How to be great at budgeting – timelines

In an earlier post I talked about the three elements that make up a successful budget – i.e.

This post is focussing in on timelines as an important factor in a successful budget approach.


Budgeting occurs once a year, but you don’t magic up a load of spare time in which to complete the task. Your day job will be churning along in the background. Sometimes it’s quite hard to manage the two processes in parallel.

So to be successful you need an effective roadmap. You need to know when the deadlines are, so you can plan the milestones in. Budgeting is an iterative process, so you need to allow plenty of time to make the changes that you’ve agreed along the way.

Create a budget planner in Excel and to help you. Plot in the final deadlines, and then map back from there. Key milestones will likely be:

  • Initial scoping meeting – agree timelines, any new business initiatives etc
  • Assumptions sign off – with the relevant P&L owner
  • Progress reviews – at least 2 of these
  • Final sign off – at this point the P&L owner is signing up to delivering the numbers
  • Budget submission

Seem like a lot of steps? Perhaps, but if you’re new to this, run this milestone plan past your boss. They’ll soon tell you if it’s over/under kill. As I said earlier, allow yourself as much time as possible between each step to do the work (modelling/analysing/story boarding).

Book meetings in the diaries for all if the above milestones. Do this at the very beginning of the process. Not only will this focus your mind, but you will also find out if everyone is available on your chosen dates. Trust me, finding out your MD not available to sign off his/her budget is not cool, and doesn’t reflect well on you…

A good timeline will allow you to manage the process effectively, making you appear unruffled, professional and in control.

Stay tuned for my next budget element: Communication.

How to be great at budgeting – Intro

As a finance manager I’ve done my fair share of budgeting. If you are new to the process then this blog series should be a great starting point.

Every organisation budgets slightly differently, but broadly speaking this is an annual event that will be linked to company projections and performance based pay. Therefore they are important, and often quite emotive.

In order to budget well you need to focus on the following three elements:

I’ll be going over each of these in a bit more detail over the next few weeks, starting with Timelines

I love losing

I’ve just spent a week on a leadership course in sunny Mallorca (lucky me!) and I’ve learnt something about myself.

I’m really competitive.

This isn’t massively new info for me; bits it’s been a while since I’ve awakened the dragon…

What I also learnt is that I also love to lose. Losing is actually when I learn the most about myself, and can actually get some good feedback on where to improve my performance.

We watched a video about a company called IDEO based in California. They are the kings and queens of innovation. One of their rules is:

Fail often to succeed sooner

Which sounds a bit like:

Don’t be afraid to lose, because then you’ll be afraid to win.

Anyway, that’s enough quote inventing for one day. Check out the awesome IDEO in action in the link below…

How to be Rubbish at starting a new job: Tip #01

Are you starting a new job soon? Congratulations! If you want to get the most out of the transition make sure you don’t…

Avoid stupid questions

We’ve all asked them before right? “Er, where’s the loo?” or “How do you open the gates using your pass?” It’s never a nice feeling, but it’s absolutely key to your success.

For the first few days, weeks or months you have a unique opportunity where nobody is expecting much from you. In this period people don’t mind stupid questions. Fast-forward a year – asking stupid questions goes down less well.

This is your chance to question what you see and hear, and get honest and open answers from all around you. Ask anything you like, anything you’re curious about – but make sure you note the answer down. Stupid questions are not stupid questions the second time round, just annoying questions.

The best way to ask a stupid question is to start the sentence with something like “Can I ask you a stupid question?” People can’t really say no to this, and then you’ve set their expectations.

By asking stupid questions you appear keen to learn and modest enough to admit you don’t know everything – great characteristics that I look for in my team. What’s the most stupid question you’ve ever asked at work?

How to be rubbish at New Year resolutions: #02

SMART Objectives - how to design better objectivesLast week I wrote about your long term plans and goals helping to shape your new year resolutions (NYRs). As January draws on you perhaps you’re…


Before you get offended and stop reading, I’m not describing your intelligence levels! SMART is a tool for writing objectives which I’ve written about before, and stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

If you set a NYR that is “get fit”, or “give up smoking”, what does this mean? It’s very hard to know if you’re achieving your goals or not. Motivation is reduced, engagement drops and hey presto! You quit.

Rather than choosing a NYR like “get fit”, make it more like: “Go to the gym once a week, doing cardio and weights for two months, with a plan to increase this once I’m used to it”. I don’t know about you, but I prefer this kind of objective and find it much easier to keep.

Making your resolutions realistic, and giving yourself a time target is a good move – making your NYRs easier to track and you can understand whether you are achieving your objectives.

Make sure you set resolutions that meet the SMART criteria, and I promise you will find them easier to keep! What are your NYRs? Comment below and let me know!

How to be rubbish at New Year resolutions: Tip #01

New Year Fireworks in LondonSo it’s time for some New Years resolutions (NYRs) as we welcome in a new year. Are you one of those people that are rubbish at sticking to your NYRs? Perhaps you…

Don’t have a long term plan

Why do you make NYRs? To improve your life. Giving up smoking, going to the gym more, networking more in the office; all these NYRs are chosen because they will make you a better person.

A long term plan is great because it forces you to think about what you want to achieve and gives you focus and direction. Setting NYRs without such a plan means you are thinking short term, and this limits your engagement in your goal. Less engagement means less commitment, and voila, you have just sacked off yet another crappy attempt at keeping a NYR.

So make a long term plan. January is a great month to review what you achieved last year, and to think about where you want to be in the future. I’ve blogged about 5 year plans and 1 year plans if you want some further thoughts. Hope you have a great year!

The awesome picture I’ve used on this post is by Sean MacEntee – link to Flickr here

An intro to my productivity philosophy

So you want to be more productive? Me too! I’ve been searching for tools and methods my whole life, and have created a simple methodology that can work for anyone.

What does “being productive” mean?

Good question. Productivity to me means getting more important stuff done. Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that busy equals productive, or urgent means important.

My simple model finds out what is important to you, and then helps to prioritise this by reducing your task inflow, increasing your task outflow, all within an efficient system.


Prioritisation lies at the heart of true productivity. I suggest using a five year plan to help set your life objectives, and then using Stephen Covey’s urgent Vs. important matrix to prioritise your more immediate objectives.

Boredom has a strong influence on the choices you make about tasks. There are a few tricks I’ve learned that might be of use.

Limit inflow

Reducing the amount of stuff that flows into your workflow is a huge benefit to becoming more productive. How many times have you dropped what you were working on to help someone else with something? I’ll help you learn how to get a thicker skin to deal with this, plus give you some tips on how to push back effectively.

Maximise outflow

The art of delegating (i.e. getting other people to do stuff) is a great tool for helping you to get more important stuff done. I’ll also try and persuade you that it’s OK to ignore things that don’t matter. Maximising outflow and minimising inflow are the two parts of this model that strip out the crap from your day, leaving you free to concentrate on what you feel is important.

Efficient system

Once you reduced your inflow and increased your outflow you need an efficient system to deal with the tasks appropriately. I use GTD to organise myself, and I use Evernote to implement it. You’ll be building your own system, I’ll be giving you the core values that you need to ensure are taken into consideration.

The bottom line

This simple 4-step methodology is easy to understand, remember and deliver. On the next blog I’ll be writing about the first step – prioritisation. Thanks for reading.

Does your smartphone rule your life?

Does your smartphone rule your life? Do you find yourself constantly checking for status updates and new messages? Do you find yourself getting distracted from important stuff by your iphone?

Smartphones haven’t been around that long, so how come they’re so damn addictive?

Always connected

One of the best things about smartphones is that you’re always connected. To the web, to people, to your messages and social media. This is great because you can start to get more stuff done in places you previously couldn’t, like bus stops.

However the reverse is also true; you get less done in places like libraries and meetings! Being connected means that you are contactable, distractible, and easily sidetracked by ‘interesting’ things on your phone.


How many times a day do you check your Facebook stream at work or school? And how many times have you seen something important on the news stream? There is a constant flow of information rushing through your smartphone and it’s easy to get distracted by it.

There are many other distractions vying for your attention, each with an ‘unread’ icon screaming “click me, click me!” Even updating apps (surely the most boring thing in the world right?) becomes addictive when you have an icon demanding your attention.

Ignore unread icons

Tip number one: Ignore the unread icons. They don’t matter. They didn’t exist 10 years ago. Get used to seeing them on your home screen.

Schedule your smartphone time smartly

Tip number two: Schedule time in when you deal with these unread icons. Make it a conscious decision to update your apps or read your messages. Better still use dead time to do this non value add exercise.

Why not also schedule in your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest surfing to a time when you can give it your full attention?


Don’t let your Smartphone rule your life…

How to be Rubbish at Delegating

Delegating is a key skill for a manager, but it’s surprisingly easy to be pants at it. It looks so easy doesn’t it? You just tell your team what they need to do and then relax with your feet up, smoking a cigar.

If only it was that easy… So have a read of the following pointers, which you need to avoid unless you want to be rubbish at delegating.

Note – I’ve got another article on the learning cycle and how to
use it as a manager, well worth a read too.

Don’t have a plan for delegating

Delegating needs a bit of thought, and some preparation. What is your purpose for delegating this task? What outcome do you expect? How will you measure success of the task? If you don’t know the answer to these three questions, and haven’t communicated them then it’s likely things won’t go very smoothly.

So next time you’re going to delegate something, make sure you’ve thought these things through. POM – purpose, outcome, measure.

Assume they won’t do it as well as you.

Let’s be honest, nobody does stuff as well as you. If you’re a control freak like me then this can be a serious barrier to delegating effectively.

You need to accept that the task may suffer at first, and allow a bit of leeway. Remember when you did the task for the first time, I bet you were rubbish? This is a normal part of the learning cycle, and important for people’s development. Support them early on and you will reap the rewards later. You never know, one day they might do it better than you…

Don’t set clear measures for success

I’ve written about the SMART framework before, and the ability to set measures for success is a key skill for a manager. I like to use phrases such as “if you do X you will meet my expectations”, or “not delivering this piece of work by Friday will mean you’ve not met my expectations”.

If the person you’re delegating to knows what success and failure looks like you’re far more likely to get a great outcome.

Don’t give any feedback

Feedback should be specific and timely – i.e. don’t just wait till your weekly one to one. Let them know how they’re getting on in real-time at first (you can reduce the frequency of feedback as they master the task).

If you wait until the annual performance review to let them know how badly they’ve been doing for the last 6 months, then you’re a bit of a rubbish manager in my opinion…

Don’t let go

An element of being good at delegating is letting go. This can be harder than it sounds; if previously you carried out the task and liaised with the stakeholders then its all-too-easy to keep your fingers in the pie.

Give your team member space to succeed or fail under his/her own steam. If you support them too closely they’ll never develop fully into the task, and will probably feel micro-managed.

Take it back off them if they’re struggling

Do you want a clear sign that you’re rubbish at delegating? If you keep taking delegated tasks back this is a classic sign that you suck at delegating.

But what about if your credibility is suffering due to continual poor performance of a team member – isn’t it easier just to do the piece of work? Short term answer is yes, but you’re going to struggle to hand the work over in the long term. It’s either your poor delegating or their poor performance…


So there you are – 6 simple ways that you can be totally rubbish at delegating! You can find a great article on delegation at – one of my favourite websites…

Why not check out some of my other How to be Rubbish articles? I’ve got ones on CV writing, job interviews, presentations, taking exams and revising!

My first video interview – what I learned

VideographersToday I was interviewed for an internal film about one of our big projects. Here’s what I learned…

Prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more

The night before the filming I received a briefing document. This gave an overview of what was expected of me. Luckily I’d already thought about what I wanted to say, so I spent a couple of hours preparing some nice sound bites.

This is time well spent. When I found myself in front of the camera I had some good phrases ready to go, and it helped the experience go smoothly!

Don’t wear loud stuff

About 30 seconds into the first question the director stopped me and pointed out that my cuff links were scraping the table whenever I gestured with my hands. Noisy stuff is not cool for filming, it’s really hard to remove it from the soundtrack later…

Also watch out for loud clothes, as in bright oranges and pinks. These can look rubbish on camera!

Get the big picture from the director

As I mentioned earlier I had put some good prep time in the previous night. I talked some of my ideas through with the director before the camera started rolling, and he gave me some different ideas as to what he wanted from me.

I’m glad I checked with the director; otherwise I would have ended up not meeting his expectations, and the whole experience would have been less valuable.


If you get the chance to be filmed for an interview, then jump at it. It’s great fun, and great for your exposure within your organisation. Make sure you prepare, don’t wear loud accessories, and make sure you get a steer from the director.

More hints can be found at this link from, a great article that even talks about what colour to wear!

Photo by Dean Terry, from Flickr

Scroll Up