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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

New year checklist

Guest contributor Joseph Mills goes in search of the best way of working to get the greatest value out of his time


@ Simon Scarsbrook
@ Simon Scarsbrook

Guest contributor Joseph Mills goes in search of the best way of working to get the greatest value out of his time

Many a time at work I have jumped in way out of my depth. Not because I am not capable, but because I’m not prepared. And I know I’m not alone in this! It is a challenge when there is a plethora of projects and routine tasks floating about and alphanumerical jungles of software. I end up dib-dabbing in and out of this, that and the other, managing only to nourish my guilt of not having everything under control. And guess what? I end up spinning out of control, missing deadlines and, fundamentally, failing myself. Realisation of this really has lit a flame inside to find new and better ways of working.

So, ploughing headfirst into the cliché; ‘new year, new me’ – these first couple of months of the year have been filled with rather mixed emotions. First off, trying to remember everything that happened at the work Christmas party and act as professionally as possible towards the bosses that I forced to have multiple Jägerbombs with me – oh, and the other boss I kept referring to as a character from Cluedo. Why do I do it? Phlergh. Secondly, and far more importantly, I was to set out what I wanted to achieve this year and for me this was, as usual, to pass a few more CTs, carve out a Herculean physique, boss the three peaks challenge and attempt to save enough to pay my car tax and insurance by September.

Progress report

Three months in and it really doesn’t feel like I’ve come all that far. I’ve still got my head in the books, quivering at the sight of the exams on the horizon that I desperately want to pass; still eating my weight in chicken for the very slow progress 

in the gym; and praying that the end of year bonus, if any, will be able to cover the car. 

But this year I have added one more resolution to the list: to improve my way of working. 

I’ll do this by taking inspiration from those completely outside my profession. Mechanics, pilots, engineers, athletes, you name it; you can be inspired and pick up handy ways of working from pretty much anyone in any career path. Not just the number crunching folk we work with day in day out. 

One very good example of taking inspiration from another profession comes from the World Health Organisation (WHO), which took its inspiration from pilots. Aviators have been using checklists for years, right back to their invention in 1935 after two test pilots were killed in the development of the B-17 bomber in a demonstration flight. The checklists of modern day aircraft follow a very similar structure to the ones created all that time ago: pre-flight, take-off, in-flight, landing, post-flight and then various emergency procedures.

Taking off to new heights

One of the things so useful about these checklists is their ability to point out the most obvious. Littered everywhere on the checklist will be ‘check fuel’, ‘turn on lights’, ‘check altimeter’ (the correct pressure is set to read altitude), ‘check engine temperature and pressure’, ‘clear ice’. These procedures have saved countless lives. Following their example, the WHO recognised that the use of checklists can really help ensure the consistency and completeness in carrying out complex tasks. As a result, the WHO took the concepts and principles from the checklists used in aviation and created the WHO surgical safety checklist and after a pilot – if you’ll excuse the pun – the study showed an overall significant reduction in mortality and morbidity. 

So guess what? I too have started to write checklists for the processes I do. Especially the mundane routine ones. Incorporating them every time I do the task at hand makes life so much simpler. It is far easier to spend a little more time following and checking key points now than it is to correct your errors later on. 

Don’t get me wrong: some of the greatest role models to me are but a few desks away. However, there is great value in developing different way of thinking and working. Many actuarial managers that I know have come from completely different backgrounds and it is evident that they are able to take what they have learnt elsewhere to make a far more positive impact on the business than those who may have been isolated by the concrete walls of the office. 

Give it a try: watch a documentary you may not usually choose, or speak to a friend or family about how they work. I’d love to know if you find anything interesting – I may even start a blog to capture them. 

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or get in touch with Jess at: [email protected]