It’s all about the conversation…and when to stop

This week has been a ‘noisy’ week – a week filled with meetings, conversations and discussions.  Mostly valuable and worthwhile, some even enjoyable in a work context, but nevertheless a lot of interactions.
Team meetings with teams, catch up meetings with Supervisors, catch up meetings with line managers, Resources and Facilities meetings, project meetings about refurbishments.
Meetings about communications.
Ad hoc discussions about library systems, about IT helpdesk systems, about repairs to ceilings, about training .
PDR meetings – discussing how staff feel about their progress and development – what they would like to do in the future, about what works and doesn’t work.
Conversations with students.
External events at other universities with discussions about new systems and what we need to develop in the future to provide excellent customer service for our students.
The conversations in passing with staff in my team or other teams, conversations as staff drop by my office and its open door.
Telephone calls and conversations.  Email conversations.  Social media conversations.
And then finally today, a day without planned meetings and quietly closing my office door and stopping to think what needs doing…and settling down to do it.
It’s easy to say that it’s important to manage your time and your calendar, and to plan effectively and have a task list and be productive and stop doing some things and prioritise.  But in reality, unless we are at the top of the management structure in our organisation, our calendars seem to have a life of their own.  Also as we all have to work in a more flexible and reactive way, it’s important to shuffle things around and fit in when we can.
For me in my role, I have quite a wide and varied remit.  I’m involved in joint initiatives and projects and liaising with different teams.  My team is responsible for front line, first line services and dealing with customers and their enquiries.  It is why I like my job.
But it is important to find some time to concentrate and I have to make a conscious effort to do this because I’m efficient at multi-tasking (if there is such a thing) and rapid task changing and skimming across the surface of what needs doing.  I’m solution driven so my default way of working is to look at a situation and find the quickest, most straightforward way of resolving it.  But is this the most productive and efficient way – or the best way for me as far as my thinking and reflecting is concerned?  Probably not…so it is work in progress to find more of those quiet Fridays to change the way I work and take a step back from the conversations.

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Meetings and meeting people

One of the exciting aspects of starting a new job is meeting new people. Over the last month I have met lots of new people and been to lots of meetings.  As far as meeting new people in a work environment is concerned it can be overwhelming and I think you have to take on board the fact that you are not going to remember everyone and will have to follow it up later.  One way that I have tried to do this is by making a quick note of people’s names and then looking them up later. Or asking them if it would be alright to drop them an email in the following few days.  Email makes it so much easier to follow people up as you can usually find them in the institutions global email address book even if you were not quite sure of their name.  It also helps that it will have their department so for instance if you meet someone who you know is from Registry or Chemistry but didn’t quite catch their name you can go and look up their department and job title and track them down. You have to be pro active to some extent and make the most of the fact that you are new and can ask people if they want to meet for a coffee/ chat/ update because you’re interested in what they do or would appreciate their advice etc. I’m getting better at this than I would have been in the past although I’ve only realised this  on reflection as I’ve done it without thinking. You have to be careful not to put your foot in it and work out whether someone is going to be happy to talk to you or going to be too busy or important but with a bit of care, it works.  At least if you are new and make a faux pas you’ve got a good excuse being new. I have been very fortunate in that everyone at University of Edinburgh has been very kind, helpful and friendly. I have also met some very interesting people who are efficient and clever which appeals greatly.
I’ve been to quite a few formal and informal meetings. At the start I was invited to meetings in order to talk about our part of the overall project. The Student Information Points are a small part of the Enhancing Student Support project. At first I talked in general terms about what we were hoping to do and how we envisaged it would work. As time has gone on it has been possible to start feeding back on our progress and give information of the current situation and further developments.  The more practice you get with meetings the better and I have become more experienced especially over the last 5 years. Every institution, organisation, committee, group does it slightly differently. Sometimes it is very formal and people speak through the chair, sometimes it is a free for all. You have to work out who are the most important people either by rank or by stake in the project or group. Sometimes there are minutes, sometimes notes and sometimes it s up to you to take your own. The more experience you have then the easier it is to work out the system and pattern that is being used. I tend to prepare a set of notes in advance of what I could say if asked or if I have already been asked to contribute, I’ll take a summary sheet with me. You don’t necessarily have to use them but its good to have. It gives some structure and generally makes a better impression.