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Posts Tagged ‘projects’

the lockdown log 70


Another one of those weeks when the scales were unkind. I had been fairly good on food intake and Monday through Wednesday had been very physical days where I ought to have been burning off the calories. I was feeling good and had been boosted by getting into a pair of 42 waist trousers for the first time in probably 12 or more years. It was looking good for the weigh-in until I got on the scales and they tried hard to take back the half kilo that I had lost last week. In the end they timed out showing the same as last week.

I responded to this by having a silly day and eating things that I should not have had, but then remorse kicked in and I am going to have a sensible week. At least I am for now…

Work is still getting the best side of me and I try to do the best that I can there, but I have been goofing off a bit outside of work and need to get a grip on some of the things that need doing around the house and garden.

I am also still having technical issues with blogging and have not yet managed to sort out my preferred device despite having spent a couple of lengthy sessions trying to resolve things. Another frustration that I can do without at the moment, but never mind. I can still rely of the old beast that I am writing the on albeit that Jingles, one of our rescue cats, has taken to spending her afternoons sleeping on the keyboard.

Anyway, just a quick offering this week and I will try to do better next time.

Stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 69


This time last year major progress was being made in the deck refurbishment and extension and so it is depressing me slightly that, having achieved so much in the last twelve months, I am not finishing off the last parts of that grand plan. It is all silly things; some days it has been so hot that the paint would have dried on the brush even if the blizzard of Silver Birch seeds had not been falling. It is frustrating to be so close, two or three afternoons should do it, but not being able to get on with it.

General maintenance jobs keep me busy whilst trying to not spend more than about 30 minutes at a time out there in the heat. I do still have two foxes lurking around the neighbourhood, but they are not digging everything up now so what we have left in the way of plants are beginning to thrive. I have one cucumber and several tomatoes coming along in the greenhouse and we have had a few strawberries, tayberries and raspberries although those crops have been disappointing this year. We’ve also had a lot of salad leaves of varying sorts, but those are pretty much done now.

The scales gave me another half kilo off this week, so 106.5 and heading, slowly, the right way. I have gone past 1500 miles walked so far this year and am thinking about going back to afternoon exercise walks to supplement the calory burn. The target of 100 kg is still there taunting me, but can I get to, or beyond, it? This last week I have been feeling a bit weird each evening as I go to start organising dinner and have put this down to having had much less for lunch that usual. I have felt better once I have eaten my evening meal even if, for most of the last week, that has been a salad with some form of protein; blackened chicken one night, crab on another for example. What do I want most; to eat or to lose more weight? Only I can answer that one and I just need to channel my obsession down the right path.

With some dud weather coming up for the weekend I am trying to plan a few jobs that I can do under cover, but I have a feeling that I will end up lazing about doing nothing in particular. A couple of days of “I can’t be bothered” won’t do me any harm and might just allow me a bit of thinking time to plan a few things. It looks as though the salads will be off the menu and I might have to do a bit of cooking again. That will keep me amused, but proximity to food sources for an hour or so will test my will power.

At work we are still masked up and I am still wearing my mask when I go shopping as are most other people as far as my own observations are concerned. Despite what the media have been spouting about empty shelves I have not seen one myself and there seems to be plenty of stock about. I often wonder if the problem is actually a surplus and stories of shortages are spread to encourage overbuying…

I hope that you are not suffering shortages of supplies and that you can stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 64


There are days when I am very low and this is one of them. I hurt in all sorts of places and, for one of them, in ways that I am not familiar with and am therefore slightly bothered by the unusual sensations. It is easy to joke about; “If I had known that I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself” sort of thing, but feeling physically crap does tend to drag the mind down with it.

It is probably no more than that I overdid things on the previous two days when it was hot and I was trying to get as much done before the promised severe weather arrived. As it happens our bit of the UK did not get any severe weather at all, just a light breeze and a bit of rain so I need not have pushed so hard. I forget sometime that I am in the fag end of my sixties and, although I do take more precautions and care than I did even ten years ago things do tend to take their toll.

My malaise is therefore self-inflicted and I shall just have to let it pass. I am being bloody minded about it and have not reached for the paracetamol. I will see how I feel come bedtime and maybe take a couple then if I think that they might help me sleep, but I think that I am likely to be so tired that I will not even want to lie in bed and read for an hour as I usually do.

I have got a lot done in the garden as referred to above and there is some satisfaction in that even if it has come at a price. Progress is very visible now and the vison that I had eighteen months ago is starting to become a reality. There is still a lot to do, but it will keep me amused for months to come.

Stay safe wherever you are.

the lockdown log 62


It has been another week that has just flown by and it hardly seems possible that it is Thursday again, but the date at the top of the newspaper is about the only thing left in the media that I believe at face value so it must be true.

Life with my fox family continues and every time that I think that I have built a decent defence they find a way around it. We seem to have lost one of the quartet, but I still see the other three youngsters on a regular basis and mum occasionally. The latter’s continuing presence comes more in the regular stashes of dead pigeon that she leaves for the kids and now that I have so many of the old locations covered up she just leaves them on the lawn.

My daily regime with these visitors is to go around with a black bag and my picker-upper and clear food debris and rubbish that they have left around (they love toys and steal dog’s balls, squeaky toys and such from other gardens) and the go around and hose off the mess that comes from the other end of the animals. They have no sense of potty training and barely break stride to leave ley another deposit, often right outside the back door. This takes me about 30 minutes and is getting boring.

All of my neighbours have turned their front and back gardens over to patios, astroturf, gravel or similar and ours is the only one with flower beds and tubs so the foxes, whilst living under sheds in neighbouring gardens, get to dig in ours.

aAnt over and on to other topics. My garden labours have slowed a little because I am waiting for one of my neighbour to replace the shared fence. He said that this would be done by the end of May, but as yet there is no sign of action and I can’t do some of the things that I want to do until he sorts it out. I have managed to cut away the rotten sections of my old deck and replace them so that is another job crossed off the list.

I have, to some degree, lost my motivation for getting the garden done and I think that the fox problem may be at the heart of that, but I’ll not go back to them right now. I do need to find something that will get me going again though.

Tomorrow might be a good point in that we are going out to lunch for the first time since way before lockdown. In fact the last time that we ate out was probably in Florida in October 2018, so hopefully it will be a treat. We are going to a restaurant in the hinterland north of Reading which we have been to a few times before, The Berkshire Belle is doing her usual “I don’t want to go” thing, but that is just her and I am used to it now.

It will not be a lunch that is in any way slimming and I have been trying to cut down this week to allow a bit of a blow out. My greenhouse activities have provided various lettuce and cress to bulk out my wraps and sandwiches and I have, this week, had my first salad for lunch. The end of June will be one year since I started my diet and whilst I have slipped somewhat over the last 6 months I am going to have a weigh in at the end of the month just to see what the damage is and maybe that will help to re-focus me.

Stay safe out there wherever you are.

the lockdown log 61


I have had a week off and, most days, have been working on various projects. Some of that seems to have told on me physically as I have a lot of muscular pain around the right side of my rib cage that may be due to lots of sawing amongst other things.

The weather has still not been too kind and that has curtailed things a little, but I have invested in a cordless circular saw and so that means that I do not have to run a power cable around from the garage to the back garden for many of the jobs I have on the list. On days with random showers it is a nightmare having to keep reeling it in.

The foxes are starting to roam and seem to spend the odd night on the loose, but were back the other nights and had their most destructive session yet. It is heartbreaking to see so much laid to waste. This morning I found a dead fox, probably from last year, when lifting a couple of rotting deck boards so had to dispose of that and one, or more, of the current crop is a bit loose in the bowel regions and I also had a lot of hosing down to do. All good fun (not).

It has seemed strange not going into work, but I am still getting up at 5 am as normal and have been out in the garden working on the quiet jobs most days by 7. Two door down are having an extension built and so as soon as their crew start work I get my power tools out and join in with the cacophony. I am into some of the more complex jobs at the moment and so there is the mental challenge of working out how best to do things and, sometimes, getting it right first go. There is the usual problem of nothing being the same level, length or square, but it all keeps me amused.

I have finally taken the plunge and planted out my hanging baskets, That has given me some space in the greenhouse which is welcome and I am trying to pot up some of the seedling that I first put in there a couple of months ago. I have been a bit lax in keeping notes on what I have done and when so I may have to rely on memory if I do it again next year.

For over a week now I have avoided the scales. Naughty, but mentally I have not been too good and have not wanted to know in case the news is not good. As I have said here throughout these scribblings I like the ostrich principle and work on the basis that what I don’t know will not bother me. I apply this to much of the news too, but the Berkshire Belle is an avid reader and only has me to share with so I get it all pored over me on a daily basis. I act like a sponge and soak it up because she needs to vent her feelings, but often knowing things that I have been avoiding drags my mental state down. One day this week I just had to tell her that I didn’t want to talk about a certain subject and I left the room; I could not take it.

Today we were going to go to a craft fair and have a rare day out, but we bottled it and stayed at home. It is odd, but our reasons were slightly different; she loathes all of the Covid regulation, even though she knows that it is sensible. Things like one way systems, mask wearing, having your temperature taken and so on take all of her pleasure away whereas I accept all of that stoically. My reason for backing out of today was that there had been more overnight rain locally and the thought of trekking through wet grass plus the risk of getting stuck where other idiots who cannot drive on such surfaces without chewing them up would make life difficult for us all.

Little things tend to become big things and this week I ended up with so many things that required a trip into town that I finally took the plunge and did it. It took up an afternoon, but, despite my fears, all of my errands were completed. I find that there are so many things that, these days, I tend to put off whereas a few years back I took on all comers with little bother. I have flown into countries like Columbia, Libya and China to work without batting an eyelid and let a trip into town to run some errands took more out of me. It must be age creeping up on me. Perhaps it is just that I am out of practice.

I made lamb burgers for lunch today, but elected not to fire up the BBQ and cooked them in the pan on the hob as the sky was looking very black. When I have finished this I am off to do a few outside jobs and then back into the kitchen to make a chicken and leek pie for dinner tonight. Anything to keep busy and stop my mind wandering off into areas that I don’t want it going off to.

If you have plans for this weekend, a Bank Holiday here in the UK and Memorial Day weekend in the US then I hope all goes well for you. I shall be looking out for the Indy 500 on whatever medium I can find to follow it from afar, but I hope that things hold up for you and you have a great time.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on diminishing returns


I should start by saying that I have often been assessed over my management career and have rarely, if ever, been classed as a Completer Finisher. That fact may colour what follows, but stay with me.

Regular readers of these musings will know that I am a fan of the Pareto principle in the sense that you can get 80% of the results with 20% of the effort and it is something that I have employed often over the years, especially in planning where you can get to a point that you have so much information that the answer is obvious, so give up and go with what you have.

This is the principle of Diminishing Returns; you have done well, but to continue will not yield the same productivity so stop there and move on.

It is not something that you should do every time. Take, for example, installing some plant where you will still get 80% there with 20% of the effort, but you do need to spend the other 80% effort to finish the job. I think that surgeons apply the same principle. or at east I hope that you will should they ever operate on me.

The point is knowing when to give up. Planning is a problem partly because people like planning. It is comfortable and you are not actually doing anything. The desire to get everything perfect is understandable, but there comes a point where you have to say go or you risk being late in delivering that which you are planning and too many times I have been lumbered with leading a project where the planning has not only gone past the necessary start date, but has also been so far out that the end date is hopelessly wrong. No plan survives first contact, so do your best and get cracking.

Another area of procrastination is in the bid process. There will be a deadline for submission of tenders and that will almost always be too optimistic anyway. You do your due diligence and costing and get the proposal written, but there will always be an element in the team who want to keep tweaking and adding. I remember once being drafted in on the last day before a tender submission for a French company. The bid had to be in French and the commercial translator had been booked to put our English into French, but their engagement ended 48 hours before the tender was due because it was to be printed in multiple copies and sent by courier across the Chanel.

Our team decided that they wanted last minute changes and would send the documents over with one of our team on the morning of the due date. Eurostar would have them in Paris in time they said and duly wrote their revisions, but overlooked that the translator had moved on to another job for another client. That was why I was there, although people’s faith in my technical French was touching to say the least, but I finished the changes late that evening, printed off the pages and rebound the bid documents before starting the drive to Ashford where I was due to meet our man who was taking the documents over.

About ten minutes after midnight the ‘phone in my car rang; “John? I’ve got some more changes…”

Despite it all we won that bid and were very pleased to do so, but there was no need; the client was only looking at price and delivery. They had already made their minds up that it did not matter which of their short list got the job as we were all capable. All of that stress and last minute polishing was just a waste of time and effort.

These things are a judgement call, but there needs to be strong leadership to sense when the moment has come to stop and move on, then to make that call and change tack.

on gardening and leadership


Like many of us in lockdown, or seclusion as some overseas are calling it, I am spending more time in my garden than I probably would have done, although, for me, I am still working on a project that was conceived around the time that Covid-19 was taking hold in China and we were still in blissful ignorance of what was about to descend on the world.

Gardening gives you time to think and one of those random thoughts that have passed through my grey cells as I have been weeding and pruning is how much of what I have been doing in my front and back yards ties in to the leadership lessons that I have learned down the years.

It may seem odd that such solitary activities give rise to thoughts of leading, but one of the crucial talents that a leader needs is self discipline. Without that it is easy to lose focus and drift off track. In the business world you are dealing with customers, suppliers, competitors and regulators who create a dynamic environment much of which you cannot control despite any effort to influence it. The expression juggling chainsaws is a little extreme, but is not far off the mark at times and the person at the top of the team needs to be watching, evaluating, re-calculating, delegating, motivating, monitoring, planning and driving. Focus is essential.

Out in the garden things may seem more relaxed with just you and the vegetation, but that is an illusion to some degree for the equivalent of your business marketplace is nature and she never sleeps. Weeds are just plants that you don’t want and they are usually the most successful. They are resilient because they are left to evolve to their strengths; they compete to survive. Cultivated plants are much weaker as they are bred for other things and they need much more care to enable them to survive and flourish. The slugs, snails and aphids all ignore my weeds, but will destroy the stuff that I have spent my hard earned cash on in hours. Leadership 101 really; life is not fair and shit happens.

Tending to the garden requires planning, but also the ability to church the lan out of the window tom deal with the unexpected. Take weather. You check the forecasts (two or three at least) to get a feel for what is coming up. Like any business forecast the data will get less robust the further away you move, but, also like in business, the forecasts rarely agree exactly and you plan on worst case or maybe averaging the predictions depending on what you have in mind. What you get is rarely what you expect and you make do with what you get (sound familiar; sales forecasts anyone, or maybe delivery dates?).

Looking after a garden also means a lot of boring drudgery work, but you have to do it. Time management is all over this. You set aside maybe half an hour do do some pruning or weeding, but once you start you find something else and, if you are not focused you are still at it an hour later to the detriment of something else and you are on the back foot as far as getting what you planned for the day done. Pruning is a case in point for me as last week I decided to tackle the ivy growing over from next door where it has wrecked one of my fence panels. The plan was to strip the ivy, pull out what was left of the old panel and replace it with a new one that has been sat there since last year (when I was planning on doing it, but got distracted…). It should have taken me about 15 minutes to strip enough ivy to do the job, but an hour and a half later the Berkshire Belle was at the back door enquiring when I planned to cook her dinner; I had almost cleared the length of the fence.

These mindless tasks are a minefield for me. Sometimes I get bored immediately, give up and move on to something else which leaves a problem getting worse (and needing more time when I do get around to it), but at other times I get into the groove with my eyes and hands working on their own whilst my mind wanders off into, well anything really. I have to really work hard at keeping on track and it is an area where a leader’s followers need to pick up the tone because if they see you wandering off track where do you think that they will go? Do what needs doing and if that is not what you had planned then be sure you understand why you are changing tack and when you need to be turning back onto a course to recover.

I do. not mean to imply that gardening is a high stress environment, but then neither is leadership all of the time and when you have either activity under a modicum of control then both can be quite relaxing and certainly both will give pleasure. In that last sentence the key word is probably control. Whilst many of us get an element of pleasure from the gang-ho antics of firefighting and a good panic now and again can be fun in the aftermath, being in control is far better.

I will be back in the garden later weaving the essential periodic maintenance tasks into my various projects that make ups the overall strategy and doing my best to keep it all on track using the resources that I have whilst staying within my budget. Sound familiar?

the lockdown log 49


It has been a heavy week. The skip that I ordered on Tuesday arrived the next day and is now pretty much full. Three or four hours every day have seen a lot of progress and the garden, garage and my upstairs office all show signs of improvement and I am almost at the point where I can start to disassemble the old shed (some of it is already gone).

I am at one of those stages in a project where you move from one phase to another and there is a psychological effect. One the one hand you have the feeling that the one part is over and are thankful, but the next stage looms and can seem daunting. There is no respite, you have to keep going and it can be hard. That is possibly why I had something of a crash yesterday and was terminally depressed for most of it, l=almost on the verge of tears all afternoon and then feeling very ill just at the point where I needed to be cooking dinner.

The way that I deal with these things is twofold. Firstly I try to just get on with it; if I can do something that I can focus on I can lose myself in that task and, even if it is for only twenty minutes or so, it burns off the clock and moves me onwards. It also aids the other tactic which is my old faithful ostrich principle of burying my head in the sand. I just ignore anything that I don’t want to think about. Time passes and I get over these depressions.

It’s daft in so many ways because I should have been thrilled with the progress that I had made by yesterday afternoon, but I wasn’t. Things that I would normally brush off or treat as motivators just kept knocking the stuffing out of me. I could have packed up and just flopped on the sofa, but I felt that I would have felt worse if I did, not least that a sense of guilt would envelope me for skiving off and so I just kept going u til I was too tired to do any more and at that point the feeling of not being too well kicked in and as I though about how I was going to cook tea I just wanted to throw up. I told myself not to be an idiot and went into the kitchen to cook salmon trout fillets over a savoury rice and, by the time I was ready to dish up, I felt better. After eating I felt better still.

This coming week I shall have to get my finger out on the garden work as we have gale force winds forecast for Thursday/Friday and I do not want to leave anything too vulnerable. If the old shed is coming down I need to have it done quickly, but my neighbour’s fence is in a poor state and without my shed protecting it a high wind might see it fall down. That will be a problem for me even if it is their fence and so as soon as my shed is gone I will have to do a bit of reinforcement on my side so, again, I have to have all of that done by Wednesday or think about deferring it all until next weekend. Plands A, B and C are under consideration…

We are certainly doing better for garden birds at the moment. As I sit here at the dining table I have a blackbird quarrying the from lawn for worms, a pair of amorous wagtails chasing around the cherry and the hawthorn and a blue tit watching on. The starlings are back regularly through the day although their flock is around a dozen rather that the thirty or more that we used to have swarming around. The blackbird oil one of a pair and we also have a pair or robins that follow my earth moving operations with interest, They all provide enjoyment and I love to see and hear them whilst out and bout around the garden. My neighbour has tried to dislodge the fox that is camping under his shed without much success as it is still around and seen on a daily basis. It is not too bothered about me these days and will sometimes sit and watch me work for a while.

Stay safe wherever you are.lock

the lockdown log 29


Back to work this week after using up the last full week of my 2020 holiday allotment. I still have two air three days to take before the end of November, but my main holidays are done for the year and, with the Law of Sod in full swing, I got home from work on Monday to get a call to say that the long awaited shed will be here on Saturday.

This was the key to completing the back garden project and should have been erected back in July. The furlough period had seen demand for such buildings rocket and had also slowed production so that a simple garden shed could not be had for love nor money. The original delivery date was given as late August and so, allowing for problems, I booked the middle two weeks of September off to paint and build it. Delivery slipped to September 9th, then to October 8th and now October 17th.

I can, at least, now start to plot what happens next and do as much as I can with the loss of the long, light, evenings and the more clement weather that I had three months ago. No matter, others have far more insurmountable problems in their lives.

A couple of weeks ago I was bemoaning the slow progress on my weight loss and the Berkshire Belle suggested that I make myself soup for lunch. We always have vegetables around and I do make us soup quite often when we have a surplus and so I began a soup only lunch programme. After about eight weeks of losing half a kilo a week I have lost 3 kg in a fortnight and am, in old money, 2 stone lighter that I was when I started this diet and exercise regime at the end of June.

I have also, this week, passed 200 miles walked (350 or so Km). My exercise walks also burn off, according to my App, about 2,500 to 3,000 calories a week. This is on top of whatever I burn off at work where I bang in between 5 and 8 miles a day five days a week. Less food in and more burned off; it is working for me. It helps that I am confident in the kitchen and can knock up a couple of day’s worth of soup at a time. It costs less than a quid a go and, so far, they have all been tasty.

I am fortunate in that I can, at times, invoke willpower. It does not always work, but in matters of health it does seem to kick in and help me out. It is not always easy to keep my head in the right place and I do have to distract myself a lot to avoid negative thinking, One of the things that is currently buzzing away in my mind is what do I do when I get down to a weight that is appropriate for my skeleton. Can I risk the odd treat or is it a bit like alcoholism and one Mars bar will ruin all of the good work? All I can hope for is that the willpower will still be there (or bloody mindedness) to stop any excess eating. Time will tell.

Stay safe wherever you are.

on projects and slippage


I started a series of projects on home and garden back in January and, when lockdown hit us, these became something of a primary focus for me. I said at that point that I would hit my overall objectives in terms of time and money, but, as so often happens in professional life, things have changed.

Taking my personal goals as a microcosm of business workings I have seen a familiar progression in that now, around seventy percent of the ay through my personal programme, the needs have changed and so what I had planned on in therms of certain specific objectives are no longer necessary.

Part of the problem has been in delays from external suppliers; the new shed is still not here and is now four weeks behind schedule and the new greenhouse is unlikely to arrive before next Spring. Both of these issues are primarily due to Covid-19 firstly because demand for garden products shot up during lockdown and then because the production facilities were not working at capacity having had to deal with the impact of lockdown, social distancing and the like. These things happen.

Then there were the things that were uncovered as work progressed; the bae for the new shed required digging out of some significant root systems and even the had to be raised about 10cm. Clearance of waste was affected by Covid-19 restrictions and instead of a daily trip to the tip I could not go for about a month and then was restricted to two trips a month.

If I were to be sitting with an employer discussing how well I had performed in terms of meeting the objectives set nine months ago I would not be doing too well I suspect, but therein lies another story and one that I have visited here before. The bottom line is that the world changes around us and we need to be able to recognise that.

Looking at where I am now against where I was in January the difference is huge and whilst I have not sone some of what I set out to, because of external forces, we are in a much better place than we were at the start of the year. My main aim of having the deck sorted out so that we could enjoy some of the Summer sitting out has gone because Summer is past. That is a shame, but the bulk of the hard work is done and come next Spring it will al be there for us to enjoy.

In business we often become so focussed on getting to an objective that we miss the fact that we do not need to get to that place any more. Time and money are expended on things that have become obsolete or for which the immediate need has passed. Plans should always be flexible because, to quote the old military adage, no plan survives past first contact with the enemy. Your strategy may still be current, but the tactics have to adapt to what is going on around you.

Hang loose and take advantage of what you can do as long as it helps you prgress