Rands This is a different forever situation

WFH

Up at 7am. Check the outfit, the professional outfit, on the floor to make sure it still fits my mood. Adjust as necessary. Shower and put on the outfit. Consider wearing shoes, but don’t. My shoes are lonely.

Upstairs. Coffee (black) and a glance at the view. Santa Cruz Mountains. No fog today. Walk into the office and appreciate the lights are already on. A prior WFH project involved office automation. I never turn lights on or off during the work week. Sit down at the desk and spend five minutes on a tidy. This daily tidy keeps the desk a wide-open space save for a Zebra Sarasa .5 black gel pen, a Mile Marker Fields Notes, a box of Altoids, and a bright yellow cloth to clean my glasses.

Close to 7:30am now. Office is well-lit and tidy. Most days, meetings don’t start until 9am, but on Mondays, I give myself a ramp. Today is a Monday. No meetings until 11am so that I can cache the entire week. Examine the calendar for the entire week. Determine:

  • Meetings to decline (No agenda, no specified role for me, or historically low signal).
  • When preparation is necessary. Specifically, note said preparation in Field Notes.
  • WTF? Ask a human a question about the nature of the meeting in Slack. If they don’t respond in 24 hours, decline.

A sip of coffee. Another glance out the window. I purchased a bird feeder on Amazon to hang on the office window, but the birds haven’t found it yet.

Slack now, but music first. A playlist I’ve likely played before because it can’t be novel – it’s background noise — Thompson Twins for some reason. Slack triage is fast. Determine:

  • For direct messages, which need a response now or which can wait? Respond to critical messages and then move messages sans response to the correct sidebar (Fires, Hiring, Planning, and Grab Bag).
  • Once initial responses are done, scan sidebar for pre-existing messages that need a response. Respond. If it’s been there more than a day, reflect on why.

Three significant Slacks (Rands, Work, and Destiny) can be scrubbed in 15 minutes. Ok, mail now. The very achievable goal is inbox zero. Monday is 2x the inbox because most of the world has been sipping their Monday coffee longer than I and are fired up to send some mails. Determine whether to:

  • Respond now.
  • Flag to respond later – set a reminder, so the mail is no longer in the inbox.
  • Research why this unwanted mail is in my inbox and then act accordingly immediately (Spam filter, mail rules, mailing list unsubscribe).

Repeat the mail process for work mail. Capture this week’s relevant work notes in Field Notes. Smile at all the blank screens and take another sip of coffee. It’s 8:15am now.

Stand up and tidy the room now. Small piles of stuff have emerged over the past week, and these are devious piles. They claim they are important clutter, but they are just clutter. Disassemble the piles into their constituent parts and place them in the proper place. If a proper place does not exist, reflect on a strategy for developing a proper place, and either create the place or note proper place creation thoughts in Field Notes. Likely a weekend project.

Stare at the timepieces on the left side of the desk. Like the outfit, the watch complements my mental mood. Serious? Playful? Colorful? All business? They are called timepieces, not watches because they are objects I’ve taken care of in finding, they are a reflection of design I care about, and the act of selecting one is comfortably deliberate. Omega Speedmaster today. The moon watch. A classic.

A blue jay is on the deck railing now. I suspect he can smell and/or see the birdseed. He’s bouncing around. He can see me and doesn’t give a shit about my thoughtful outfit nor my classic timepiece.

8:30am. The hard part of Monday. Caching the entire week. Determine what data do I need at my fingertips to answer hard questions? Run bug queries, read presentations, scroll around in Slack channels, send clarifying DMs, and review agendas. The prior week calendar review has illuminated most of the critical questions, but the caching process creates more.

The blue jay is still bouncing around on the railing. Sunflower seeds are in his future.

The hard part of the weekly caching process is focus.

Caching and the resulting research fills the hour and drains the first cup of coffee. Before I stand up for cup two, review the day now and mentally note which meetings can occur outside via audio. During these meetings, I will walk the property, pull weeds, admire redwoods and oaks, and discuss important work topics of the day, but these meetings are mostly defined by being outside of the office. Two a day – minimum. Critical mental health investment.

Stand-up, walk to the kitchen and pour coffee number two. The dogs are sitting in the living room looking at me expectantly, and I tell them as I tell them most mornings, “I don’t feed you. Claire does.” They mistake the spoken word for a food commitment and get excited, but droop when I walk back to the office. Sorry, Marleau. Sorry, Gracie Lou.

9:45am now. I understand the week now. I am amply prepared for obvious hard questions, moderately prepared for curveball questions, and have queries to smart people where I don’t know answers. Glance again at the calendar: Is it stocked with useful and productive meetings? Yes? Good.1

Ok, cache the world now. Let’s start with the markets. Up a lot. Why? Optimism. Everyone desperately wants to return to normality. I am a professional optimist, but we are not returning to normal. Ever. This is a different forever situation, and the sooner we realize that and start to plan accordingly, the sooner we will feel unstuck.

Scan the news. Anyone talking about facts rather than feelings? Nope. Keeping scanning. BBC and NPR tend to be the highest signal. Ok, now Feedly. Writings of cherished friends. Treasured time. A section for entertainment because I miss movies. I skip the news section but spend a good amount of time on video game developments. Articles are never flagged for reading later – if they don’t make the cut this morning, they are gone forever.

That was about an hour. Glance again outside. It’s still sunny, but there is a thick blanket of fog hiding the valley. Across the way, the top of a small mountain pokes out the fog like an island. I’ve always wondered why this happens at this time of day. I suspect the growing heat of the nearby central valley is sucking marine air inland, but I have no facts save for the fact the blue jay is nowhere to be seen.

Getting close to my first meeting of the day. Delightfully, it’s outside. Go downstairs and walk to the sliding door on the side of the house facing the forest. My slippers are here on the floor from the last meeting of last week. This what I wear when I walk around the forest. Slippers.

My shoes are lonely.2


  1. Remain deeply worried that I don’t think we know how to do brainstorming or other crucial creative meetings in this new context. 
  2. Thanks to Ben Stewart for asking me about my WFH routine on the #ask-rands-anything channel on the Rands Leadership Slack. I started typing the answer when I discovered there was a blog post there. 
Management A useless productivity tax

Management via Worry and Crisis

Your manager has a default management mantra. You see it when they are not paying attention and a problem – large or small – presents itself. It’s the sound and shape of their first reaction. Their default reaction. And after a few months, everyone knows their mantra.

Here are a couple of my least favorite mantras. I’m going to first explain the worst-case scenario for each of these mantras. I’ll follow-up with an explanation of why I believe this manager ended up with his approach. Then I’ll explain with empathy the best-case scenario for this practice and why you should squint your eyes when you get the rage and consider, “Ok, how are they trying to help?”

I’m going to use the word manager a lot here, and I’ll tell you why later.1

Management via Worry

This manager can smell disaster brewing. Their spidey-sense is tingling about… something. Their questions are often perceptive, slightly alarming, but not always headed in a consistent direction.

The Degenerate Case Your manager likely (hopefully?) has more experience than you. One of the reasons they got the gig is that they’ve successfully managed through a variety of complicated situations. That experience has given them a useful playbook, and it’s that playbook that’s backing their seemingly random questions about your project.

But are they?

Are their questions heading anywhere?

Or are they just asking worrisome questions because they know that is their role in this meeting?

Ask questions, manager. Ask lots of questions because I know you have the playbook, and I don’t. However, if your questions are hazily framed pointless worry rather than a slowly refined somewhat opaque journey, then I am suspect. I worry that you believe your job is to worry pointlessly, to assume the worst without facts, because that’s worked for you in the past. This teaches me nothing, this does not move the project forward, and your worry is a useless productivity tax on the team.

There is a particularly virulent strain of Worry Management that I think of as Got’cha Management. This manager isn’t as worried as they are motivated to find errors in your product, strategy, or thinking. They search for weakness in logical reasoning, and when they find it, there is an omnipresent silence in the room where you silently wonder, “Am I any good at this?”

The Empathetic Case: The empathetic version of Management via Worry is one of my favorite parts of the job: Tasting the Soup. As I wrote in the original article:

In a meeting where an individual or team is presenting a complex idea or project, my job as the leader is soup tasting. It’s sampling critical parts of the idea to get a sense of how this soup was made. Who are the critical people? What are the critical parts? Which decisions matter? I don’t know. I do believe that a pre-requisite for leadership is that you have experience. You’ve had trials that have resulted in both impressive successes and majestic failures. These aggregate lessons define your metaphoric soup tasting ability. When your team brings you a topic to review, it is this experience you apply to ask the critical soup questions.

The key with proper Soup Tasting is collective learning. As you taste, you explain to the team, “This taste… I’ve tasted this before, and this is what I learned from that particular soup.” This practice both gives you signal and explains to the team what you are learning. The sharing of your experiences as lessons is what changes their perception from being critiqued to being supported.

Management via Crisis

This manager appears hugely motivated when the sky is falling. They thrive on the thrill of disaster. They love stopping everyone in their tracks and throwing them into a war room where they personally manage the crisis into a predictable calm.

The Degenerate Case The Crisis Manager loves the crisis because they get feel like they are actually doing something measurably valuable. It appears that since the sky just fell that their Crisis Services are required.

Are they?

Really, did the sky fall?

Or is your manager just bored? Or uninformed about the actual situation?

The degenerate case of the Crisis Manager is that Crisis Management becomes their only strategy for affecting change quickly. When they detect even a hint of crisis, they rush to press the big red STOP button, invite everyone to the Crisis Slack Channel, fire up the war room video conference, and begin, “This is the only thing we’re working on until further notice.”

The Empathetic Case: Process is documented culture. How a team gets a familiar thing done should be broadly understood by the team. This is how we fix a bug. This is how we do a code check-in. This is how a feature is designed. This is how executive sign-off occurs.

Process comfortably and efficiently describes the common path. Process does not define what to do when the indescribable occurs. A crisis or a disaster does not neatly fit into the common path; it’s when you need someone to swoop in, break the glass, and put out the fire.

Can confirm. It’s a thrill to have everyone’s attention. Can confirm. Disasters are often the best way to burn down and reinvent old dusty process. Can confirm. Reputations are built when the sky falls.

A Coping Mechanism

We done? Good. That was a hard article to write. Partially because I’ve first hand seen all of these mantras in play, but, worse, I can pinpoint moments in my management career where I’ve fallen back on Gotcha management or when I’ve thought Worry management was just what this meeting needed from me. Once I created a Crisis because I believed I had specialized knowledge of the situation, but really I was just bored.

All of these mantras are habits developed as a coping mechanism for the increasing loss of control managers feel over their growing organizations. It’s the hardest part of becoming a manager, the giving away of your legos to allows others to do the actual satisfying building combined with the necessity to guide that building at an increasingly hazy distance.

There is a reason I used the word management throughout this article. These mantras, these defaults ways of managing in their degenerate cases, aren’t leading; they are managing. They are getting by with the strategic move that worked for you years ago but has now developed into a boring, predictable tactic.


  1. Good to remind you of the clause that has been on the About page for a couple of decades: my stories are fabrications and never about real people except when it’s about me. 
Writing We learn from stories

Small Things, Done Well

The promotional site for Managing Humans still makes me smile. The photos were from a part of the property we call the Fairy Meadow. It’s a horse chestnut tree surrounded by a stream that only runs during the rainy season.

We return to the Fairy Meadow for the third book.

Thanks to my good friend Paul Campbell, we’re doing an online launch of the book Monday, June 8th at 11am Pacific. This is a live virtual event where we’ll be talking about the book as well as doing a moderated online Q&A. This is also done via the magic of Vito, a new live-streaming and community platform that Paul has been working on for the last few months. You can sign-up for the event here.

Yes, you can pre-order the book right now. Some folks have already received their pre-orders and more copies are arriving imminently. I’ll be writing more about the book here and elsewhere in the time leading up the launch.

My preference would’ve been cracking open a bottle with y’all, but… reasons.

Be safe.

The Important Thing Find Your Voice

The One About Writing a Book, Pt. 2

In our 41st episode, we continue the discussion regarding how to write a book. Start with a clever name, find a publisher… and then write a lot. That’s about it. Ok, it’s harder than that. (Recorded on February 24th, 2020)

Enjoy it now or download for later. Here’s a handy feed or subscribe via Overcast or iTunes.

Tech Life Do it now

Channels Are Free

There’s a lot of Slacking on the planet right now. The essential practices of shelter-in-place are forcing us to rethink how we get work done especially when that work is dependent on a vast amount of interconnected humans. Pre-Pandemic, one of my opening pitches to current and future customers as the VP of Engineering for Slack1 was, “How often do you get a chance to reimagine how you work?”

Our work habits are precious. We’ve developed these habits over the years to bring calm predictability to the work chaos. They are personal, they are dependable, they are habits. These habits mustn’t change while everything around us – because of the industry we work in – continually changes. Turns out, it’s that nutritious chaos often results in evolutions to products and services that could improve our habits. Still, our resolute focus on our hard-earned habits to encourage productivity can blind us to these improvements.

As we collectively learn what it means to work from home, I’ve been giving a lot of advice regarding my Slack habits, and I want to focus on what I consider to be the most important advice: Channels are free.

Channel Guidelines

Before I explain why channels are free, I want to walk through my guidelines and decisions regarding how and when I create a channel.

Default to public. There are a great many justifiable reasons to make a channel private. There are a large amount of unjustifiable political and power trippy reasons to keep your channel private. Information wants to be free. You never know what value is created by a random piece of useful information landing in the brain of a person unknown to you.

Ask yourself as you stare at that PRIVATE or PUBLIC switch in channel creation. Why is my instinct to make this public? Is it company confidential information? PRIVATE. Are we going to discuss personnel topics? PRIVATE. Those are obvious ones, but after that, there is a lot of a grey area. There are corporate human habits here that run deep. This is my project. Or my idea. And I want only known people to see it. I get it, but what’s the risk of letting that idea be shared with others. Ideas get better with eyeballs.

A channel name should make sense to a random someone who is looking for it. #hgt-sla-qa? It’s a QA something. You’re not just making the channel readable to future members, but making it memorable to current members. This is related to…

A channel name should aspire to channel naming conventions, but not be beholden to them. The consistency police will have an issue with this guideline. If there are clear channel naming guidelines, I would greatly encourage you to follow said guidelines. Your channel will be easier to find and grok. However, the idea that the folks who set-up your Slack channel naming guidelines thought of every channel use case is flawed. There are emergent guidelines that are going to help channel name legibility and discoverability. Here are two I’ve been riffing on:

  • #tmp-channel-name – indicate to everyone this channel is going away when it’s purpose is served.
  • #priv-channel-channel – An obvious reminder to channel denizens that this channel is private for a reason and to keep that in mind.

My default attitude when creating a channel is consistency. Still, I also believe that part of the joy of moving over to Slack is reimagining better ways for the team to communicate and collaborate. Channel names effectively curate the content within a Slack workspace. They need to be useful, and channel naming conventions most certainly help, but they aren’t the complete answer.

Group DM or Channel? This feels more like a personal preference, but I almost always default to a channel versus a group DM. The primary reason is the recurring them in this piece: discoverability. It’s a genuinely short-lived topic-less conversation (It never is – why’d the channel get created? That’s the topic), then perhaps a group DM is the answer. Still, the moment that short-lived topic-less conversation goes on for three hours without resolution, I convert it to a channel with a proper name.

Should I Create a Channel?

For the new Slack user, a lot is going on. Workspaces, users, channels, emoji, threads, along with a slew of names and conventions to learn. After a few weeks of learning the ropes, there’s a moment when a new user will ask themselves, “Well, I have this thing I want to get done. It involves several people. It’s not just a conversation; it’s a project. Should I create a channel?”

Yes. Create a channel. Do it now. Don’t worry about the name. Don’t worry about inviting the right people. Just create the channel. Stop thinking. Click on the “+” and create that channel.

Done? Great. I want you to think about what you’ve just done. You’ve created a small virtual long-lasting focused place on the Internet for work to get done. It’s likely not the actual work but is the conversation, debate, and fact-finding that can improve the eventual quality of the work.

That’s the most important lesson I want to convey. There is very little negative consequence to the act of creating a channel2 and a channel created is a meeting that no longer needs to occur. It’s a mail that doesn’t need to be sent. It’s a mailing list – never created.

Don’t think. Just create the channel.


  1. I don’t work there anymore. 
  2. Ok, not totally free. Channel proliferation is a by-product of channels-are-free stylings, but guess what: channel deletion is free, too! 
Tech Life This gives me the shakes

The Cable Situation, Pt. 1

Rands HQ continues to experience unprecedented usage. We’re in week five of shelter in place and the home office is poppin’. As described earlier, I did an intense clean of the office two weekends back and am happy to report that the tidiness remains primarily because there’s a night 15-minute cleaning window where all things are returned to their proper place.

There is still a cable situation.

The horror.

The plan for the weekend is to address this cable situation and a lesser cable situation at the standing desk. You can see some of the long-abandoned attempts at cable entropy reduction in the prior photos including cable wraps and additional power strips, but I am certain there are other clever cable hacks I don’t know. I need help. There are modern power strips as well as UPS box en-route, but I am also interested in:

  • Suggestions for wrapping/grouping cables, but still leaving flexibility for stuff to change.
  • Power strip deployment recommendations.
  • What to do with base stations and routers? Where to put them and how to secure them?

Help, please.

The Important Thing A little lighter

The One About the Little Things

In the 38th episode, we lighten it up a bit. Not a lot. A bit. Finding solace in very strange times. Finding comfort while the world appears to be shutting down. Ok, it’s a little lighter than that. Recorded on March 18th, 2020.

Enjoy it now or download for later. Here’s a handy feed or subscribe via Overcast or iTunes.

Tech Life Space to think

Weekend Project: Cave Renovations Pt. 2

The best part of a deep cleansing of the space is the next morning. You don’t get a sense of the total difference while you’re doing it because you’re there for each part of the gradual change. After a night’s sleep, you forget a bit, and the results are shocking. (click for larger versions)

Calm

I’ve had this basic office layout for years, and I wasn’t planning on changing it. I have a view of the Santa Cruz mountains when I sit facing the workspace. For the funspace, I face the forest. Not having an outside view readily available would be suboptimal.

The big win for this cleansing is space creation. My work desk is a vast space of empty tidiness. Gosh, it feels good. I did nuke my desk lamp and will likely need a replacement, but as you can see, I’ve got existing lighting coming from many directions. There is still a cable situation hiding in the back there — a future project.

Tidy

The new secondary workspace is important for two reasons. I want to get up and move around during the day, and this small standing desk gives me a new location to wander to… seven feet away. There was heretofore undiscovered shelving under this janky desk, which is incredibly useful as a charging station for all the things. However, there remains a visually annoying cable problem. There is a cable wrapping exercise in my future.

There is a historical pattern to these types of significant cleansing. It indicates that I am have just completed a significant project (the book) and am preparing myself for what comes next. What’s next? Staying at home, working, avoiding most of the news, figuring out how I can help those in need, and being with those I love.