In the 39th episode, recorded in a pre-COVID world, we talk about love letters, the challenges of speaking, and the timely pause. Recorded on February 24th, 2020.
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.
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)
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.
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.
I love my Cave. Earlier this week, I finished the book. This is the third book I’ve mostly written in the Cave. There’s been lots of outside writing spots, coffee shops, vacations, and airplanes, but the bulk of the work has been completed right here. Sitting in a hoodie, coffee to the left, Bear fired up, and me clickity-clacking on my current favorite keyboard.
There was the time the entire book was on the floor for weeks. This was me considering the shape of the book. On the floor was when I decided to split the book into three acts: manager, director, and executive. After that came a long editing phase where that extravagant extra display becomes worth every penny because I can see everything: the spreadsheet with all the chapters, the file system with all the in-progress chapters, the chapter that refers to another chapter, and the referred to chapter.
The Cave was in pretty good shape at the end of the Pro Leisure Circuit. I’d completed investments in building out the gaming set-up with the addition of Alienware PC plus a cool monitor bracket, which allows me, yeah, even more pixels. More importantly, the Cave felt tidy. Handled. Everything in its place.
The Cave is currently crumbling. (click for larger versions)
I, like many humans, are working from home full time to support flattening the curve on the Pandemic. The actual day-to-day work situation is pretty good. After some quality of life fixes, we’re getting in the zone. However, the Cave is a disaster.
This is mostly a function of how much time I’m spending in this space with full-time daytime work. I quickly discovered I need to mentally separate Work Space from Chill Space hence the hastily constructed standing desk the second picture. The Cave also started this period with residual piles of things that needed to go to their proper spots, which have only been growing and getting in the way.
The mental noise that comes with this clutter is increasingly intense, so the weekend project is deep organizational cleaning.
I will post the results later this weekend.
I’m a manager type, which means the calendar is usually full of meetings. Now, it is my goal in life to make sure that every single meeting must actively defend its right to exist, but even with that constant fight going on, I am in a lot of meetings. 9am until 5pm is 85% meetings. This has been unchanged for a decade1.
In a normal time on the planet Earth, the majority of these meetings are face to face. We gather in various rectangular shaped rooms with mostly rectangular tables, and we discuss the topics at hand for 30 to 60 minutes. Towards the end of that time, we nod a bit, we gather our things, and move to a different rectangular-shaped space with a slightly different set of faces, and repeat. Repeat for the entire day.
These are not normal times.
A full calendar stocked with interesting meetings, and curious people fills me with productive joy. In these non-normal times, I am thankful that the calendar is full, but my most significant learning from the first full week of distributed work is the immense accumulated value of short breaks.
For the first three days of this week, I woke up, went through a reduced morning routine, and jumped into meetings. Knock on wood – the infrastructure support all the essential productivity tools has been solid. Excellent work, internet! Even better because there is zero time required moving from meeting A to meeting B, I am impressively on time.
But there are no breaks.
The experience was the same on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Wake-up, get ready, sit down for the 9am meeting and BAM it’s 6pm, I haven’t really eaten, the sun is going down, and I have a slight headache. Part of this focus is certainly a coping mechanism. I seek normality because everything else appears broken. The absence of calm that comes with standing up, walking across the building, being out of the meeting mindset, letting my mind wander, and unwinding is startling.
Starting this morning, I’ve:
- Started adding chunks of blocked time to my calendar.
- When it’s reasonable, 1:1s are now outside. Walking. Today I walked a path near the house and pulled Scotch Broom from the trail. It was delightful. The walk. Not the Scotch Broom. Scotch Broom is the worst.
- When a meeting does finish early, I get up, leave my office, and do something else. Like, write this article.
During these strange days, I appreciate the work, but the work is secondary to health. I invest daily in the big three: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Each of these investments is a long term insurance policy. While it seems obvious, there is a fourth, and that is time. Precious quiet and brief time. Our minds need periods of time where there is no focus, we wander mentally, and we perform essential housekeeping on the intangible.
Failure to do, especially now, creates stress, and the last thing you need your life right now is more stress.
- Again, not saying this is optimal, but it is factual. ↩
- As much as possible, make sure to hold existing staff and 1:1 meetings as usual. Structure in these times of flux is critical.
- Lots of folks have more family at home and will need to shift their schedule. Full support. Make it a non-issue for being off the grid for folks to focus on the most important thing – their family. Maybe a shared calendar so folks can flag themselves as off the grid without the stress?
- A daily stand-up for your staff in your preferred conferencing solution. 15 minutes. No formal agenda, just checking in and saying hello.
- If folks want to talk about world events during check-ins, that’s fine, but I’m deliberately avoiding that and focusing on the work because there’s already plenty of places to worry out there. If folks want to chat about it, that’s so very understandable.
- For myself, I’m going full Benjamin Franklin and building mega-structure for myself from 9am to 6pm. This is both a coping control mechanism, but also a means to keep myself focused. My home office is full of interesting distractions.
- Listen. What your team needs this week is different than what they need next week. The daily stand-up is your time to make sure that as folks adapt to this very unusual work set-up that they have time to raise their hands and ask for help.
Finally, and most importantly, as a leader, I’m aware that the expression on my face in a meeting tells everyone a lot about how it’s going. It’s not going well, but I’m choosing productive joy as my expression not because that how it’s going, but that is how I’d like it to be.