Olympic Volunteering – Part1

I always planned to blog about some of my London2012 Olympic volunteering experiences, but knew it would take me ages to get around to it. So, rather than keep putting it off, I’m going to split it into three parts and get the ball rolling straight away:

  1. I’ll start with the most common question I was asked – “How and why did I decide to get involved with the London2012 Olympics?
  2. The second most common question I’ve been asked is – “What did you actually have to do as volunteer in the technology team?
  3. Now that my volunteering responsibilities have finished, people ask – “Was it worth it? Would you do it again?

How and why did I decide to get involved with the London2012 Olypmics?

I signed up to a ticket application newsletter back in early 2010, just to keep up to date with news on the Olympic ticket application process and schedule etc. I was keen to try and get tickets for myself and my extended family for any event, I didn’t care what! Ideally, I’d like to see some rowing at Eton Dorney because my wife was a very keen and successful cox in her formative years, plus it’s only a couple of miles from where I grew up and where my parents still live. Excavation began on the rowing lake when I was at secondary school, so as you can imagine we based a lot of our geography projects on it at the time! I thought it would be pretty special to see something so close to home being used for Olympic events many years on.

Anyway, because I was signed up to this newsletter I received an email invitation from Lord Coe in April 2010 to apply to become a Games Maker; he said 70,000 volunteers would be required to help support the Games. After limited success in the initial ticket ballots I suspected I might struggle with getting to see any Olympic action, but I knew that being part of an Olympic Games in my home town would be literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So if possible, I wanted the chance to experience it both from behind the scenes if I couldn’t be in the stands like everyone else. Being a Games Maker looked like a good way in, and at the time I had a gut-feeling that it might be fun too.

A waiting game

So much time had passed that I forgot that I’d actually applied for a volunteer role until I was reminded 18 months later, in November 2011,  when out of the blue I received an email was offering me an interview to become a Games Maker. I immediately logged on and used the scheduling tool to book myself a slot at a Selection Event at London Excel on 16th December.

There was no real preparation required for the interview. I had applied for a role in the Technology Team, so I hoped that my day job as a Accenture Senior Technical Architect would qualify me! Apparently the process was simple, I just had to be there on the day and show proof of my identity. If I passed it, I would be put on a waiting list where I could get cherry-picked for a role by one of the full-time Games Maker staff. My interviewer was also a volunteer, so once she’d ticked all the relevant HR-type boxes she was happy just talk about why I wanted to volunteer. I mentioned my avid interest in sport and my tenuous history with the rowing lake, but this point I’d become a father for the first time so I also explained how when she grew up, I’d like to be able to tell my daughter about how I helped with staging The Greatest Show on Earth

More waiting (but a silver lining)

I waited to hear back for the Games Maker recruitment team for a long time, but I had no response. It’s no wonder, over 240,000 people had been through the recruitment process – that’s impressive even by Accenture’s recruiting standards! But, whilst on holiday in June 2012 I received an email thanking me for my patience and offering me the chance to enter a ballot to win a ticket to one of the technical rehearsals for the Opening Ceremony. I couldn’t believe my luck! I didn’t care whether I’d actually get offered a Games Maker role if I at least got the chance to visit the Olympic Stadium, so I entered the ballot straight away.

Still more waiting.

Seven months after my interview, I was offered a Games Maker role in the Venue Technology Team for the Aquatics Centre. This offer came just three weeks before the Games were due to begin so I presumed there must have been some last minute volunteer drop outs, but I didn’t care, again I accepted straight away.

… and the silver lining? I won a ticket to the Opening Ceremony rehearsal!

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I was morbidly infobese…

… until I went on an info-diet and curbed my infobesity. I’ve only learned the term infobesity recently, as you would expect it was coined to mean a variety of things, but it typically describes an  over-consumption of information.

A few months ago, probably coinciding with becoming a Dad for the first time, I realised I was bloating on highly addictive info-calories. Situations like this were all too familiar, and only served to compound the problem:

April 06, 2003

I had much less time in the day to keep up with the information fire-hose, which for me could be roughly categorised as email, social media and RSS feeds. I presumed that unless I took some action, this situation would degenerate into chaos.

The pervasiveness of information and interactive systems, combined with the presumed societal acceptance of constant interruptions from information flows, makes it very easy to binge on information. This combination of high availability and high reward value makes information addictive.

The effects are obvious, you just have to travel on the commuter trains in and out of London to notice that over half of the travellers are glued to some form of ereader, tablet, smartphone, free newspaper or even an old fashioned paperback. Not even a greeting or a smile is exchanged.

Unlike Johnny 5, we’re not cut out to be “chrome-breasted info eaters”. There is some research being carried out to test whether there are physical and/or cognitive condition in humans that can result from the over-consumption of information.  I suspect these effects will eventually have an impact on the overall health and well-being of individuals, and in turn, on communities and corporations.

There has to be an easier way to manage “more input, more input!”. Information overload has been around since the introduction of the printing press; this is not a new problem. It has just evolved by the technology that enables it, so I need to use the same such technology to manage it.

To paraphrase Clay Shirky, mine is a case of filter failure not information overload. I needed to make the best use of my time and add filters to those information sources with the best nutritional value.

The rise of the Internet has reduced the economic risks of publishing by allowing more and more information to be published at almost no cost. This means it’s increasingly important for us to create better filters. Having access to information is great, but we need to filter and focus based on what we want to accomplish and what we need.  Although not ground-breaking by any means, here are some of the steps that I have taken so far to curb my information sources and tweak my information filters to become more manageable:

  1. I kept an infobesity diary in a spreadsheet (naturally), much like you would when dieting
  2. I eliminated sources of data with low info nutrition by:
    1. Relentlessly unsubscribing and/or blocking unwanted email (this is time consuming, but very effective)
    2. Cleaning up and consolidating RSS subscriptions
    3. Culling those that I “follow” in Social Media to a manageable amount (worth reading Jim Stogdill’s view on this activity here)
  3. I reduced impulsive / leisure browsing by time-boxing this activity to certain times of the day e.g. during train journeys and when up in the middle of the night trying to soothe my daughter to sleep
  4. I rationalised my information streams and tailored my filters, by:
    1. Striving to maintain zero inboxes for all email accounts (this has had by far the biggest impact on reducing my stress levels)
    2. Improving my follow-up / to-do list process
    3. Subscribing to remaining RSS & SM feeds in Flipboard

The results so far have been liberating, in that I have more free time and less information noise to distract me. Although I’m not finished yet, like when following any diet I will have to remain vigilant. There’s no point in bingeing at the first opportunity I get (i.e. my next holiday).

Please feel free to add any of your favourite hints and tips in the comments, I’m all ears!

This was my first blog

This was my first blog (although I posted it on an internal work blog site some time ago)…

 I am only writing this because I’m currently sat in a significant traffic jam in the middle lane of the M3 with nothing else constructive to do with my time. Luckily I don’t need the loo, yet, and hopefully nobody has died further up the road.
<At this point I’ve already resorted to turning off the ignition and listening to my iPhone, in order to conserve my Alfa’s surprisingly untemperamental battery. I may be tempting fate here, but since Bosch have provided the electrics for Alfa Romeos, they’ve had a much better reputation for reliability.>
I’ve attempted to list the other reasons, apart from apathy, for not bothering to write a blog before now. They key ones are:
·         I’m lazy and prefer consuming content rather than creating and contributing it;
·         There has been nothing obvious or interesting enough for me to want to share it, and to be honest, I haven’t actually spent any time thinking about what I’d write about up until now;
·         When I’m not on a mental SI project, my evenings are sacred. In general I will try to play rugby, football, run, swim or cycle straight after work, and then cook and eat dinner with my wife (as my Plus3 profile proves)
So what’s changed?
·         I have no internet connection from where I’m sat, so I can’t connect to the internet and read stuff;
·         I have surprisingly clear email inboxes, which is one of the only positive habits I’ve picked up over the years. So have no work or social emailing to catch up on;
·         My work to-do list is incredibly short at the moment – I’ve even filled in my Career Development Plan. This is because I’m ramping down and transitioning my project related responsibilities whilst I wait for my wife to give birth to our first child (she’s officially due in 2 days time). After that I plan to take up to three weeks paternity leave / holiday – a luxury I know a lot of my Accenture colleagues don’t have. It’s interesting how policies different so acutely from country to country. This could be a future blog post…
Anyway, the actual content/point of this blog begins here.
I came to the realization some time ago that I’m a habitual creator of lists. I think it was around the time when I first had to actually plan my own work/time effectively which coincided with preparing and revising for my first set of real grown-up exams, GCSEs.
<I’m sure the people in the car in front are weeing into a dog-bowl and tipping it out the window, pity I didn’t get a photo!>
Since then, I’ve kept lists using different types of nomenclature and using various tools and techniques. MS OneNote, MS Outlook Tasks, MS Excel, XMind and RememberTheMilk have been passing fads, but I’ve always reverted back to pen and paper. I find it funny that other signing my name at the bottom of greeting cards that my wife has written, the only time I use a pen and paper these days is to maintain my to-do list. I don’t even sign for Credit Card purchases much these days due to Chip & Pin. Come to think of it, I’d struggle massively if I suddenly had to revise and sit any serious exams these days, it’d take weeks of training to get back up to the speedy scribbling rates required.
For a while the computer based tools were interesting, but not very useful for increasing the productivity or effectiveness of my list keeping. The effort to capture info offline and then enter it was annoying. When I first got a smartphone (maybe that’s another blog subject: my potted mobile phone history) then I began to re-use electronic lists. However, entering information on a smartphone in a meeting didn’t really catch on. Even now, with the advent of tablets, I still haven’t noticed many people taking them along to meetings to record minutes, notes and actions.
My latest inspiration for a new type of list today came via a post on Yammer: A To Don’t List. Essentially, this is where you list what you have decided not to do.
My first attempt is below – apologies if it looks a bit like a verse from Baz Luhrmann’s Sunsreen!
·         Don’t hit the snooze button;
·         Don’t stop learning;
·         Don’t neglect family;
·         Don’t neglect exercise;
·         Don’t settle for mediocrity;
·         Don’t CC people unnecessarily;
·         Don’t make excuses, make a decision;
·         Don’t assume the solution before diagnosing choices;
·         Don’t avoid the big issues;
·         Don’t forget to be human;
·         Don’t email the team or client before/after hours.
<A chap in a car in the outside lane just offered me a bottle of water, but I declined what a nice gesture given the circumstances but I declined. I don’t fancy leaving my car marooned in the middle lane so don’t plan on re-hydrating until it gets serious. Although I’ve noticed he has a bumper packet of Penguins in his boot, so if he offers me one I won’t say no.>
I’m going to test drive it for a week or so and make updates as I see fit. Please feel free to comment with your own lists or any suggestions for additional “to-don’ts”.
<The traffic seems to be moving up ahead, but one final note: I’ve discovered that there’s a high proportion of good songs in my collection beginning with “I”. >​

=Donal