My Failures are my Distractions

Today is one of those days.

What kind of day is that? It’s one where I feel like I completely failed today despite all my best efforts to control my focus and attention. I look back at my notes and I see I ticked off some things but left some completely untouched and forgot about. I know I’m certainly more critical on myself about these things than most. Feeling like a failure ultimately leads me failing so I try to not even get in this mood or direction.

You know what doesn’t help either? Looking out your office window (an unconscious act of sabotage on my focus) and seeing two fine examples of your scatter-brain.

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There sits a solar light, gifted to me eighteen months ago, with the tag still affixed to it and a rake used to clean up the yard four months ago. Each task wouldn’t take too much time out of my day to complete. There they all sit for me to stare at and punish myself for not doing.

Instead of spending more time derailing myself I decided to go put the rake away and tag that stupid tag off and publish this post. 🙂

Leadership, Awareness, and Fear

Leadership is a state of heightened awareness and fear.

~ Aaron Douglas, sometime this week

I’ve been a team lead for a couple years now at Automattic – a little over a year of that with the larger team (Go Slytherin!!). I’ve made several discoveries of what being a lead (team, project, technical) means. I’ve realized one thing I have to do is to put myself into a higher state of awareness and embrace fears.

Awareness

Leads have to see the business landscape with different eyes. My main goal as a team and project lead is to unblock the pathways for my teammates to succeed. I’m required to involve myself in conversations that are out-of-band from what the team is connected to. These conversations get summarized in my head and become part of discussions with project leads and individual 1:1 meetings. I have to pick out the important things that relate to the team and bring that into conversations to establish insight amongst everyone.

This makes me sound like a guru. I’m not. The process isn’t glamorous nor difficult. It’s a super shallow task at times but it allows my team to focus on the work. Understanding more about our users, the rest of the company, and other big projects will only add depth to the things they are working on. Letting them go deep and work well on the things they’re doing is key to succeeding.

Fear

Fear can be healthy. Fear keeps us from doing bad things. Fear can also paralyze us so it’s important to understand how to interpret our fears. Team leads/managers have to learn to sense their own fears and translate those into actionable items or at least a watchlist. Typical fears for me include (and oddly most of them come in the form of questions):

  • Did I forget to do something I said I would do?
  • Are we on track with the project I’m leading?
  • I hope our users are happy with our work.
  • Is everyone happy with me and the work they do?
  • What am I missing?
  • Are our priorities right?
  • Where are these voices coming from? (kidding, maybe)

I’m not saying leads are the only one with fears. We all have things like this we keep in our minds. Every one of these fears (except maybe the last one) can have some actionable item to keep the fear in check. Fear is a motivator. Use your fear to keep your team humming along.

What I’m not suggesting is using fear to intimidate your team into motivating them to work faster, harder, longer hours. You need to show your team empathy and compassion to turn their fears into motivation to do a great job. Make sure they know you have their backs and that a level of trust exists. When you get status updates make sure to restate that progress back at some point in some fashion so they know they heard you. You wouldn’t be a lead without them and they wouldn’t have a direction and focus without you. They have their own fears – don’t make one of them you.

Focus & The Non-Permanence of Pencils

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I’ve been trying to brainstorm ideas on paper lately before committing to an approach on how to solve a problem. For some reason I wasn’t getting a ton of satisfaction switching back to pen & paper – it wasn’t helping my focus. Then I realized something from my days in school. I used to prefer pencil over pen because of the feel of the graphite on the paper and the non-permanence it implies.

The biggest obstacle I have to starting something is my brain trying to understand an entire solution before I’ve started it. Brainstorming like this should be helping me with incrementally breaking down a problem into pieces and finding out what I don’t know. For some reason the permanence of ink makes me feel like I need to put more thought into things before writing them down. That defeats the point of brainstorming!

So for me, I’m back to a pencil.

Experience Life as a Beginner

I’m nearly four years into my challenge of hacking my brain to be successful at working remote with Attention Deficit Disorder. I’ve struggled with trying to understand my behaviors and challenge myself to change incrementely over time. There’s one repeated concept that always comes up in my practice – my past experiences both help and hinder my progress. The key is being able to experience life as a beginner.

Beginners have a great platform to learn knew things. First off they realize they have a set of things they need and want to learn. There is motivation to better yourself and usually a fairly well defined place to gain the knowledge from. Beginners have (or will quickly) admit they don’t have all the answers. Those of us with experience trying to learn new things may think we understand things well enough. We’re not open to seeing things as a whole.

So my challenge to myself is to start seeing things as a beginner. Challenging assumptions I have will make me more open to learn new things and become more effective at working and living. 

Here’s to starting off with a less full cup! 🙂

It’s Funny What Kids Will Remember

Back in the mid 1980s there was a kids’ TV Game Show called “Double Dare” on the Nickelodeon channel. We didn’t have cable TV but at some point it started to air on regular television. Our local TV station even aired an episode early in the morning before school at 6:30am.

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The show format was fairly simple. One part were standard panel-type questions with answers gaining you points. Sometimes your team would have to perform “physical challenges” which usually involved something messy – like digging through a small pool of pizza sauce looking for a flag. The team with the most points at the end got to go through an obstacle course for sixty seconds. Collecting flags throughout the course got you more money and prizes to take home.

Everyone who watched the show did it for that sixty glorious seconds of slime, goo, and gunk.

There’s one specific morning I remember watching Double Dare. My dad would usually leave work right around when the episode would finish up. He was always hurried, barely time to say goodbye before his most times lengthy commute to a job site for his systems technician job with Honeywell. I knew the challenge was only a minute long and I really loved the show. I asked my dad that morning to sit and watch the obstacle course since it was so much fun and it would be a good start for him. He initially said no and I remember being incredibly disappointed.

Being the smart kid I was I reinforced my plea with the fact it was only sixty seconds and it would be worth it. Something clicked in his head and he agreed and sat down to watch. I was so excited to share this awesome experience with him. I don’t remember his reaction to the show but I do clearly remember him taking the time to sit down and watch it. It meant a lot to me even if, at the time, it wasn’t something he really wanted to do.

Actions, especially with kids, have a lasting impression and who knows what the triggers are for those actions to stick in their heads. Moments like this have happened for me well beyond childhood. So this is just a reminder to myself to look for those small moments that could have a big impact on someone’s life.

And now here’s one of the show’s ending obstacle courses. It takes less than sixty seconds to watch. 🙂

Cameo on The More Than Just Code Podcast

My friend Tim Mitra hosts the weekly “The More Than Just Code” podcast which is all about mobile software development. This past week he put out a call for people to tell the listeners what the iPhone has meant to them. This coincides roughly with the 10 year anniversary of the first iPhone launch.

I decided to submit a clip of my own and made it onto the show! You can listen to the whole podcast to find it (around the 19 minute mark) or via this handy dandy link to that exact spot.

https://overcast.fm/+CMCStcUfY/19:00

 

Stop Looking at the Past in One Year Chunks

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We all do it – look back at the previous year somewhere around January 1st. We total up what we’ve accomplished in that one year and determine if it was a success or it sucked. Variables like births, deaths, accidents, career changes, friendships, personal health, and travel all seem to be popular indicators of success or suck. The reality is you should really stop looking at your past as increments of one year advances.

When you end up looking back at the previous year you tend to forget the things that lead you to where you are now. The reality is the older you get the less important one year of time becomes. When you’re 12 years old one year is one twelfth of your life (shocking math, right?). When you’re 30+ it’s now 1/30th of your life. It’s the reason why we tend to always say that “you can’t believe how fast this year went.” Perception is reality.

Looking at one year of time is short-sighted. When I look at how much I’ve accomplished throughout my life I can’t help but feel success. I’ve had plenty of ups and downs but I’ve managed to keep moving on and up in my mind. Life is a constant stream of change, conflict, and resolution. The perception of what’s gone right is easier when you only remember what’s happened recently. Take the time to step back and look at more than just the year and you’ll see a bigger perception of your life.

 

 

Every Good Manager Will…

This week Michael Lopp (VP Engineering @ Slack) posted a summary of Tweets responding to the question “Regardless of seniority every good manager will…”.

I took that list and tried to correlate the responses into several buckets. I used Trello to visualize this.

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https://trello.com/b/Wr78Mx6k/good-managers

I came up with five buckets:

  1. Compassion/Empathy – Feel like a human and realize others feel too.
  2. Give/Take Feedback – Listen to others, tell them what’s going right & wrong, and do the same for yourself.
  3. Filter/Map/Reduce – Take in the world above and turn it into smaller things that are important for your people to know.
  4. Unblock – Don’t be an obstacle for your people to succeed – and help remove obstacles from their paths.
  5. Trust – Everyone is an adult and was hired for a reason – trust them in their decisions and make sure to gain your people’s trust.