Last week I just came back from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference in Perth. If, over the last couple of months, you've been lucky enough to have gone to a conference, you might have noticed how you're not exactly the same person as you enter and leave each wedge of time in your calendar, and even over the course of a conference event who you are changes subtly. There's always that last-minute rush to get things sorted before you enter travelling and networking mode, a shift of mental gears as you watch the presentations, maybe making the occasional call in the breaks to catch up on business, the scramble to fit in some of your unusual routine before and after the day's programme… Because we take a different set of technology with us on the road, there are some things we can do and some things we can't, or at least things that can be done with a lot of extra effort. Then there is the diffuculty of finding a good Wi-Fi signal, a power point, or possibly a chair in a quiet spot with access to both.
Seasoned conference goers have mastered this art. There are a couple of rules here. One is "attend all parties", another is take some time out to reboot at some stage and to keep your energy levels up. There are always expectations that we have about what we going to get out of the event, disappointment that we didn't meet certain people, or get to certain presentations. I think it's partly because we're so busy the rest of the time and partly because conference event is an opportunity to be something different to how we are normally at work.
I think that there is something to be learned from people like politicians or high level business executives about how to move seamlessly through all the roles that they take up and leave during each moment of each day. These people have a lot of pressure on their time, but who doesn't these days? You'd have to be very lucky to have a personal assistant to help you make the most of your time, but I do think there are some mental strategies that they seem to have which the average worker, if there is one these days, can take into daily working life. One is to have some sort of name or 'personna' for the different role associated with each phase in your working day, working week and over the year. There is parent mode, perhaps 'road warrior', business as usual, opportunity seeker, coping and recovery, party time ….. Each of these phases, modes, roles or whatever you would call them asks us to be excellent to different things. Here are some examples:
1. "Road warrior" asks us to be disciplined about the use of mobile phones while travelling, to remember our chargers for mobile IT, to take money, to be aware of personal safety, and not leaving things behind.
2. "Parent mode" reminds us that we are whole people with families and partners who have questions and want support behind the scenes, often at inconvenient times
3. "Business as usual" assumes that there are some steady-states, a normal day which starts and finishes at a certain time, a day which allows us to have coffee at our favourite shop, expect certain activities, to achieve certain things.
4. "Opportunity seeker" for me is like a learning mode, where I'm looking for something novel, reading to learn something, a bit like going to a trade show
5. "Coping and recovery time" can be as simple as sitting down for a coffee, but it can be quite bizarre like meditating on trains (believe me, you can do this!)
6. "Party time" is time to disconnect from reality a little and get into fun mode.
As we shift into holiday mode, we all let go of some of the roles that we don't need over January. My mission now is to make sure that I have a good fix on how I can do my best in each of these modes when 2014 kicks in sometime after New Year!