General

It’s not easy to “check out” but you should do it anyway

Julie at Boelter + Lincoln writes:

Here I am on vacation in the Northwoods writing this blog. I will be on vacation all week and will check my email every day – several times. I will log in to check on client campaigns and meet deadlines that could probably wait a few days. I am not an on-call rescue person, I work in advertising. But we have been conditioned to be connected all the time. What if I miss something?

– Can you “check out”?

My rule is very simple: if I’m not in the office, I’m not working. Obvious exceptions apply: those days when I’m just sick enough to stay home rather than infecting everyone else but not sick enough to be bedridden, days when last night’s blizzard buried my car in three feet of snow, and so on. But otherwise: no office, no work.

When I leave at the end of the day, my work laptop gets turned off and put in its bag. I don’t have a corporate-issue cellphone, so there’s nothing to persistently ding with each incoming email. The laptop doesn’t come out of its bag until the next workday morning. Once I’m across the front lobby threshold and into the parking lot, it’s me time.

However… I recognize that there will occasionally be instances where something needs to get done outside of business hours. If that happens, someone has to contact me directly. There needs to be a phone call, or a text message, or – depending on who’s asking – a Twitter mention or message. It needs to be initiated by someone from work; I won’t be actively looking for something.

It’s simple, but actually quite effective. My boss is well aware of this policy – it was made quite clear my first day on the job. If you really need me to do something, no problem, but it’s not happening unless you get in touch directly. I’m checked out otherwise.

Personal

Your House is Burning – What Do You Grab?

A thought experiment, if you would. Your house is burning. What do you take with you? Let’s assume for the sake of discussion:

  • You wake up in your bed and realize there’s a fire you can’t put out; you need to get out.
  • You have a safe exit, but not for long.
  • You have some kind of small bag handy, like a backpack or a pillowcase, that you can throw stuff into.
  • You can only make one trip. Once you’re out, you’re out; no going back in for more.

What do you grab? Continue reading “Your House is Burning – What Do You Grab?”

Personal

Five Things I Wish People Knew About Me

Amber Naslund had a great post a little while back, “What I Wish More People Knew About Me” in which she lists a handful of things about herself that maybe weren’t that well known to others, but should be.

Social media can create really superficial vantage points. We can see a few tweets or a blog post or a Facebook status from someone and think we’ve got them all figured out. So much nuance can be lost in the midst of snippets of electronic and fleeting communication.

Absolutely true. We live with a stream of constant tweets, check-ins and status updates, and yet how much about these “friends” do we really truly know? And how much about ourselves do they know? My guess? Not much. And so Amber lists a handful of things about herself that help us get a better sense of who she is, then in true internet fashion issues a call for the rest of us to share alike.

So, doing my best to avoid sounding narcissistic, here are a handful of things I wish people knew about me. Warning: candid revelations below.

Continue reading “Five Things I Wish People Knew About Me”

Tech

Up and Gone; Or, The Ease of Relocating in the Digital Age

I recently had the pleasure of dogsitting for my parents while they were out of town, and in the process of temporarily relocating myself to their house, I realized something.

It’s extremely easy to pick up and relocate ourselves in an age where everything has gone digital.

This isn’t really a surprise. There are lots of books and blogs extolling the virtues of a location-independent lifestyle. Even for those of us who aren’t globe-trotting, it’s become remarkably easy to just… leave. For the two weeks I was living at my parents’ house taking care of their dog, I packed a single bag with a few changes of clothes and basic toiletries, a couple books, and my laptop. (Plus my phone, but that’s always on me and thus not really counted as packing.) That’s it.

All my other possessions were unimportant.

Granted, I wasn’t packing for a survival trek. I knew there would be food on hand and a kitchen to prepare it, a bed to sleep in, and functioning utilities. But it was interesting to see just how few of my own things I needed in order to be away from home for two weeks.

  • Mail was not a concern – all my bills are handled online, and personal letters have long been replaced by email, texts, and the social web. The sum total of my physical mail for two weeks was a pair of Netflix envelopes and a handful of unwanted marketing flyers and catalogs (which go straight to the trash).
  • Netflix and Hulu were at the ready for movies and TV. iTunes holds my music library. A couple books, which could just as easily have been library loans, and a very active dog sufficed for most of my entertainment.
  • Two weeks’ worth of clothing really doesn’t take up much space and can be packed fairly quickly. A few pairs of jeans, several t-shirts and overshirts for work, and some sweatshirts, plus a coat and gloves, all of which fits well in a moderately-sized duffle bag.

My laptop and my phone are undoubtedly my two most important possessions. Those two devices have replaced (or at least could replace) my mailbox, my media center, a bookshelf, paper notebooks, my alarm clock, and a phonebook, among other things. Digital storage is cheaper than ever, so I could easily back up all my DVDs to a portable harddrive.

Obviously there are some things I can’t digitize. My couch, for one. And as easy as it might be to order a pizza online, I like cooking, so my kitchen is here to stay. But the rest of my stuff? That’s just it – it’s just stuff. I’m planning to overhaul my belongings, going by the rule of “If I had to move right now and could only take one car, would this go with me?” My guess is that the answer will consistently tend toward “no.”

What else in my life can I digitize to reduce my clutter? Moving to a monastery and renouncing all worldly things is out of the question, but I’m open to suggestions.

Tech

Learn When to Say No.

The one skill that’s been most helpful to me professionally, more than any tech knowledge, is knowing when and how to say “No.”

Obviously any profession has certain skillsets that are required for basic completion of the relevant tasks. Architects need to be able to sketch designs and understand building stress points. Firefighters need to know how to hook up hoses and where to aim the water for best coverage. I’m a front-end developer; I need to know how to write proper XHTML and CSS, use Photoshop, and manage project timelines.

Even so, none of the various technical abilities I’ve acquired over the years are as important as simply knowing when it’s necessary to say “no” to people. It’s a “soft skill” but it’s just as vital as any knowledge of coding languages, operating systems, or tech support tips. I’ve learned that saying “yes” all the time leads to nothing but stress and ultimately sub-par work. You end up trying to please all the people all the time, and it’s just not doable.

I think too many people have this idea that it’s unacceptable to say no (or worse, to hear it from others). There’s a fear that saying “no” will somehow make them look incapable of handling the work, make them look like they can’t be trusted to get stuff done. They’re half right, technically. There’s a point at which workload outweighs available time, and when that happens the work will suffer, the person will suffer, and the client will suffer.

No one wants that.

I’ve learned — the hard way — that my health (mental and physical) and my output are directly affected by my ability to regulate my workload effectively. Knowing when and more importantly how to tell people that you can’t currently oblige their request is absolutely critical to keeping yourself in balance.

I just wish more people understood that.