are still managing by A4, handwritten, poorly-managed To Do List – you aren’t heeding the advice.

As a front-line officer or entry-level staff member you might think you’re a widget-cranker, who just does whatever she is told, turns up, cranks widgets for the amount of contracted time and then goes home. You are unbelievably wrong. You are a thinker, a knowledge worker, someone whose opinions are important and impactive upon any given result. And when you aren’t at work, do you ‘crank’ your hobbies, relationships, social life, fitness efforts and so on? No. you don’t crank widgets at home.

What system do YOU use to manage yourself – at work or at home? Seat of the pants? Does that work for you?

“I like my freedom!”, you say. Freedom to be interrupted, inconvenienced, and perhaps punished for exercising freedom when duty was required from you? Thought not.

Planning serves freedom. It creates time you can use for yourself because all the duties have been ‘done’.

Bite the bullet. Learn and apply some kind of personal planning system. In a sense you already do that, but it is ad hoc, disorganised and precisely not systematic. It is the opposite of what you require from other professionals – it is not ‘excellent’, considered, progressive or professional. Would you like your pilot to stick his feet up on the dashboard, take off when he feels like it, go where he wants? Would you want your doctor to guess what is wrong with you, or go through a considered and systematic diagnostic process? Would you like your optician to just give you her glasses – after all, if they work for her they can work for you, she’s the expert.

Systems work. If you work a system.

Go look one up. (Hint….. http://policetimemanagement.com )

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Overcoming Procrastination

Right, in 500 words, how to overcome procrastination.

Why do you procrastinate? Four reasons. 1. You don’t know what to do. 2. You know what to do but don’t know how. 3. You know what to do but fear doing it. 4. You know what to do but just don’t want to.

Cures.

  1. You don’t know what to do. There is no embarrassment in not knowing what to do. That’s what training is for! More often than not, people around you will acknowledge that a lack of training and/or experience is something that they, themselves have, er, experienced. Most people are willing to help, provided you time it right!
  2. You know what, but not how. There are resources aplenty in work and on the internet. I have recently got into the habit of doing my research for ‘things I don’t know’ through YouTube. Video instruction abounds! But you have colleagues, supervisors and whole departments that you can use as a resource to find out what you need to do. You ask if your computer isn’t doing what you want it to do – ask how other things work, as well.
  3. Fear – false expectation appearing real. You don’t fear doing, you fear failing. First of all, if you don’t do, you WILL fail. As Gary Player said, “I miss 100% of the shots I don’t try.” You fear making a mistake? We all do, that’s a common way of learning. You fear taking the time? Most people discover that ‘doing’ is a lot quicker than ‘not doing’, by some margin. In my book ‘Police Time Management’ I promote ‘Do It Now!’ as a motto that overcomes delay and improves productivity, because I discovered that putting things off means they build up for when I am REALLY busy – and as you are always REALLY busy you’re creating a rod for your own back by procrastinating when you need not. 10 pages just on that idea alone.
  4. You just don’t want to do it? You work in a service-orientated emergency-focused environment. The truth is that what you don’t want to do will always need doing, unfortunately. You really must accept that, and then use solution 3 to get past the immovable obstacle that ‘not wanting to’ creates.

To be frank, the only time procrastination works is when what you are expected to do – really shouldn’t be done at all. I’ll be frank. Such things are rare in policing. Every department thinks its priorities trump everyone else’s. but you can justifiably delay some truly useless stuff until you have a genuine ‘free’ hour to do the rubbish all at once – the PNC justifications, the follow-up RTC forms, the additional, purely procedural statement for a court case that’s still months away, and so on. But you must be good at assessing what you can delay, and for that reason my book also contains a chapter on making such an assessment.

Buy my book.

There – 500 words exactly. Bet you procrastinate counting them.

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Like it or not, investigators are Project Managers.

Are you investigating anything? If you’re a police officer or a civilian investigator then the answer is, “Of course I am, what else do you think I do all day?”. And what is an investigation? It is a project. A project, as defined by the Project Management Institute, is a ‘temporary endeavour with a start and finish undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.’ You can take up the semantics, but while the finish may be a court date or ‘never’, this definition applies.

But you’re not a Project Manager. You haven’t been trained to manage projects. Well, you have been told how to conduct investigations (a bit), but you haven’t had it put to you as a project – to which Project Management method can (to some degree) be applied. But I’m not going to do that here – this article is about why projects fail, and therefore what challenges you can expect in investigations and other police work.

The challenges are routine. They happen in all projects. They include but are not restricted to:

Lack of communication – over-reliance on immediate responses to e-mail for a start. We used to use the phone, and although we now have one at our hands all the time we still tend to communicate through a medium that invites delay. Not to mention that it creates a HUGE disclosure nightmare…… Clarity in demands is an essential skill.

Unrealistic timelines – everything in policing has an artificial, poorly considered deadline. All paper must be submitted by the end of a tour, even if it isn’t going anywhere else for 3 days over a weekend.

Too many competing priorities – there is a huge difference in prioritisation capability between the front line and a specialist department, but their approaches are pretty much expected to be the same.

Poor planning – precisely because there are too many priorities, managing them is a problem. Particularly as (my beef here) no one is taught how to manage them. They are just expected to do that.

It is true that we have Standard Operating Procedures, which outline actions that we undertake that smooth the flow – do this, then that, consider this, dismiss that, and so on. But these SOPs are a template within which the aforementioned challenges arise. No SOP can address every problem, and new problems create new SOPs for the next job, which creates its own challenges ad infinitum.

All that said, though, there are some things an individual can do to mitigate all the above challenges.

Communication – use the phone, backed up by other media. Set a task, explain the expectation, agree deadlines based on two-way communication and respect for each others’ needs. (Chapter 12)

Competing priorities – objectively look at the competing tasks and assess them properly. Use Must, Should and Could assessment, and act accordingly. And be willing to do those Coulds in the gaps between the Musts and Shoulds, when you can (as outlined in the book), because they never, ever go away. (Chapter 4)

Timelines – understand the systems within which the timelines exist and use that knowledge. Plan that ‘over the weekend’ paperwork for arrival in the post tray for Monday, if doing it on Friday is a challenge. (Chapter 11)

Planning – learn to manage your time. No one teaches this properly, so invest some time and money and learn some methods for ensuring you can do and be your best as much as possible. People who say, “I don’t have time” frequently do so while chatting at the proverbial water fountain. (Chapter 18 and all the others, too.)

And if you really want to delve more deeply, read about Project Management Method. You might find that doing so frees up time so you can spend a bit more stress-free time on Wants while getting the Musts (etc) done effectively and efficiently.

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“What’s the worst that could happen?”

A question often asked in jest – in fact, a question usually asked only in jest – but a valuable enquiry all the same. It’s a valuable time management question. It’s a valuable question because asking it produces answers, and those answers create the opportunity to plan in such a way and to such a degree that the worst doesn’t happen. Or, if it does, its effects are lessened.

In 2006 I went to my dentist and casually mentioned a swelling on my palate. He x-rayed it and sent it off. I was then summonsed to an oral surgeon who diagnosed a swollen saliva gland and said he’d cut it out to stop it becoming something nastier. He cut it out and arranged weekly visits to change the dressing left in the big ‘ole he left behind. For the next 3 weeks I dutifully attended, and afterone of those visits a colleague said to me, “Aren’t you worried it was something awful?”

I replied, “Never worry until you have to.”

At the third visit the doctor said a biopsy revealed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I had an appointment at the nearest cancer specialist hospital ‘next week’. He must have thought I wasn’t listening because I took it so well. Halfway down the hospital car park I felt my knees going. When I got back to the Major Incident Room set up for the force’s biggest ever murder enquiry I was deathly quiet, although no-one mentioned it. I went home and gave the news to my family. Understandably, there were tears. I also pondered the appointment ‘next week’, thinking ‘What’s the rush?’ and declining to consider the answer!

Then my time management persona kicked in. and I went back to ‘Never worry until you have to’.

My specialist visit allayed some of my concerns and treatment was successful. I only told one supervisor, because I hate the hushed tones that accompany such news if it becomes a ‘thing’. People actually whisper about colleagues’ life-threatening illnesses when they aren’t even there. Which is weird.

But I also made a ‘plan’ about any worst-case scenario, which included taking the view that if nothing else, I’d been given notice and could ensure that things I needed – and wanted – to do, got done. Which is quite cathartic.

Since then I have ‘suffered’ a few professional challenges, and on every occasion I have asked the question and considered the statements – “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “Never worry until you have to” and as a result I have made decisions and I have taken actions that have served me well. Others may disagree, but I have been content with, and dignified about the decisions I have made.

Those may be ‘ultimate’ situations where the question applies, but the same can apply to any circumstance within which you find yourself. It can apply to any incident, and if you ask it early enough you can even deal with the event quickly and effectively to the degree at which ‘worry’ isn’t even an issue.

In the Seven Habits it’s called ‘Begin with the End in Mind’, and this promotes consideration at the outset of any venture/event/incident/required decision as to what is needed and what could be done to get the outcome desired. It can even apply to Life, as discussed in Chapter 19 of my book.   

I don’t want to promote ‘worry’. But ask yourself this – “What do I want, when do I want it, so how will I make it happen?” Even if worry is the initiating factor, answering those questions can turn that worry into effective action. Which is far better, don’t you think?

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Self Respect and Time Management

I subscribe to an e-mail from a company marketing their wares as they pertain to time management and yesterday they sent me an email which opened, “Getting organized is a sign of self-respect.” That’s very much, in a nutshell, the raison d’etre for what I promote in this blog and m’book. Early work by Charles R. Hobbs, reproduced and expanded upon by Hyrum W. Smith and delved deeply into by Stephen R. Covey, reinforced the idea that being in control is a precursor to a life of reduced stress and heightened self-esteem. Therefore, one of the ways in which we can create and reinforce self-respect is to decide, here and now, that we will seek to be in control as much as we can within the reality that life represents, with its challenges, influences, experiences and – other people.

‘Self-respect is something that you possess when you believe you deserve it.’ Well, that is partly true. It is partly true in the sense that psychologically we are prone to putting ourselves down, but it is false in the sense that you can choose to respect yourself. You can decide that ‘you are worth it’, which means deciding to treat yourself properly. That means many things, and those ‘many things’ are included under the headings of self-leadership and self-management.

Once you choose self-respect you can also decide to ensure that, at the very least, you aren’t going to be the one to undermine it. You decide that what you do will be the best you can do for you, and that means living in accordance with your personal values (chapter 18), pursuing goals that represent and fulfil those values (chapter 19), and managing yourself in terms of how you spend your time in the framework of life (the rest of the book). Click one of the links, they all go to the same place. 😊

Whenever I see scruffy, I see a lack of self-worth. Even those who dress that way ‘cause it’s the trend are following rather than leading. There is a well-known YouTube video where a Special Forces Admiral promotes the idea of ‘just’ making your bed in the morning – because that first personal setting of a standard tends to endure through the rest of the day.

The same goes for a lack of punctuality – not when circumstances create lateness, but when it appears to be based around a lack of caring. You may think it doesn’t matter if you’re a ‘bit late’, but the person you’re disrespecting when you self-create delay thinks you don’t care about them, either. Your loved ones worry when you aren’t when you said you’d be. (Deliberate.) And tell the truth – how do you feel when someone you’re expecting, is late? Exackerly.

It is a fact of life that everything we do is a reflection of what we are. So an unplanned lifestyle, a poorly managed workload, a lack of workplace competence are (conditionally) reflections of a disorganised individual, and a disorganised individual demonstrates a lack of self-respect just as much as they demonstrate a lack of respect for others. I say conditionally because sometimes this (anagram) happens, but occasional, excusable, explainable mistakes happen. But when they happen all the time – like my dear friend who was always exactly 10minutes late for work and decried the idea he should leave ten minutes earlier – it reflects upon the party concerned.

It may seem unimportant – but one day it will bite you on the bum.

Self-respect demands and is served by self-organisation, and since training in the latter is not hard to come by it behoves you, the professional, to seek it out and apply it.

Because oddly, the organisation doesn’t seem to provide it for you.

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Responding Faster – has slowed us all down.

The world has changed, but it has also remained the same. Recalling the motto, “Everything we do, we do with, for, or because of someone else,” we have always relied on other people to help us get done what we feel has to (could be or might) be done. Always. But in the pre-internet days, we also happily accepted that everything needed time. Then along came e-mail, texting and other IT tools and we forgot. And in forgetting, we changed as much as our world did.

An example: Hyrum Smith told a story which rings so true, these days. He said, “When my grandfather missed a train, he waited a day until the next train. When my father missed a plane, he waited an hour or two for the next one. When I miss a section in a revolving door, I go NUTS!”

Isn’t that true? I sometimes find myself frustrated because Google is taking a whole second – a WHOLE one – to return with an answer to a query. An answer that thirty years ago would have required a visit to the local library, searching for the right book, chapter and page before going back home again. But now, if my ISP is slow and it takes a second, I feel the blood boiling.

Having been trained by the wonders of t’Internet to expect an immediate response to any query, we expect the same of people. If they haven’t returned your text immediately, what are the ignorant swines doing? If I haven’t received a reply to my e-mail within a day – why are you ignoring me; I’m important.

Coincidentally, we see the emergence of the term Mindfulness. (Not to mention everyone in the world has written a book about it.) This is the AMAZING and INSIGHFUL and NEW ‘science’ of – sitting and waiting. Of not getting caught up in the hustle and bustle that we created in the first place. Of being patient and allowing things to just ‘be’.

Like they were in the early 1980s, a time when we HAD time. Expectations were still based around getting everything done as quick as reasonably possible, but the timescales were days and weeks, not ‘by the end of the shift’. And the world got by quite well. Paradoxically, as we live in a world where a lot of IT-related guff is available NOW, and communication is almost instant, we also see demands massively increased, ‘demand timescales’ shrunk to ‘I want it now’, and what has happened?

Trials take three years to get to court. DUH!

As Jeff Goldblum put it in the film ‘Jurassic Park’ (the first one, which is the same as the other five but at least it was original), “We are so busy doing things because we can, that we never give any thought about whether we should.” Don’t get me started on how disclosure demands went from ‘reasonable lines of enquiry in the case at hand’ to ‘everything everyone has ever thought of, ever’.

Meanwhile your time management/self-management training consists of

No, that’s not a misprint. That gap represents the entire time management input anyone below the rank of Inspector has ever got.

In a nutshell, then – everyone wants everything now, so you have to provide it ‘now’, and because you have occasionally provided it ‘now’, everyone thinks ‘now’ is not only possible, but routine. Everything is a priority – and as a result, nothing is a priority. It all has to be done yesterday.

They’re wrong. There is a massive amount of management and leadership material saying so. But that’s the management literature no-one seems to be reading.

Read my book, or one like it, learn to manage yourself in the context of time, or time will continue to manage you. And there are enough supervisors around without adding time.

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Three Small Words That Make Life Easier.

“My name is David, I am an addict.” As a student of Stephen Covey’s wide-ranging and deep thinking on personal, interpersonal and organisational leadership I have a nasty habit, perhaps that of an investigator, of seeking to research behind the books, insofar as I have obtained copies of all his pre-7 Habits writing and historical copies of his company’s training materials. (I have temporarily banned myself from E-Bay following two rather costly purchases. But my collection is huge.)

The beauty of doing this research in the discovery of nuggets that were lost in later works, and this week was no exception. It wasn’t necessarily a hugely new nugget, but it was a hitherto unseen (by me) use of a metaphor which I thought bore some respect. It related to his tenet that the Compass is more important than the Clock, and the idea that where we are going is far more important than how quickly we get there. It was this.

When you’re out walking and using a (non-digital!) compass, you will be familiar with how the needle jiggles about. In my newest acquisition (a 1998 Facilitator’s Manual) Covey reminded the reader that when this happens the unthinking yet practical and sensible course of action taken by any rambler is to stop, and just stand still. To settle and be still for a moment while the necessary data is read, and a decision made. To Pause and Plan.

All too often, people – in particular police people – who are buffeted by the ‘now’, and who are therefore living from moment to moment in a permanent crisis mode, spend their time putting plasters on problems just to get through to the next challenge. This seems, in the moment, to be the appropriate thing to do, but all too often it is self-defeating. It doesn’t address the stress, it creates it. Just as you think you’ve solved a problem its nature changes, or an unconsidered element jumps out and shouts ‘AHA! You missed me!’ The problem re-asserts itself, but now with an added ‘you’re an idiot’ sub-plot.

Applying the simple, the profound, the decidedly common sense approach of Pause and Plan allows the exponent to stop, to take the time needed to consider ALL the issues and potential solutions, and to make a plan based on all available data, without emotion or self-imposed pressure.

And the Pause and Plan approach doesn’t just apply to this moment, the day’s challenges, the big project – it applies to your whole career, in fact your whole life. In my book Police Time Management I go into greater depth of the life plan idea but, for now, try this.

Plan your week. Look at all your appointments and projects for the next week using the Weekly Planner Page found HERE – I suggest the Landscape version. List the tasks you need to complete that you believe you must or should do, the ones which are truly important. That will include looking at appointments and considering things you need to plan in their respect, too. Once you have that overview of your week, focus as much of your effort as you can on making it come to pass. (If you have no appointments but a plethora of tasks, plan those tasks into the week as appointments, if you can.)

If you are challenged by events during that week, remember the motto – Pause and Plan. What is happening, what can you do about it, when do you need to do it, who can you ask to help you do it, what do you need to get it done. Only after the Pause, only after the Plan, should you start to act on what you decided.

Paus and Plan works for your life, your home, your career, your week, your day – and in the moment.

Try it.

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This post proved my point, by accident.

Oh dear. I’ve started trying an electronic To Do List. Why ‘oh dear’?

It’s a good little system – it’s Microsoft To Do adapted for Android but synching with my laptop, like OneNote but without the complications (unless I want them, in which case my assessment is that all the Microsoft doodads seem to do the same things – but not necessarily in the same order). I can create ad hoc tasks and I can schedule and/or repeat them. Great so far. When I started using it, at this point the only downside (for me) was the potential for empty space in the Task List section of my paper planner.

Now the downside I discovered later. The satisfying ‘Ping’ when ticking of a completed task. Okay, I could probably turn it off but it is the truly fun part, initiating a dopamine hit when it goes off several times a day.

But you see, the ping is the final part of the biggest problem with the electronic system. In order to hear the ping I have to pick up the device. Which means that for the average user the ping is the instigator of a sudden desire to check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, other apps I’ve never even heard of, the news, e-mails and every other thing that jumps to mind the instant you pick up your electronic device. Add that to the inevitability of going through that routine every time the device pings for each of the notifications you don’t turn off, and you spend an inordinate amount of otherwise useful time just looking at your phone. Go to any restaurant and count the numbers of phones on the tables or, worse, in the hands of people ‘socialising by ignoring’.

I’m no saint. I reach for the phone every ad break, when the telly plot loses interest for me, when something said makes me think, “oooh…..” and the answer lies on the plastic and metal that costs hundreds of pounds (even though you could argue that the materials couldn’t possibly justify that cost).

And I hate myself for it. Not to mention I genuinely believe that an ache I have in my right arm is directly related to its constant use to ‘fingerprint password enter’, and the prod and poke at the screen to find out that Kim is divorcing Kanye – I’m not interested but the news media are, for some reason, and it’s at the top of the page.

Worse, this constant diversion of attention has an add-on effect that I can’t concentrate for meaningful periods on things that deserve my focused attention.

Which begs the question. If that is true of devices – all devices – is it any wonder that police officers and staff have their focus affected by the devices they are now duty-bound to carry and use? Digital devices are wonderful inventions but the way they work has resulted in an inability to focus on detail. They invite ‘quick’ entries, and some of the pocketbook-type entries and ‘statements’ I used to receive beggar belief in their lack of detail and, dare I say it, evident lack of effort in creating them because they were never meant to be laptops! They are stopgaps which have been given a role to which they were never suited, and instead of using them as temporary storage for the odd note, they have become the go-to place for details BUT because they are fiddly to use – and oh-too-accessible – details are the one thing that don’t get entered. People write in/on them while still engaged in the conversation creating the need for the note – attention deficit ensues.

OH GOD, I JUST INTERRUPTED THIS BLOG FOR A WHATSAPP NOTIFICATION!!! DAAAAAMMMMMNNNNN.

I’ll keep at it for a while with the ToDo App, but I think it’ll be non-intrusive, non-pinging paper planning that will win out in the end.

What say you?

Try my Paper Planning System for One Month HERE at Amazon

Question Your Attitude Towards ‘Time Management’.

Attitudes to Time Management vary.

When I use this title, I am not referring to how people ‘see’ time management as a method, or technique, or as a great big pile of ‘new stuff to learn’.

No, what I intend to address here is more about people’s attitude towards whether or not they actually want to manage their time. I am going to analyse why it is people either don’t think they need to manage their time, or why they think that their time can’t be managed. The truth is, everyone needs to manage their time better, but many just don’t want to be told that. The suggestion that they need instruction in time management openly implies that they possess an inability to do what in their minds ‘should come naturally’ and they don’t like that. They are happy to be trained in their job, how to cook, or how to drive a car, but to many people time management is seen as an innate skill, even an instinct, and “I won’t / don’t need to be told how to do that!”

Your ability – or inability – to manage your time is affected by a plethora of circumstances, but if we were to identify specific situations where people find time management challenging, we would discover that they all come under one or more of five headings.

  1. Some situations are outside your control and you accept that, but in that acceptance they accidentally conclude that the inability to control some some circumstances goes on to apply to every circumstance;
  2. Some are controllable, but you simply won’t try because you think they can’t be controlled – in parallel with 1 above;
  3. Some aren’t controllable, but you mistakenly try, anyway, leading you to conclude that nothing can be controlled;
  4. Some are within your ability to control them, and you know it, but nevertheless you don’t even try;
  5. But most of all you love the ones you think you can control, and you are controlling them – but it doesn’t occur to you to control the things you don’t like.

Heavy, I know.

The objective of my book ‘Police Time Management’ is to increase the number you can and do control (bring 2 and 4 under 5); to manage your attitude and response to the ones you can’t (improve your understanding of 1 and 3); and to stop wasting your time trying to control the impossible.

AND THIS IS IMPOTRTANT!

All of the advice in that book applies just as much to your personal life as it does your working life.

I encourage you to think about that, deeply. I firmly believe what you would learn by reading that book to everything in your life. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, we don’t live compartmental lives any more thanks to the smartphone, but we nevertheless still insist on thinking that we do. But the main reason I think it applies across the work/personal divide is because of the choices we make.

We choose our work – we apply for a job, fill out the form, complete silly answers to odd questions, maybe do a presentation, certainly undergo the ordeal of an interview, and then we get it. And then the job changes, things happen we didn’t expect, systems change, people change, laws change, the work gets harder and more prolific, we aren’t retrained and we get fed up with what we used to love.

But we also choose our lives, to an extent. Our ‘old’ family is set for us, but our friends, life-partners and our social lives are essentially a matter of choice (or not choosing but just accepting). Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) hit the nail on the head when he suggested that life isn’t about ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ – it is about relationships. Or to put it my way, everything we do – and I mean everything – we do for someone, with someone or through someone.  A lot of the time, we do all three things – we do something for, with and through other people all at the same time.

Everything in our lives – what we do, how we get what we have, how we behave – can have time management principles applied to it if we want to be at our most effective. And as personal time management can be affected by many criteria, it means our whole lives are affected by the same criteria.

What are those criteria, then?

  • Expectation – we have duties but we also make personal commitments which give rise to expectations in others, just as we expect others to do what we require of them.
  • Communication and miscommunication – how and what we communicate affects our ability to perform, just as it affects others’ ability to perform for us.
  • Interruptions (phone people) – the immediacy of the mobile phone has inadvertently enabled people to think it’s okay to interrupt other peoples’ conversations.
  • Priorities – we have priorities, those around us have priorities, and no-one thinks that everything being a priority means that nothing is a priority.
  • New systems, protocols and procedures – when you change a system, the training and changes to the old system have a time impact that is rarely taken into account.
  • Expanding responsibilities – the more you take on, imposed or elective, requires improved ability to manage everything.
  • Lack of practical training – a lot of what people need to know is now just ‘expected’. For example, is your ability use a computer now just assumed?
  • Lack of meaningful support – other peoples’ busy-ness means that they aren’t available to help as much as they used to be.
  • Values misalignment – what you think is important and requires passion, may not be approached in the same way by someone whose interests and focus lie elsewhere.
  • Unexpected responsibilities – surprise, you have a new role (no training, support, extra time or money available, sorry).

The challenge is not that these things shouldn’t happen. It is that they are facts of life. A lot of what we think is an annoying obstacle to our lovely and peaceful existence is, in fact, perfectly normal, and it is our response to it rather than the event itself that causes our stress. We think we can’t manage things, but the truth is, as indicated in the first paragraphs of this section, we choose not to manage things when we could, or we fail to learn how to manage things because we don’t want to or don’t know how to.

Proactivity and Time Management Methods are the answer. Or an effective part of it, anyway.

Find a good book about it, and apply what it suggests.

Use a personal diary for your policing planning? Then read this – it’s important.

Please note that while the following has been drafted following consultation with the Information Commissioners Office, it is to be taken as the opinion of the author alone.

I have always promoted using one planning system for everyhing – work and personal, and when I was in the job I did exactly that. (Before you panic, my method is explained later and was fine.) Then I was walking my dog one morning, mulling a debate I’d started about time management and peoples’ silly habits and it occurred to me that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) might influence what we are, what we could be, what we can’t be and what we should be, doing – or at least considering – when using a personal diary for both personal and work planning. Turned out to be an interesting question.

When David Allen wrote ‘Getting Things Done’, and when Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Barbara Merrill wrote ‘First Things First’, things were different. Hardly anyone had a home PC. Mobile telephony consisted of call, texts and that snake game. Data Protection (in Europe) existed but didn’t apply to paper. And regardless of the legal requirements, 99% of the World wouldn’t have understood the applicable data rules in any case.

This situation had two effects. Firstly, no one thought that keeping work stuff and personal stuff separate was necessary, so the aforementioned authors’ suggestion that you possess ONE system for everything in your life wasn’t a problem. But secondly and in contrast, there was a distinct divide between work and home, so if you worked regular hours and had a separate work diary, it wasn’t that much of an issue. Back in 1999/2000 you walked out of one world and entered the other as directed. The boundaries were clear, and so the distinct activities could safely go into one system or two systems (provided you carried them both).

But it’s 2022, now, and you are routinely available 24/7 to work or family regardless of where you actually are and what you are actually doing. So the argument now must be that the most effective self-planning method IS to have one planning system. That way, double-booking yourself is avoidable, and having one or two To Do Lists covering everything was better than having half a dozen, surely?

But along comes GDPR – never mentioned in time management/productivity tomes – and suddenly one system containing everything has the potential to become a legal problem. If I keep work-related personal data in a personal system, would I breach the law? And if I keep personal stuff on a work computer, would I be laying my employer open to a fine for inappropriate retention of data they should never hold, and which they didn’t even know they were holding?

(Experts on GDPR – I know there are exemptions and defences, but I’m being general, here.)

Before I continue, please note that GDPR only relates to personal data – basically, data from which an individual can be identified. Your own data? Well, you can consent to putting it wherever you like. Data that doesn’t or couldn’t identify someone also can be placed, stored and fiddled with anywhere. But if you put work-related appointments into your diary and name the person with whom you have that appointment (and personal onto work systems) – well, where do you stand?

(The next couple of paragraphs are a bit deep, but stick with it. Or jump straight to the numbered paragraphs for the recommended practice without the legalese.)

I made an enquiry with the Information Commissioner’s Office to find out. I asked:

  1. What, if any, are the rules/guidance regarding use of a personal system (predominantly paper but stretching to personal mobile devices) for work related planning?
  2. I believe there was a time when paper-based systems were exempt from DP rules. I also believe that changed in/after 1998 but wonder if you could confirm the specifics applicable at this time.

Basically, I was concerned that (for example) putting an appointment in a personal planning system (digital or paper) with an ‘identified party’ might be a breach of GDPR. I wasn’t concerned about other documentation – that would already be covered by GDPR and could be added and removed from a paper system as required. (As opposed to me printing a file and keeping it for ever, for example. Not recommended or allowed.)

The ICO responded that “GDPR covers the processing (obtaining, holding, using or dissemination) of personal data in two ways:

  • Personal data processed wholly or partly by automated means (that is in electronic form); and
  • personal data processed in a non-automated manner, which forms part of or is intended to form part of a ‘filing system (that is, manual information in a filing system)’ (but see Public authorities, post)

My initial interpretation of this paragraph was that

  • A digital planning system, is always covered by GDPR. So using a personal digital system e.g. mobile device, for recording personal data that was obtained for work purposes may be inadvisable, even potentially in breach of DP laws – though not automatically. It depends on whether there are suitable controls – see post.If it’s a device provided by your workplace, it’s already covered by your employer’s GDPR responsibilities.
  • But your personal paper planning system, as it is NOT intended to be part of a filing system, is arguably exempt from GDPR.

However, I still had one concern, so I called the local ICO office and queried whether a personal planning system of the FranklinCovey/Daytimer/Filofax et al type would be a filing systems since it is searchable by dates, indexes, etc. That resulted in a “I’ll need to do further research” and a further telephone conference.

The conversation was very interesting, helpful and informative. The following advice is the result of that call. It pertains, in the main, to a paper-planner user, but is equally applicable for all you young digi-lovers.

The ICO did suggest that if you used your personal planner (paper) for work planning, then it could come under the ‘filing system’  definition under very unspecific, case-by-case circumstances, and it will always come under GDPR if you work for a public authority, whether it’s organised or not. But only in respect of personal data, not everything!

They also stated that one test for establishing whether your paper personal planner should be GDPR compliant is called the Temp Test. The question is: If you disappeared, could a temporary employee easily find personal information in your planner without having to read it all the way through? They stated that a purely chronological diary would probably escape GDPR scrutiny because the information is only organised chronologically. Which meant that…

A planner of the FranklinCovey/Daytimer/Filofax etc type, with the facility to index conversations and effectively create a ‘master retrieval’ system (if you wanted it to) would need to be GDPR compliant if used for planning work, if that planning included the recording of personal data. If you had a training course and planned that, no problem. If you had a meeting with James Bland, tel 01234 56789 in his home at 123 High Street, Sleaford – then you are now recording personal data, for work, in a personal planner.

In essence their advice would be to treat any personal data as though it was covered. (This is the case when any planner is being used for work purposes, regardless of whether it’s covered. If its use is purely domestic, it won’t be in scope of DP laws.)

They also stated that “the UK GDPR does NOT necessarily prohibit using a personal planning system for this (work-related planning) but it is important there are controls and policies in place to govern this.” Those controls include having a policy in the workplace for using a personal planner for work purposes, so that the employee can use their personal planner in accordance with that policy.

(This creates a personal privacy, ‘who owns the planner?’ question that is too big for this article.)

Finally, the Information Commissioner’s Office felt that there was also a common sense approach to the situation, and following that discussion this is my advice, and it is a practice I used when I was policing and using a personal paper planning system (and which therefore should have been subject to a data policy!).

  1. Use a loose-leaf system so relevant paper can be added and removed, so that it can be removed and filed where it is legal and appropriate to file it, once it is finished with. Don’t keep it in your personal system longer than needed. Your possession of it in your capacity as an employee is obviously permitted, but if it’s in your personal planner, remove it once it is no longer necessary to hold onto it.
  2. Refer to individuals by initials or, perhaps better but more fiddly, a code name. That way their data is technically either untraceable, or just plain impossible to compromise.
  3. List appointments in pencil so you know they are coming, but erase them once they’ve taken place, after which what you did is entered into your ‘work’ system anyway. For example, I would make an appointment with a witness ‘FB’ at whatever address and telephone number, and enter it into my planner in pencil. Once I’d taken their statement, I’d erase that entry and the relevant paperwork would go into the GDPR-registered and compliant systems at work. The ICO considered this a sensible and, more importantly, practical approach. I would add that the temporary nature of such an entry is prima facie evidence it was never intended to be a permanent record for filing or retrieval.
  4. Avoid detailing what the appointment is about. It really isn’t necessary to note that in a personal planner.
  5. Don’t use your personal mobile phone for work planning if that planning includes retention of personal data, unless your employer authorises and is aware of the practice.
  6. Paper or digital, make sure your employer knows you’re using your personal system in this fashion so that they can create a policy around it.

Of course, all of this means that you now have to return to the question of  whether you need  separate planning systems for work planning and for personal planning, but my reading of the rules, following consultation, seems to suggest you won’t need two systems if you go paper and follow the six suggestions, above. But if you work in a public capacity, your paper planning system is always covered by information rights laws.

Of course, Someone else might take a different view – let’s hear it, but with authoritative references, please.

And I would also be very interested in hearing about your thoughts on what, if anything, this means for paper planning in the 21st century.

The ICO advice on ‘filing systems’ can be found at https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1592/relevant_filing_systems_faq.pdf