So I’ve made no secret on this blog of my interest in gaming. And how its been something that I’ve picked back up over the past year. And I have to say the one positive that came out of the many changes COVID-19 has caused in our families life is how much we’ve embraced gaming.
About 18 months ago, I joined a small group of friends and we decided to take a stab at gaming more. And we started with Dungeons and Dragons, and playing a game night once a month.
Now it started out great, I will admit we had a lot of fun. But the hardest part was organizing everything. From scheduling with everyone’s busy schedule, to location, child care, etc. Which honestly was a pretty difficult, coordinating the schedules of 8 adults all of which have kids.
When COVID-19 hit, we all found ourselves stuck at home, and everyone’s plans dropped. And honestly it took our monthly game night, and made it a weekly game, and its been really great. We’ve gotten much closer as friends, and honestly it gave all of us something to look forward to every week.
So that being said, we did it by taking our game and going virtual with it. And for this post I thought I would share the setup and how we took our game virtual. You don’t have to be playing dungeons and dragons, but its a great way to reconnect with people. A great side note is that we had a friend, who work took away from our area, who we used to see once a year, I now see him and game with him every Saturday, and have for the past 3 months.
Break out the Digital Tools:
For our team, we really started using the following tools to help make our game go digital and be as much fun as it was in person:
DND Beyond – This one to be fair we were using before the pandemic. But its become more important than before. We track our character sheets here.
Roll20 – We started using Roll20 to handle the digital game board. This is a great tool for managing your games and letting things play out on maps.
Facebook Messenger – We use this to handle the video calls, and honestly did because of familiarity of other members of our group. And things have worked pretty well, especially with Facebook rooms.
Discord – We leverage this tool to consolidate our chat during the game, and it’s been great. My players are able to talk, share handouts, or have direct conversations with me directly during the game.
OneNote – We created a shared notebook, where the players share their notes with each other to their benefit.
As I mentioned it’s been really helpful to be able to find new ways to connect as we deal with the uncertainty, and I definitely recommend stepping out of your comfort zone and finding news ways to engage, even in this crazy new world.
So for something completely different. My family and I have been making sure that we do some STEM activities with our kids. And if you’re like me, they are just as much fun for me as they are for the kids.
So I feel very blessed, in that both of my kids are very analytical, and that really means for me we get to do a lot of fun things that take me back to my childhood.
When I was growing up, I came from a family of educators, going back 3 generations. So education is something that has found its way into all aspects of our lives. And I’m very thankful for that because my brother and I grew up with a love for learning written into our DNA.
The other thing I grew up with was technology, and my dad had computers in our house from the earliest parts of my childhood. So I try to find activities that really flex that logical, analytical part of their brain. So here are some of the things that we do for this type of activity.
Legos and Building toys
I’ve made no secret that I’ve been a fan of Legos from when I was a kid. And honestly there is so much to do with kids for this. The most important key to success here is that you need to instill this idea that they get to enjoy the act of building.
For my kids from an early age, we drilled into them one saying “the best part about Legos is you get to build it again.” and this has instilled an idea that for my kids that the act of building is the fun part, and now I can honestly say I think they enjoy building more than playing with the models.
The other key here is what we don’t do, our kids can save 1 model they build, that’s it. The rest are broken down to start again. What this does is makes them focus on building more. We take pictures of their creations and they get to keep those. And celebrate the effort, not the result.
We do this with other toys, my daughters personal favorite are magnatiles. And encourage them to build and then have them take pictures.
This was a new one for us, but it was fantastic. We got my daughter the littlebits music inventor kit which can be found here. And it was amazing. It comes with wires, and electronic components but they are connected using magnets. The app gives easy to follow videos that let the kids walkthrough building the circuits and devices.
But more than that, they then have activities to do after, which I thought was pretty great. After my daughter built a synthesizer guitar it had video lessons on how to play it that added extra value to the experience.
Problem Solving Challenges
Another thing honestly is that we do a lot of problem solving challenges. Things like asking the kids to solve a problem. Part of the idea is to encourage our kids to see a problem and try to figure out ways to solve it.
His can include giving them specific Lego challenges that they need to build and testing the results. This further encourages grit in our kids by pushing them to try and solve it and encouraging the effort and not just the result.
This one is great for when they really want to build their imagination. Honestly the educational value of minecraft is pretty well documented, but it’s a great place for kids to build without resource constraints.
I’ve watched my kids build some amazing structures in minecraft just by giving them a random idea. Things like:
Build a bridge
Build a tower
Build a train and train station
Build a batcave
Build a warehouse for your stuff
And these type of actions can give your kids just enough direction to go and let their imagination run wild.
So for our kids we find the best option possible to facilitate creativity, and that includes creating a art station for my daughter with a mix of different options. Her art station includes an easle and paper and items like the following:
The end goal of this is to task our kids with creating things rather than consuming.
Another great activity to help kids with STEM is just cooking. Cooking involves the following:
Heat and transferance
States of matter
Cooking is a fun activity that fosters creativity and science. It’s a great simple activity that can make sure to stimulate their brains.
Those are some of the things that we do to pass the time and engage in stem activities with the kids. And honestly they have led to some of the best memories with my kids. And feel free to comment with what activities you are doing.
So its officially summer, and the past few months have been a little brutal on everyone. The world has been a very chaotic place in the past few months, with a lot of change. I don’t think there is a person alive who could have predicted the events since March 2020. And for many people there have been a wide range of emotions and situations out there. I want pretend to know the myriad of situations out there, and ultimately you reading this I’m sure have your own story with regard to the events of the past few months, whether those included isolation, depression, emotional stress, unemployment, or having your work life balance destroyed.
I’m not going to comment on any of those situations, but what I did want to share for this blog post were my thoughts on something I think universally felt by everyone…burnout.
All the events of the past few months, have left many of us feeling completely burned out. I know in my situation the events have led to 12-14 hour days for sustained periods (going on 3 months). And if you’re anything like me, the act of relaxing is something that’s not always the easiest to do. And for many of us, who had to be quarantined with kids those demands can be a lot higher.
So given that, it can be rather difficult to deal with these feelings of burnout, and I’ve been trying somethings myself and thought I would share a blog post discussing how I’m trying to manage burnout. I don’t pretend to believe that I have this figured out, but I’ve found some things that work for me, and I felt it would be good to pass them on.
Figure out what helps you relax?
Really, this is something I’ve come to realize quite heavily recently. But honestly everyone seems to think of the same thing as relaxing. And odds are for most of us the ways in which we relax have changed pretty drastically over the past few months.
For me, the problem was it always felt like there was something else to do, and it never seemed like I would really “relax” in the conventional sense. But honestly, relaxation means something different to everyone, and you might need to take a step back and redefine what it means for you.
For example, I’m the kind of person who has a very “Busy” energy. And sitting back and doing nothing is not actually relaxing, at all. I will find some way to exercise my mind or do something that engages me in different kinds of activities. So for me, I need to engage in something else that let’s me engage my mind in a different way but still satisfies my values.
The best way I can describe this, is my son came into my room at 6:30am on Father’s day and woke me up with the following sentence:
Happy Father’s day…Do you want to build a lego and play video games?
For me, I find that that sitting down and pulling a lego set and working on it with my son, is significantly more fun and relaxing than anything else. So I’ve actually gotten to the point that there is a small backlog of lego sets in my office:
So every so often, I’ll just sit down with my kids, build a lego, and they know that when we are done, I always take a picture and then turn it over to them. For me, the act of building something, with my hands, and doing it with my kids is really relaxing.
Take time for you
For me, like I mentioned above, I have to find times to engage my mind in things to really unplug and refresh, and it’s forced me to find new ways to do that, and in my case I find a lot of benefit to reading. I’ve been a comic fan for the past 27 years of my life. And one of the things I find really helps me is that most comic stories can be fairly quick reads and are something I can enjoy and engage on without making larger commitments or giving myself something else to remember.
But I find that taking time to read is something that I can do fairly easily at night. Usually my wife and I will put the kids to bed, and then our routine is to each take about an hour to do something by ourselves to recharge before we come back together and relax. This helps us to rest and shake off the craziness of the day before we hangout together.
Find new ways to replace old activities
So for most people, between COVID-19 and the craziness of everything else going on, it can be hard to engage in that social part of your life. And seeing friends and family became very difficult. We were lucky enough to find a new way to solve that problem. Prior to COVID-19, my wife and I along with a group of friends started playing TTRPGs, and specifically Dungeons and Dragons.
Now I know, D&D has a pretty nerdy reputation, but lately has seen a pretty big resurgence in the past few years. Honestly its pretty hard to call something nerdy when one of the biggest promoters of the game is Joe Manganiello.
Now, we were playing a monthly game with 5 other people before COVID-19, and since that game became weekly, with us all playing via Facebook Messenger. Since then the game has gone to weekly, and I have to tell you its been great. As the DM for the game it has more work, but I find that kind of work relaxing, and honestly its something we all collectively look forward to every week.
So most nights at some point, I end up stepping back and building the story and working on DnD as a way to relax. So we found a new way to do things and honestly even with our state going “Green” on the status, there’s been talk of doing a few in-person games, but we likely will be playing remotely every week moving forward. For those of us with kids it helps that we don’t have to find baby sitters and play from kid bedtime until midnight.
Another example I have here, is Exercise. So I have to be honest I had started Crossfit right before COVID-19, and was really enjoying it. But with COVID-19, all Gyms were shutdown, and I fell out of the habit. The main exercise option then became running, which to be honest is my personal hell. I can’t turn my brain off long enough and running becomes boring to me. But recently I found a great app that helps…Zombie’s Run. The app is here.
What I like about this is its sort of a mix of a podcast and exercise. In each “mission” there are audio snippets that will play that describe the adventures of your persona “Runner 5”, as you set out to help your home township as a runner. Being sent out to get supplies, distract zombies, etc. And as you run, periodically it will chime in with different updates on those missions and directions. It also integrates with Spotify or your chosen music player. So basically I’ll be running, and listening to music, and all of a sudden get a message “Pick up the pace, a rogue group of zombies must have heard you they are gaining on you.” (Complete with zombie sounds). And then the music resumes. It makes the process a lot more fun than before. If you want proof of that, I hate running and usually stop as soon as I can, and my second day I did a 5k.
Try Something new…
In my wife and my case, we had a smoker we got from my brother and never got around to using it. Since COVID-19 started we’ve been using that smoker almost every weekend doing a “Culinary Experiment” to help try new things. It gives us something fun to look forward to, and helps to make things easier. Our latest experiment was a 7 lb Pork Shoulder:
So I would recommend try to find something new, and make a routine out of it. It will give you something to look forward to every day, or every week. And that can help stop the feelings of burnout.
So for a completely untechnology related post, I thought I would pass along here, and it’s just some general tips to live by. Let’s face it the nature of work has changed a lot for everyone. Most of us are busier than we’ve ever been. Things are downright crazy for a lot of us, and people are working together to do more, and accomplish more with less.
To that end, I’ve picked up a couple of tips to help make sure that you build out the reservoir of good will to work with people in a corporate setting, and it boils down to a few small gestures. That can really help to encourage partnership and growth with others. These are practices that I do and lean on heavily and I find they help me and others so I wanted to share them.
Visibility Matters to everyone
The old adage is “No man is an island,” and that more true now than ever, odds are if you are working on something, you are working with a team.
If you read any books on leadership, one of the first things you will see common to all of them is that individual accomplishment is the last thing you should focus on yourself. Make sure you thinking is aligned that you succeed as a team and fail as a team. But that being said it’s important to make sure that if anyone does something exceptional, that it be noticed.
There are a couple of ways to do that.
Make sure to give feedback: by this I mean that you should take time and tell people “good job” or “you really stepped up, thanks.” It’s important that people know their efforts are being appreciated and having impact.
Make sure they’re manager knows: One thing I do, is keep notes on the kinds of things the team member has accomplished and send an email to their boss / manager. I know some companies have tools for this. But I find that people appreciate a good email.
I promise you that everyone who you send that email for, 3 things will happen:
They will appreciate it.
Their manager will appreciate it.
You will feel better knowing you helped someone.
Every company I’ve ever known has performance reviews. And those times are important to everyone. It’s important the employee but it’s also important to the manager.
Do your best time find out when those times are, and send a note to their manager right before that happens. Great feedback right before a performance review helps everyone. So do the best you can to make sure it lands at the right time.
Be concise and direct
As much as you can say things like “they are a great person”. I promise you it will land better if you say “This was the problem, and here’s how Jon / Jane went out of their way to deliver.” That kind of thing makes all the difference because it is more specific.
And make sure you keep it short, most managers are busy people and only have a couple of minutes so get to the point and make your argument why this person deserves praise.
In my experience this will help you build a reservoir of good will and help those around you want to continue to work towards your team goals.
So I’ve been trying to do more reading, and this book in particular got my attention after this video was referred to me.
I particularly found this interesting because if you watch the video. It discusses the differences between an infinite strategy and a finite strategy. And it struck me because to be honest I had been explaining to friends the differences between board games and TableTop Roleplaying Games. And more importantly, I saw the implications of this with regard to a career. Business / Technology is a game that will continue long after I am gone, and to build anything worthwhile it would require movement in that direction from a strategic perspective.
So after that I heard that Simon Sinek wrote a book that went into this more:
What I found interesting reading this book?
For me the interesting part of this book was that it put forward a mathematics based theory, that attempts to model human behavior. And I find some of this completely fascinating. But more than that I found the original premise, of the infinite vs the finite strategy to be something very telling. And one of the things I love about my current position is that it affords the ability to to see a bigger picture than I used to, and the opportunity to see beyond the technology to the broader picture and to focus on a mission.
What is the difference between “Finite strategy” and “Infinite strategy.”
Now I’ve mentioned this a couple of times. So what is a “Finite strategy”, and an “infinite strategy.”
A Finite game, is a game that meets certain types of parameters and must be played as such. In a finite game, the following elements are true:
All players are none.
The conditions to “win” are transparent and clearly defined.
All rules are defined and agreed upon up front.
The duration of the game is defined.
A clear “winner” is defined at the end.
The best example of a Finite game I can think of are sports. Take hockey for example. A set number of players for two teams are set to play with the game starting at a specific time, and ending at a specific time. Because of this there is a very specific set of strategies that needs to be implemented to win.
Now an Infinite game, creates a very different situation, and requires that it be handled very differently. In an infinite game.
Players are both known and unknown, and can enter and leave the game at any time.
The conditions of “Winning” are to be able to continue to play the game.
Rules are both written and unwritten.
The duration of the game is infinite.
A player wins by creating a scenario where they continue to play the game. This requires creating situations that support maintaining the will and resources to continue.
The important part of this is the “Will and the Resources” to continue playing the game. In an infinite game setting, the goal is to stay in the game, and part of it is the realization that there will always be a competitor, and that you can’t ever assume you’ve “won” the game in any way.
A great example of this I find is the example of business. The business world doesn’t end. There is never a circumstance that says “Oh well Company X won…everyone time to go home.” The landscape of the game is always changing.
A perfect example of this is the COVID-19, situation around the world. The important part of this is to remember that the game conditions are changing at all time. But the companies that are going t o weather the storm are the ones who can make adjustments and flex their strategy to survive.
Why does this matter?
if you look at the companies and individuals that are most successful, they all focus on their values, and trying to continue to drive towards a goal / calling that helps them to keep the will in the game. And by having this longer term vision, and a clear mission the companies and individuals out there that embrace an infinite mindset and strategy are able to make the right adjustments to do what’s required to see that mission successful.
I really enjoyed this book, and I found it to provide some very interesting ideas and insights that really forced me to question traditional thinking. Simon Sinek has this great ability to take these concepts and present them in such a way that they come off as mind-blowingly obvious. I definitely recommend this book overal.
How to pitch an idea! And make them actually want to do it.
So I wanted to do another post on soft skills, and this is one has really been top of mind lately, as I was in a situation where I had to pitch an idea to several key decision makers, and had to structure it in such a way as to make them want to adopt it.
So this post your going to see several tips on how to pitch this idea to gain the most support. And to be honest, I see this as one of those essential skills that for a career, as everyone has ideas. And ideas are great but they only move from the planning phase to reality if you are able to gain support. This is ultimately just as true for junior devs as it is for CEOs. You can’t force people to adopt ideas (you can try, but it usually fails). Ultimately you need to be able to pitch an idea to move it forward.
Without going into specifics, I was pitching a new process to benefit customers. And as such had to prepare and assemble that presentation to help get support for this idea to move forward. And it occurred to me, how much I’ve learned over the years from crashing and burning on this kind of thing, and I thought I’d pass this along to you.
So let’s talk about pitching that idea…so you’ve come up with the next amazing idea, something you want to change that you think is going to benefit your entire workplace. So what do we do now? Where do we start?
Step 1 – Ask the 3 questions.
This is honestly the hardest part because it can put a lot of doubt on yourself, but its important. Before you do anything else, based on your idea you just had I ask 3 questions of myself.
What is the problem I’m solving?
Is this a problem worth solving?
Is my idea actually going to solve it?
Now the above questions are hard, if you use them correctly when proposing an idea. Because things like “Yes because it drives me crazy” is not enough in most cases to justify the effort.
The simple fact is this, you only have so many resources, and the people you are proposing ideas to also have resource constraints on them as well. So at the end of the day, you have to make sure this is worth pursuing.
So what I mean here is looking at the overall scope of the problem, and if its worth doing. And would this idea actually solve the problem.
Here let me give you an extreme example, but it illustrates the point. When I was a younger junior dev, I had been working on internal applications for use at a company to automate internal processes. We like any dev shop would move forward with new technologies as we could. So at the time, and I’m dating myself, we had just moved to the wonderful new world of MVC. So nothing was worse as a dev, than having to step back into the older applications to do maintenance once, maybe twice a year and deal with Web Forms.
So like any junior dev, I came up with the idea, we should rewrite it. And I put together a pitch and presented it to the dev manager, and it crashed and burned so hard it was spectacular. And here’s why, I didn’t ask the 3 questions, if I had I would have found the following:
1.) What is the problem I am solving?
Well I want to rewrite this older application, that is extremely stable, used infrequently, and I have to spend about a week of my year working on.
2.) Is this problem worth solving?
If I do an estimate it would take about 3 months to completely rebuild this application from scratch, and most of the existing code could not be reused, and that’s not including testing effort and risk attached to the new code.
3.) Is my idea actually going to solve it?
Yes and no, it will bring it in line with our other applications, but the application is used infrequently, and it probably another few years we will need to do this again. Now I can architect it for more code reuse, but there will still be effort.
If I’m being critical, and asking these questions…this idea fell apart pretty fast. And to be honest, the people you pitch to are likely going t o ask these questions first and foremost, so you should ask them to yourself to start.
Step 2 – Make sure the idea is fully baked?
This is the hardest step to me, its taking a step back, and playing “Devil’s advocate.” Making sure that you are able to “battletest” this idea in your own head. Because here’s the thing you need to accept…change is hard. So if your idea is going to have any hope of seeing reality, it has to be able to survive some scrutiny.
So how do you do that. I find you start asking questions, and some of those questions are going to be things like:
Has this ever been attempted before?
If yes, then how is this different?
How much is this going to cost?
What’s the return on investment?
What kind of work would this idea demand to make it a reality?
Do I think others will accept this?
Questions and being critical of your idea will ensure that you have done all you can to make sure the idea is fully formed. If you don’t do that, then the people you are pitching to, will feel like you are wasting their time.
Step 3 – Solicit Feedback from people you trust
Honestly, this is important. Find people you trust, and make sure they are in different positions, and have different perspectives, and dry run your idea by them. Feedback will help you come up with questions you never thought to ask before. And they can only help you strengthen your idea.
But this step only works if you accept the feedback, and don’t get defensive. If you ask for feedback, give a lot of thought to everything that comes back and don’t blow anything off. They are trying to help not pick at you. Don’t take feedback personally or get defensive. No one is attacking you.
Step 4 – Structure / Rehearse the pitch
If you are going to pitch an idea, make sure you take the time to figure out the “How?” of pitching the idea. How will you present the idea? How are you going to address everyone involved?
During this step its important to take a step back and think about the people who you will be pitching to. Look at how they respond and how they like to be addressed or have information presented to them.
And above all, be mindful of time. If they are giving you a gift of their time, don’t waste and don’t take more than they are willing to give.
The next couple points will be more on the “How” when it comes to structuring your idea.
Step 5 – Make sure you get to “Why should you care” early.
The most important thing to get to early in your presentation, is “Why should I care?” And to be honest, I usually actually title my first slide that. It gets attention immediately, and if you don’t hook them with a reason to care, they likely won’t.
So what do I mean by “Why should I care?” If you want people to consider supporting your idea, it needs to be meaningful to them. And it pays to know your audience here.
If I’m talking to a Finance Manager, and start with “And by implementing this new technology we can expand the amount of capabilities we offer.” – Odds are they don’t care. But if I start with “By adopting this new technology I can generate a 30% savings with a 10% investment and save us $_______,” I’ve immediately gotten their attention.
Or the ever popular, “By not doing this we are wasting $________, a year”, and I can bet they will be laser focused on everything you have to say.
So make sure you start with why they should care, and then they are more likely to hear the other things you want them to.
Step 6 – Make sure you explain how your idea will solve the problem.
I’ve been on the receiving end of presentations like this, and honestly I’ve seen people do step 5, and they then explain their idea and say “Any questions?” With the “Why should I care?” statements, you are essentially throwing down the gauntlet. After doing that you better, in-very-short-order, turn around and say how your idea will solve that problem.
Don’t assume your audience will immediately see it. Everyone has different perspectives, and might not see the connections the same way you do.
Step 7 – Make sure to describe the return on investment
If they move forward with this, and they put their time and energy into your idea, what is going to come back to them. There needs to be a return on their investment for them to get behind you. So spend some time getting to find out what bothers or motivates the people you are talking to. How can you align your idea with what they want to accomplish to get further support.
Step 8 – Make sure you are “laser-focused” on the asks.
This is an area I usually struggle with, but its the most important. Before you pitch is over, make sure you have a moment where you say “Here’s the ask”. You’ve essentially done the following:
Identified a problem
Given us a reason to care
Told us your idea
Told us how it will solve the problem
At this point, the next question is “What do you need to get it done?” Let’s face it, if you could do it without their support, you should. So if your going to take their time, there has to be a reason. Or more specifically what do you need from them to make this a reality. Be very clear about these asks, call them out on a slide, or given a list, something that makes it very clear.
And avoid the common mistakes with asks. The most common I see / have done are the following:
Make sure its something they can actually do: I’ve been in meetings where as a Dev Manager I was told “And Kevin we want you to require that all projects leverage nuget in their solutions.” Now one problem, when I was a dev manager…I was 1 of 3, all at the same level. I had zero authority to follow through on that ask, even if I wanted to.
Make sure it is a specific ask: This is my favorite, and I am SO guilty of this. Way more than I’m willing to admit. But saying things like “And have your support to adopt this across the team.” What the hell does that actually mean? You leave the person you are pitching to questioning that and what you actually want. This is the equivalent of asking them to write a blank check, and that’s not going to happen. There needs to be a call to action for any movement. We are all busy people.
Now once you’ve done all this, you are ready to pitch your idea. During the pitch I have a few final tips to remember and keep in mind to set yourself up for success.
Be mindful of time: I’ve said this a couple of times, but its worth repeating. Time is a gift, use it wisely.
Be concise and to the point: Your pitch relies on you holding their attention, don’t ramble.
Make sure you are able to answer questions: There will be questions, don’t hide from them. Make sure you allow time for them, and answer them to the best of your ability. It’s ok to admit that you still need to figure something out. The honesty will pay off.
Your idea is not you: I can’t stress this enough, I’ve been in meetings where questions are asked, or weaknesses are being discussed in a new idea. And people get defensive. This will torpedo your idea faster than anything. No one will want to engage if you get defensive. So accept it and feedback to help.
Be honest with yourself and accept feedback: Everyone brings different perspectives, and the inclusion of those perspectives can only make the idea stronger. I had an idea that I pitched and felt strongly about, but it wasn’t exactly ground breaking. And I had a manager say in my pitch, “No offense Kevin, I love the idea but its not exactly brand new, but it is a variation we haven’t done before.” And in my youth, I would have gotten defensive. But I responded “You’re absolutely right, it isn’t groundbreaking, just a different approach.” And I could see a shift in the room, that they knew I could accept feedback and the conversation got much better and helped.
Take ownership and invest in it: Look, I’ve done it. You accept that you are going to pitch this idea, and then somehow they wave a magic wand and all of a sudden its a reality. Not true, and believing that you are going to hand over the keys to the people in this pitch meeting and walk away is a delusion. Don’t be afraid to take ownership of following up with key people, or doing parts of it. By investing in it yourself it will help them to want to invest as well. If you’re not willing to have “skin in the game,” they won’t either.
So I did a post in January around the idea of goals and aligning values. And I talked about the idea of making sure that actions you take align with your values and at the end of the day that’s what matters.
So I’ve gotten questions from colleagues who read the blog post about what does it means to actually align actions to values, and how do you do that. So I wanted to take a minute to drill down on this topic and really quantify what this means.
Many of you have likely heard of the Urgency / Importance matrix, this is a productivity idea that has really gained momentum with a lot of experts, but specifically with Dr. Stephen Covey (7 habits of highly effective people). The idea behind it is this, every action or demand placed on you has two aspects that you should use to judge it.
Urgency is the one everyone gets, at the end of the day this is how quickly it requires my attention. But I would actually argue that a lot of people (including me) get this part wrong. The idea here is how urgent is the required action.
The challenge I would push back on people is that a lot of times we let urgency be dictated by others. So in its truest sense, I believe a lot of people, and myself included become addicted to urgency. We get this believe that if we don’t act right away we will miss out or fail in some way. Just because this is an immediate need for one person, does not mean it is for another. And there is almost a social contract here where by we need to make sure to set expectations accordingly. And honestly, that’s an entire blog post itself.
The result of that is we use urgency as the sole aspect by which we prioritize our efforts. And that is where, as Scott Hanselman says “you time travel”, we get caught up in the urgent, and email is the worst example of this. And then we don’t feel like we accomplish anything.
The second aspect of any activity is importance, and this is the one that usually trips people up, “how do you define importance?” Now here’s the magic, for me the importance of an item directly correlates to the values I am driven by. As I talked about in my last blog post, I have gone with the idea of value based living, so for me, the definition of important is a binary decision “Does this align with my values?”
Now below is the urgent / important matrix that many authors and researchers reference as being the key to maintaining focus.
Now I’m going to steal from Scott Hanselman, as I think he sums it up best with his reaction to each of these:
Do it now
Decide when to do it
So the key parts here are this gives a roadmap for how to align activities to your values, and then decide the appropriate action. The idea behind this being that at the end of the day, I only have a finite number of hours left in my life, and can only succeed at some many things, so I should focus my energies on items that align to values and are important to me (see what I did there).
So for example, I’ll be candid with you, my loyal readers here, my values are the following:
So for me, I’m really trying (not always succeeding, but trying) to make sure that I align my activities to things that fall in these 6 buckets. And by putting my energy into those values I’m making sure that my actions will drive a maximum impact in core areas that matter to me.
Like for example, its not arbitrary that the items up there are in that order, Family is always going to be the most important thing for me, and I will always prioritize actions for my family, like making sure my daughter is successful, over other activities.
But basically what I’m saying is for me, it doesn’t rate as important, unless it relates to those values above and driving success in those areas. As I mentioned I’ve put this together based on the works of Greg McKeown (Essentialism), Angela Duckworth (Grit), Mike Michalowicz (Clockwork) and a few tips from Scott Hanselman. Below is a great talk that Scott gave on scaling yourself:
Hello All, education is something that I’ve always felt strongly about. I come from a family where most of the people in my family have worked / do work in education at a variety of levels. And even in my career was a college professor for a while. So that being said, a lot of people look to certifications as a great way to driving learning and validating it for your resume.
I personally like certifications as something that you can use and point to as a standard for your skills. Now that being said the certifications are complex and lots of people have questions about what they mean. So I put this together to help people navigate the different options for certification on the azure platform:
Develop Azure Infrastructure as a Service compute solution (10-15%) Develop Azure Platform as a Service compute solution (20-25%) Develop for Azure storage (15-20%) Implement Azure security (10-15%) Monitor, troubleshoot, and optimize solutions (10-15%) Connect to and consume Azure and third-party services (20-25%)
Deploy and configure infrastructure (25-30%) Implement workloads and security (20-25%) Create and deploy apps (5-10%) Implement authentication and secure data (5-10%) Develop for the cloud and for Azure storage (20-25%)
Determine workload requirements (10-15%) Design for identity and security (20-25%) Design a data platform solution (15-20%) Design a business continuity strategy (15-20%) Design for deployment, migration, and integration (10-15%) Design an infrastructure strategy (15-20%)
Design Azure data storage solutions (40-45%) Design data processing solutions (25-30%) Design for data security and compliance (25-30%)
So if you are interested in getting certifications, and in moving forward with these, the next question is usually, now I know what I have to learn, but what about the how. The good news is that their are a lot of free resources to help.
MS Learn : This is a great site that provides a lot of structured learning paths of different sizes that can assist in your learning these skills.
Channel 9 : A great video site on just about everything Microsoft which would help if you want to be walked through something.
Hello all, so I know this follows a little bit of a departure from the technical posts, and I promise to get back to that. But I have been asked by a couple of people about working from home, and how you do it? So I thought I’d through a post out here on how to do it.
So I’ve been fortunate enough that I have had a job where I “work from home” for the past 4 years. I say that in quotes because some of those years involved traveling to end customers. Some of those years spending 4 days on customer sites, and 1 day a week at home. I will likely do another post about working mobile, or traveling for work.
But for this, we are going to focus on working from home, and how to do it. Like I said I’ve been doing this for a few years and learned a lot about how to work from home without it taking over your life.
Lesson 1 – Recognize that it’s an adjustment
So let’s not mince words here, working from home is an adjustment, and very much not like working in an office. You will hear some people tell you it isn’t, but I would disagree with that. The adjustment is compounded further if you are in a situation where you have other family members at home. So its important to know that you are going to have a period of adjustment and plan for that.
Another element of this that is important, especially if you have family at home is to have an open discussion with them about this transition. You need to make sure you have open lines of communication and that expectations are set appropriately between yourself and others. This will help make sure that “working from home” becomes a benefit to everyone, and not a curse.
Lesson 2 – Define your work hours (at least to some extent)
I know, most people will tell you that part of the benefit from working from home is flexibility, and that is absolutely true. But this prevents a misconception that a lot of people have.
There’s a lot of saying around how “if you don’t define your priorities, others will define it for you.” and I would argue that the same is true of schedules. Now that you work from home, in a lot of cases, you have a lot more control of your schedule. And in the beginning I strongly recommend that you define when your work hours are.
Let’s be clear here, the term is Work from home, not perpetual vacation. You are expected to get work done, and deliver results, just the same as if you were in an office, working a 40 hour week. You just don’t have to go to a building to do it.
By defining a work schedule you end up accomplishing the following things:
Helps define a mental space for you to make sure work doesn’t take over your life. (more on this later)
Helps communicate to family members that during specific times you are working, and therefore unavailable to run errands.
So let me give you an example, my family knows that I start work at 8:00am and work until 4pm every day. And that means that during that time period, they understand that my priority will always be doing work and items around my job. So in the event that I need to run an errand or help say for example, take one of kids to an appointment (to help the amazing miracle worker who is my wife) they know that I will do my best to help, but during those times I have to make my job a priority.
Now I’m not saying this has to be ironclad, but it should be the rule, and other times are the exception. This helps to also make sure that my family understands me needing to make trade-offs. Like for example, this past December, my son had a Christmas concert in the morning. I absolutely was not going to miss that. But my wife knew that I was either going to make the time later in the day, or take PTO for it.
This is the key that working from home, does give you huge flexibility, but especially in the beginning its really helpful to setup rules like this to communicate appropriately.
Lesson 3 – Realize how much you work
This sounds odd, but it is true. When I first started working from home, I would go to work when I got up when I normally did for work, about 6:30am, and then I would be done at 5.
But you need to realize that during that day your commute was all of 5 minutes when you walk to the office, which means that I was working 7am (shower / breakfast) to 5pm which is a 10 hour work day. But it was easy to fall into the routine and not think about it. If you want to maintain a work-life harmony, you do need to know how much you are leaning one way or the other.
Lesson 4 – Have a defined workspace
This goes to the mental state I mentioned above for working. You need to have a defined place where you work, or else you will never be able to separate work from home in your mind. Not being able to separate the two will cause a lot of issues with stress in your life.
So you need to make sure you have a place that is defined as “your office”, whether that is an actual room, or corner. It should be away from where you live normally. This will help because you will get your mind used to boundaries.
Lesson 5 – Don’t eat at your desk
This one sounds bizarre until you think about it, and honestly it’s something I’ve only implemented this year. But its very easy when you work from home to get pulled back to your desk during your lunch hours, you run down to the kitchen, grab something quick and go back.
In a normal office setting, this is a little harder as you can talk to Coworkers, get invited to lunch, etc. But when you work from home you are on your own.
If you’re like me, there will always be something you could do that will pull you back to your desk. It happened when I was at an office, but it got worse when I worked from home. You need to make sure that you take a mental break in the middle of the day to prevent stress and burn out.
Lesson 6 – Build exercise into your work day
This is one I’m trying to do, but I noticed that when I worked from home, I saw my body weight increase originally, and to be honest it makes sense. If you think about it, normally you would do a lot of activities, like commute to work, walk around the office, go out to lunch, commute home, etc.
This has been replaced with…Walk down the hall…Walk to the kitchen / bathroom…Walk down the hall
See the problem, you need to make sure you get out of the house, have a break mentally, do something healthy. These are all essential to your well-being.
Lesson 7 – Allow for context switching
As I’ve mentioned above, part of the adjustment to working from home is mental. And you need to make sure to take steps to allow your mind and body to switch context from home to work and vice versa. This is not a trivial thing. For example, I have steps I take to start my day that are designed to help me get into “work mode” and then steps I take to close out my day before I leave my office. This helps with my stress levels by allowing me to have the ability to be present in both elements of my life.
Lesson 8 – Stay organized
It’s important to remember that when you are at an office, you have others around you to help you stay organized. They will help you stay focused on priorities and context of situations around you. When you work from home, you still have communication mechanisms, but really its more reliant on you to make sure that you have the systems in place to stay organized. I use apps like Microsoft To-Do to manage my life, and that helps me to make sure that things don’t get lost in the cracks.
Make sure you take time to setup these systems to keep things organized for you.
So that’s my lessons I’ve learned from working from home. I’m sure there will be more to come, but honestly it something that both I and my family have really benefited from, and I hope you can to.
So it’s officially 2020, and a new year brings with it all kinds of things. Retrospective, hope, dreams, and a variety of other feelings. I’m not a big party-er and have never been a massive fan of New Years Eve, but I do have to say in recent years, I have really come to appreciate two elements of new years as an important time of year for me. The first being retrospection, its a chance to look back at the year and be honest with ourselves about how things have gone. A chance to look at what worked, and what didn’t and have an honest conversation with yourself.
The second part I’ve come to enjoy is planning for the new year, sitting down and looking at my life and finding new ways to grow as a person, and improve things for the better. There’s something very empowering about sitting down and seeing a wealth of possibilities and excitement about the future prospects and opportunities that are ahead.
Now for most people, this is where the most dreaded word comes up, and its RESOLUTIONS. We’ve all heard it, and probably had it happen to us. The grand self-lie that is a resolution. Believe me over the years I’ve left a path of broken resolutions behind me, and as those who read this blog regularly know. I tend to read a lot on the subject of success, goals, and similar topics. I don’t claim to have an answer here, and over the past few years have come to the conclusion that everyone’s mileage on any option for trying to grow will vary.
Now I want to be clear about one thing here, I’m going to use the ever present weight loss example, I consider myself overweight, it is something I have struggled with I do not have the answer, and am not cla,am “throwing shade” on people who use these systems and find success. My experience only.
But what I can do, is call out some of the things I’ve tried, and how they worked out, and tell you what I’ve been finding lately:
Setting SMART Goals:
We’ve all heard this one right, making sure that your goals are “SMART”, they practically drill this into us in grade school, the only “good goals” are SMART goals. And what does SMART mean:
Now, the idea behind this is a good one, the idea behind this approach is make sure your setting goals that can be reached, and that you can verify that you have hit milestones on the path. Believe me, I do love the mantra “What gets measured, matters”, and this is based around it. It’s also though built around the satisfaction of achieving your goals. If you set something that’s measurable and attainable, then you feel pretty great when you hit that goal.
Let’s talk about an example, so an example of a “bad” goal in this model would be, “I’m going to lose weight” to steal the oldest resolution in the book. Now why is this a bad goal, because its not defined, its not something that I can measure (in a meaningful way). So a better goal would be “I’m going to lose 10 lbs, by June.” I can measure it, it has a deadline, its not outlandish by any means. Should be great right.
For a lot of people, this is a great system, and it helps them, but for me, it caused a lot more damage than it helped. The reason being is that a human being can tolerate anything for a time boxed amount of time. Look at people who have survived unimaginable conditions and then are able to return to their lives. But the problem for me, is that by doing this with the new year you aren’t doing anything to make a permanent change in your life.
Let’s go back to our weight loss example, as I’ve got to be honest, this isn’t hypothetical, its what really happened to me (more than once). You set this goal and in January you go after it…I had a coworker once who used to say “Let’s seize the day with vigor and determination never before sen by mankind.” And we’ve all been there right, we all hit the gym, get up early, and go after it.
And then a couple of outcomes happen:And then a couple of outcomes happen:
You start doing great, and by end of january you are down 5 lbs. Feeling amazing and saying “I got this”, at which point you end of convincing yourself “I can slow down, I don’t need to work as hard” and it all falls apart. And before you know it time flies and it’s June, you look at the number and say “I’m a failure”.
You start doing great, and middle of February, you hit your goal of 10 lbs down, you’re proud of yourself, and smart goals works. You move onto other things, and before you know it you fall into bad habits, and June hits and the scale looks pretty familiar, you look at the number and say “I’m a failure”
You stay on track, do what you set out to do, get to june and are down 10 lbs. You feel great, smart goals worked. You have a fun summer and end up back where you started, or god forbid worse off, look at yourself and say “I’m a failure”.
And now your probably saying “For loving the positive elements of new years, this is pretty damn depressing. And I’m not trying to be a debby downer. But this is my experience and as I said above, part of this process is honestly and retrospective. This has been my honest experience.
This is my problem here, SMART goals are built to be very short term focused to get a “job” done, but when it comes to personal growth, the job is never “done”, so the approach is fundamentally flawed. And at the end of the process those words / feelings of “I’m a failure” have a damaging and demoralizing effect that is completely counter productive.
At the end of the day, growth is a journey. And if you continue down this road and you miss your goal you are left with nothing, and feeling like you failed with nothing to show for the effort. I believe there is an old adage about eggs in a single basket for this.
This is one that got a lot of attention, I’ve read the book the 10x Rule, and I have to say it is insightful,and I found it to be very interesting. For those not familiar the idea is this, take the idea of SMART goals and turn it around a bit. Keep the same ideas of goals being measurable and time boxed but instead of making them attainable, you make them 10x what the attainable goal is.
So take our weight loss example,, instead of saying “I’m going to lose 10 lbs by june” I would say “I’m going to lose 50 lbs by june”. Now before anyone jumps on me, I can do math. The idea is what could you do if you put in 10x the effort. So the idea then is if I put in the work and try to lose 50 lbs by June, one off two outcomes occur:
I lose 50 lbs and cheer my success.
I lose 30 lbs and I’m still better off than the 10lb goal.
In my experience though the problem is still the same. I haven’t changed behaviors or grown at all, I’ve hit a very finite and fixed in time goal, but the success won’t last. And at the end you still feel like a failure. And now you feel like a bigger one, because not only did you miss the 10x goal,but likely the 1x goal too.
Finite Systems / Infinite Problem:
The crux of the problem I have with the above problems is that they are systems built around finite objectives, being applied to an infinite problem. I don’t want to lose weight, I want to be healthier, I don’t want to learn one thing, but build a foundation for learning. And at the end of the day, we are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Personal growth isn’t something that can be timeboxed like that.
Simon Sinek covers this in his book, the “Infinite Game”, which I admit I am still reading now, but here’s a video that gives some of the highlighting principles.
The other problem I have is that in my experience this creates a lot of stress and pressure on yourself, and those words “I’m a failure” whether you say them aloud or not are devastating. If you become too fixated on goals, they can start to feel like a drug high. And I’m speaking from experience here, they become this thing where your life becomes about setting goals, pushing too hard, getting them and that feeling of euphoria, and then its on to the next one.
I was 100% in that boat, for better or worse, and don’t get me wrong I’m proud of any accomplishments I’ve made, but it really does take a toll on you mentally. While it can be satisfying to reach those goals, it isn’t always fulfilling. And if you find yourself questioning where to go next, that can be crippling in a lot of ways.
And now I’ve done it again, we are at the “Kevin, still depressing. Goals are meaningless, growth is meaningless, life is pain…”
Not quite, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and researching and had lots of discussions with people a lot wiser than me, and I’ve found something that in my opinion seems to be working better.
The final problem I have with these systems, is they make one basic assumption, and that is that pursuit of these goals exists in a vacuum. And what I mean by that is take our weightloss example, we say “I’m going to lose 10 lbs by march”, but then I get hurt, need surgery and spend 6 weeks in a cast, and then physical therapy. I know that the goal became unattainable, but I still feel like I failed.
Now again, not just weight loss, but let’s say I said “I’m going to put my phone away after dinner to spend more time with my family”. And then I get a smart watch which lets me check email without my phone, or I work with customers all over the world that have to call at off hours, then I feel like a failure due to circumstances outside of my control.
Goals vs Values:
Now I can’t take credit for this, there is a psychological principle called value based living, and the idea being this. Here’s a video that does a way better job than I ever could at summarizing it.
So looking at the above, if we get away from these ideas of goals, and look more at what we as a person value. That is what drives us, and that is what matters. And as long as the actions we take align with those values, the journey is part of the reward. If you watched the video above with Simon Sinek, this probably sounds familiar, and that should be no surprise. There is a direct through line between his concepts of actions being driven by values and value based living.
So the next question is how does this work any differently? How do I grow and push myself without goals? Is this just symantics at the end of the day. I don’t think so, but let me talk about what this journey has been like for me, and you can judge.
Step 1 : Change your definition:
One thing that my wife and I are really trying to embrace is a family mission statement, and we are in the process of writing that now. When we are done I will probably do a blog post on that too. But along with that, we as a family have focused our energy and decisions about what we do around this motto for lack of a better term.
There are only two outcomes to any action, success or you learn something.
That’s it, not ground breaking, and truth be told we stole it from the movie Meet the Robinson’s, which has a similar sentiment, “From failure you learn, success not so much”. But if you stop and think about that statement, its rather profound, if you take away failure as an outcome. Some would say you take away accountability, but I would say you take away blockers. If you can’t fail, then what is stopping you from trying?
Thomas Edison had a similar statement, when asked about the 1000 failed attempts to make a light bulb, he said “I didn’t fail, I just found 1000 ways not to do it.”
At its core this is very freeing, and we need to say we can grow and push the limits because there is no outcome that we shouldn’t feel positive about, because the journey will yield learnings, and those learnings will help us to improve for the future.
Step 2 : Define your values:
This one took a lot of soul searching for me. You need to take a step back and identify what above all else matters to you. What ideals and values do you aspire to above all else. And that’s not an easy question, and should not be taken lightly. I find that making these values something that need to be quantified in a single word helped a lot.
My values are the following:
And what I mean by these, is that my guiding principles in my life, at this time are these items. When I am long gone, I want my kids to know that above all else family mattered. I want them to see that I had a love of learning. That I focused on having an impact around me whether it be my career or community. I want them to see me as someone who was innovative and creative.
These values together really some up at this stage of my life, the legacy I want to leave behind.
Step 3 : Values Define Action:
One common thread you will see in anything and everything is the idea that we as people have limited resources. Whether those be willpower, physical, financial, energy, attention, or the all mighty time. We can only put our resources into some much, and we can’t do it all. Greg McKoewn has a great book on this called “Essentialism”, which I really believe is a great book about applying your resources.
To that end, if we have values that are important to us, and we have limited resources. it isn’t a big logical leap to say that we should focus on putting our energy behind the actions that align with our values.
Not really rocket science, although it took me a while to get here if I’m being honest.
Now what I’ve found from doing this in practice in recent months is that I have seen my stress level go down, and my commitment to any actions I’ve taken go up. And results have been greater too. And at the end of the day I believe its easier to be committed to an action if it aligns to something you care deeply about.
Let me go back to our example, as mentioned above I want to get healthier, and I’d tried smart goals, 10x goals, etc. I tried a keto diet, joining a gym, nothing seemed to stick. And even when they did I could never cross the 15 lbs mark. And it was devastating to me. I have had to actively sit on the side lines at both work and family functions because of my body weight.
This all came to a head for me, when I took my son to Hershey, and all he wanted to do was ride a roller coaster, and he’s much too small to ride the big coasters, but we saw a roller coaster called the “coco cruiser” (a little kid roller coaster), and he wanted to ride it. We got in line, and when we got to the front, he was too short to ride by himself, and I couldn’t fit into the coaster. He and I stood on the platform, while his friends rode, and then he rode with one of their mom’s. Having to explain to your son that he can’t have what he wants because of your body weight is one of the lowest points in my life. I wanted to curl up and die.
I still could never get past that 15 lbs mark, and life would get in the way. I took a step back, and said…forget the numbers. I want to get healthy because it will let me be more to my family. I found a cross fit gym that I really like, with great people and a great coach. I try to go as much as I can, unfortunately recently being sick sidelined. But just out of curiosity I got on the scale today, I’m down 25 lbs from that horrible day. I feel better and have better energy, and even though I fell off the wagon and am going back when travel slows down. I feel like a success and look back on all the victories and fulfillment I feel with a positive attitude.
The attention here being on the action, not the outcome. Its having a lasting impact as it leads to behavioral change.
But let’s not make this all about weight, even if that is an easy example. Take my professional life, I decided to focus more on impact and now measuring all my actions by impact they have. This has led to greater results in my office with me feeling better about the work I’ve done, and if you look at the metrics much greater returns. My stress level has gone down, and I’ve stopped measuring myself against the impact and activities of my colleagues.
I know this has been a much longer blog post than normal, but thanks for sticking with me through this. The end result of which is this, I’m not going to be setting any resolutions this year. My new plan is to reaffirm and re-evaluate my values, and then make sure that I devote my energy and resources to actions that align. This will allow me the flexability to enjoy life, while still finding new ways to grow.
This is something my wife and i both feel strongly about and are working with our kids to internalize and I hope it at least sparks some thought for you about where you are and where you want to go.