Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain by Kevin Roose
How Do You Learn?
Typically one of the first questions that I ask people during an interview for our designer position at thoughtbot is how do they learn. It reveals to me what they know about themselves and how they will approach growing as a Designer at thoughtbot.
I’ve repeatedly had a goal to become a better writer. To be able to communicate my thoughts, ideas, and concerns in a clear and constructive way. I’ve tried and failed many times for a handful of reasons. The biggest is because I wasn’t following how I learn each and every time.
I, like many designers, learn through doing. But more than that I learn from the feedback and iteration after that work. For the longest time, I would write and edit myself but not get a critique on what I was doing right and what I could do better. There was no loop to iterate on. I was practicing, but I didn’t have any intent behind it. With design, I was lucky for the most part to be surrounded by designers that were happy to give their thoughts. I also have an excellent internal critique that helped me refine my skillset. I don’t have the same things with writing. I’m embarrassed by my writing most of the time and am afraid of facing the feedback that I would get. When I have gotten feedback on blog posts that I’ve written for thoughtbot or having others look over my writing, I don’t ask why they are suggesting changes I just accept them and move on because of that embarrassment.
Over the next few months, I’m going to be working with someone to get that feedback. I’ll be writing from prompts for students on the New York Times and working with them to understand what changes should be made and more importantly why they should be made. I’ll be posting the results here from time to time as a way to document my progress. I’m looking forward to growing along the way.
I imagine that in another decade or two we’ll look at 2010s-era device use something like we do now with cigarette smoking.
From The Simple Joy of “No Phones Allowed” by David Cain
Balancing work with the rest of life
This Friday around one of our Developers in Austin and I talked about bringing our work home. Not in an actually typing out code way but in a way that still takes up mental headspace. He was bringing home some of the challenges and working through them in his head after work. For me, I’ve seen this become more and more of an issue as I became a manager. I’d bring home the hard conversation that I had to have with an employee and how I could have done it better. I’d bring home the sales call that I’d have tomorrow. I’d bring home the pain that comes with someone moving on from thoughtbot. And, ugh, what was I thinking when I said that one thing. These things bleed into our lives outside of work even if we’re not at the computer working on them.
While I’ve tried to solve this for me, I can’t say that I’ve figured out what works best for me. I haven’t found a system that I can stay consistent with. The first thing I’ve done is saying “Work Complete” as soon as I reach my car. This tick is a suggestion from Cal Newport, in his popular book ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.’ He calls it a work shutdown. While this is a nice verbal and mental queue for me to clear out headspace from work things. They inevitably weave their way back into my head on my drive home. It’s not a magic bullet.
The second thing that I’ve tried that I’ve had success with is doing a short 3-5 minute meditation. This helped me clear my headspace up before my drive home. Changed my focus to driving and allowed me to better decompress from work. Meditation in general helps me focus on now and stay out of my head. This helps me, but it doesn’t prevent me from thinking about work either.
What doesn’t always get recognized as much is how much other life things affect work. My three kids, a dog, a wife all depending on me for different things, I’ve seen my life start to get in the way of my work too. My work schedule has shifted for appointments, for school drop-offs, for dinner time and for traffic. During working hours, I need to schedule appointments and follow up with things for the house. This weekend my car of 10 years started smoking and smelling like burnt rubber. It’s not that we didn’t know that it was on it’s way out but I was hoping that it would last me at least a few more months. I know the issues and stress that I have with the car will find their way into my work week. I need to work from home so that I can take in the car to the mechanic, so it’s already having an impact on my week.
A long time ago I realized that there is no real separation that work is part of life. It’s part of what makes us feel like we’re contributing. My work self is going to seep into my family self, but my family self is going to flow into my work. This is more important to me to understand not just for myself but also for the people that I’m managing. They each have their own lives, work is a piece of it, but it fits into a much bigger puzzle. How we feel at home affects how we feel at work and how we feel at work affects how we feel at home.
Remember It Now
A majority of my career I’ve been an individual contributor and I’ve been lucky to work at companies that value heads down time. Since a majority of my work was on the computer, it made sense that I should keep my notes on the computer too. It was easy to track down design mood boards and code snippets that way. Of course, I’ve fiddled with which app would best suit my needs. I’ve dabbled with Evernote, written a lot in IA Writer, taking great notes in Bear. Each has its pluses and minuses, and each served me well.
These notes all helped me remember something later. To recall details that I would otherwise forget.
As I made the transition to a manager and salesperson, I saw my schedule start to fill up with meetings. In-person one on ones, sales calls, and interviews for our open design positions have taken up a majority of my time instead of that heads down work. Each one of these started to blend together, details got mixed up or forgotten. I began to see another need for notes. I went back to the apps that had done me well in the past. It seemed only natural that they would solve this newfound problem. Instead, I found myself being more distracted by taking notes on my computer and struggling to keep up in those meetings.
I found my way to writing things down on paper and started to see how impactful it was. The notes enhanced my focus in the meetings instead of making me away from them. I found that I was able to recall most of the meeting without needing to refer back to my notes. Things started to feel better and just a little saner.
But I took down too much detail, things that I wouldn’t need a reference back to. I noticed that I started to get careless in bring my tasks taken from meetings notes to my task manager. I wasn’t following up or doing the things that I needed to get done to be a good manager, leader or salesperson.
I realized the need for a stronger system. I had seen a couple people extol the bullet journaling system successfully for notes and tasks, and after using my notebook for notes, I wanted to give it a shot.
After being strict with bullet journaling for a while, I’ve eased down and have chosen the aspects that I think help me the most. I found that I could be leaner with how I record things, that I was the only one that would look back at them and I only needed to write down things that would jog my memory.
I don’t keep up with an index, one of the more core tenants of bullet journaling. I found it hard to remember to do and relatively useless. I realized that I hardly ever look back more than a few pages. I keep lists to do in the back of my notebook, but I don’t do many of the logs commonly found in a bullet journal. This way I don’t need a special notebook with multiple bookmarks and can keep.
My notes and tasks system is something that has always been evolving to meet my needs. I love looking back and seeing how my systems have changed and what has worked and note worked with each of them. I have realized that the more that I physically write the better I’ll remember it later. I feel like my memory across other areas has been better as well, but that could be circumstantial.
Looking back, the one thing that has changed the most is that now I take most of my notes as something to remember now, something to reinforce the tasks I need to do now, not necessarily something to remember later.