Since @here/@channel is the digital equivalent to standing in the middle of the office and shouting at your coworkers, are there ever legitimate use cases and why do people abuse it?
What exactly do the notifications do?
First, definitions: @here notifies anyone who is a member of a channel in Slack and is also online. @channel notifies any member regardless of their status. More in-depth details can be found on Slack’s website. For the purpose of this blog post I’ll be using @here/@channel to mean “notifying a large group of people in Slack.”
Slack’s own website says, “We suggest using @here, @channel, and @everyone sparingly. If you need to get an individual’s attention, you can simply @mention them.”
@here/@channel legitimate use cases
What are some legitimate uses of @here/@channel? I would argue that @here/@channel is good for announcements and very very rarely is it good for questions/requests. Announcements are statements that do not require an answer back.
Examples of announcements:
Today is the last day of Open Enrollment.
The office is closing 1 hour early today for a staff event.
The parking lot is raising their weekly rates from $40 to $50.
Just because you are making an announcement doesn’t mean you should use an @here/@channel. Most times, you probably shouldn’t. A good test is to look at the channel you’re in and assess if the information you want to share is relevant & impactful to the majority of the group.
In my first example “Today is the last day of Open Enrollment” the answer is “Yes.” The majority of people in the #general channel of your office would care about that, since having health insurance is required by law.
My last example, about the parking in the building is probably only relevant to a handful of people who drive to work. Using my above framework of “Is this information relevant to the majority of the group?” it’s easy to determine if an @here/@channel would make sense or not.
In San Fransisco very few people drive to work but in Utah almost everyone does. In a distributed office (like Lambda School’s) we have channels set up for the specific offices #staff_ut and #staff_sf. It would be inappropriate to announce the parking situation in #staff since a decent amount of our company works remotely.
I would not use @here/@channel in #staff_sf (but would create a thread and tag the drivers I knew) and maybe use @here/@channel in #staff_ut.
A rare but legitimate use case for @here/@channel is when you need time-sensitive assistance. Something has happened and you’re in a crunch and you don’t know what to do.
Locking yourself out of the office
A major bug/system error that is impacting lots of users
One day someone arrived super early and forgot their keycard. They did an @here asking if anyone was around and could let them in. Totally legitimate since they didn’t want to individually Slack every member of the office asking to be let it. It was also appropriate that they used @here instead of @channel because they only notified people were online and working.
When your emergency issue is resolved it’s polite to comment in a thread that you are all set. That way if someone stumbles across your request later they don’t need to wonder if it has been addressed or not.
What are the root causes for @here/@channel abuse & how can it be addressed?
So with the legitimate uses of @here/@channel out of the way, why do people still abuse it? When I sent my tweet about the issue I received a thoughtful response from Brant Choate (which actually inspired this blog post!). His answer resonated with me:
The biggest reason people abuse @here/@channel is they don’t trust that posting in a channel by itself will garner a response. This is due to communication and trust issues within the org, as Brant noted.
At Lambda we have a #staff_salesforce channel, of which I am a member. My team and I monitor this channel closely as we own our Salesforce instance and any issues that might arise. The channel has ~80+ people in it and for awhile we had some issues with @here.
This is because it wasn’t clear to members of the room that it was monitored with regularity and clear etiquette hasn’t been established. Slack is doing good work in this arena with their new Workflow Builder. It allows you to send a custom message to people who join your channel. It would be easy enough to add @here/@channel etiquette guidelines as well as who the “owners” in the channel might be.
Another reason @here/@channel is used is because a process has not yet been implemented to solve the communication issue. Say your support team needs to know when a customer’s order has been shipped and the only way to know is to ask the shipping team. Whenever an angry customer writes in wondering the status of their shipment an @here/@channel feels warranted!
I have found the less process-oriented a business unit is, the more likely their respective channels are @here/@channel chaos. No one knows who is in charge and who can help them, so screaming into the ether feels like the most effective method. Clear processes help the flow of communication and information between groups.
The siloing of information is a bummer, but I assume Brant is talking about other etiquette and org norms that I’m not addressing here. A personal preference of mine is to discuss anything related to work that might be relevant for other people in a channel vs. 1:1 messaging. This allows others to see/learn and also chime in if they have experience. I learned this from Ryan Mason who always encourages people to discuss data-related questions in the #staff_data_analytics channel instead of in his DMs. This behavior greatly increases transparency and the flow of information–especially at distributed companies.
I captured 2019 in one second snippets thanks to a handy app called 1 Second Everyday. The app is pretty straightforward. Every day you capture a little bit of video and trim it inside the app. At the end you mash your video together to get something like this:
I was inspired to try it out by Elise Cripe who started doing hers in 2016. She wrote that she wished she had done this pre-children, so I figured I should take her advice. I’m guessing the content will change pretty significantly once we add a baby to the mix!
I actually didn’t take a video everyday. In fact, there were quite a few months where I missed 5-10 days. November was particularly bad. I didn’t let this stop me and just forgave myself and moved on. Don’t quit! (Note to self: This philosophy applies to way more than just one second videos.)
Some highlights from 2019:
👟I did a lot of running for the first 6 months of the year. I joined an Orange Theory Fitness across from our apartment and went January-June. I capped off my OTF attendance by signing up for the Capitol Hill Classic 10K. I’m would never call myself a runner, so this was a fun challenge.
🍶I threw a lot of pottery. I started pottery in 2018 but stuck with it in 2019. I don’t have much to show for it besides a couple of tiny bowls and a few mugs. It was super fun, but fairly expensive and in a location that was difficult to get to. I haven’t picked it back up and I’m not sure if I will.
✈️We traveled to London, Paris, and Hong Kong. We squished London and Paris into a 36 hour trip over President’s Day weekend. It was a crazy short time period–but you can’t live your life waiting for the perfect opportunity and I’m happy we went. We were in Hong Kong for a week and it was incredible. I never wrote a blog about it, but I took some notes here.
🤪My coworkers got iced a lot. I don’t know why there are so many snippets of people drinking Smirnoff.
🎉We celebrated others. My baby sister graduated high school, a couple weddings, and a friend bought her first home!
🏠We moved…twice. We moved around April out of our beautiful but expensive apartment on 14th St. to a larger but more affordable apartment in Adams Morgan. This was completely upended when we moved only 4 months later to San Francisco.
👩🏽💻I got a new job! After 4 years at Industry Dive and 7 years in DC Jordan & I packed up and moved to California for my new role at Lambda School.
2019 was interesting because it didn’t end anywhere close to how it started. I didn’t begin 2019 with the desire to look for a new job or move out of DC. I’m excited to see what 2020 holds for us in this new city.
At first I wished I had ~*curated the video to make it shorter and snappier, but I’m happy with the length and even the seconds that don’t look “perfect” (whatever that means). They all are memories and have meaning to me.
I have a 64G iPhone and never had a storage issue. I back up my photos/videos occasionally to Dropbox but as soon as I finished compiling my video I deleted all the individual clips off my phone. I did not store the final 4 minute video on my phone, only on YouTube + Dropbox.
The app is free but you can pay a fee for backup, music, and logo removal. I did not pay for the app until the end–I wanted to be able to add some music to my final video. Luckily, you get a 14 day free-trial so I’ll cancel my subscription before then.
This year I set a goal of 30 books on my Goodreads challenge. That felt ambitious, yet doable and I’m proud to say that I’ve surpassed that number by a few books–and the year is not over yet!
I read too much non-fiction. I don’t really know why, except I surround myself with people (via Twitter, mostly) who recommend non-fiction way more than fiction which is how I’ve read Atomic Habits twice but never The Nightingale.
A quick count tells me 40% of my books read this year were fiction. I consider that a grand achievement. (Side note: Does Goodreads provide analytics on this? I had to count by hand but would love to see data around genre, length, etc.)
I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for reading the books that I do. About 50% of my books are read via Kindle while the other half is dead tree checked out from the local library. I had to carry around Steve Jobs for 2 weeks and that is a book I had wished I had read on Kindle.
I read a few obscure sci-fi books such as The Amber Project which was a post-apocalyptic series about people being driven underground because of a weird gas that took over Earth. The series follows a bunch of kids that have been genetically modified to resist the gas. This was one of the Amazon Lending Library book offerings which are always lesser known and of dubious quality. But! Fiction is fiction and it helped me towards my goal so I’m pleased.
My reading philosophy is that life is too short to suffer through a book you don’t like–so put it down if you’re not enjoying it. I usually have half a dozen books going at once and I’ll stop and start them without much guilt. For example, I’m about halfway through The Ego is the Enemy but that’s not really a book you just tear through in a couple days. It’s been sitting on my Kindle for the past 2 weeks unread but I think I’m ready to pick it up again. Same with The Courage to be Disliked.
I devoured Sally Rooney’s two books–Conversations with Friends and Normal People but I don’t know if I’d recommend them. They left me sort of sad and hollow inside. It bummed me out to think that young people would read these books and imagine relationships had to be this way–overly complicated and full of drama.
For 2020 I might up the ante to 40 books and shoot for 50% to be fiction. If you have any fiction book recs–please let me know!
A fun thing about starting new jobs is being exposed to different tools & ways of doing things. This is my first job where my computer is a Mac instead of PC. A popular tool in the toolkit of Salesforce Admins is DemandTools. It’s a pretty nifty software but at its core it’s a GUI for using SOQL to find and update records. And it only runs on PC. What’s an enterprising Salesforce user supposed to do?
I was introduced to SoqlX, an open source tool for Mac users to edit, update, and query data. I’m going to walk through some of things I’ve learned since I’ve started using it. Between SoqlX and Dataloader, I’m pretty set and don’t miss DemandTools at all.
Ever since I started using SoqlX I pretty much avoid using Salesforce’s report builder. I find SOQL faster and easier overall, plus the added benefit of being able to edit a record directly within the UI of SoqlX.
Getting familiarwith SoqlX
I use the tool 100% for querying data, but you can also explore the schema and run anonymous Apex. All your objects (and fields!) are on the left. You write your query in the white box at the top.
The Recent button in the upper right shows you your past ~3 most recent queries. Which is super helpful if you forget to save your queries.
You can save your queries (DemandTools users might know these as “scenarios”). I highly recommend doing this when you think you’ll use it again. Especially if you took the time to write out a bunch of custom fields.
Command + S saves a query for you & Command + Shift + S saves the query results into a CSV.
SOQL stands for Salesforce Object Query Language, it’s basically the command you tell Salesforce to give you the data you want. If you’ve ever used report builder in Salesforce it’s SOQL that’s running it under the hood.
Here’s a simple query, where I’m asking Salesforce to give me all the leads where Smith is the Last Name.
SELECT Id, LastName, State
WHERE LastName = 'Smith'
Once I run the query, I’m given all the records that fit the criteria, up to 2000.
You can also count how many records that fit a certain criteria as well by modifying the query (the answer is 1,362)
WHERE LastName = 'Smith'
SOQL is pretty powerful. If you aren’t super familiar with it I recommend reading SFDC’s developer docs, which are quite clear and useful.
Searching against the database
This is obviously one of the main benefits of DemandTools, but can be achieved using SoqlX as well if you have a little bit of a patience and a coworker (thanks Leon!) who can help you write a nifty Excel formula.
I usually need to search against Salesforce using email addresses. This is a common situation where a user extracts a list, but then they want to know more attributes about the records.
“Do you have record IDs?” I ask. “No just emails,” they say with a shrug. 🙄 (Note: I’d use the same steps below if they had record IDs, I just prefer them over emails because they are unique.)
When writing a query using emails, it needs to be formatted like this.
SELECT ID, FirstName, LastName, State
WHERE Email in ('firstname.lastname@example.org','email@example.com')
You don’t write an equals sign because you’re looking for many records. The syntax is pretty straight forward, but what do you do when you have a 100+ emails? Certainly you’re not going to write them out by hand.
The Excel formula allows you to take a row of emails and immediately format them so they are read-for-SOQL. I made a Google Sheet that you can copy here.
The formula concatenates all your emails while respecting the single quote comma syntax that SOQL wants. Note: SOQL has a 20,000 character limit for queries so keep that in mind–if you try to shove too many emails into a single search you’ll get an error.
Let me know if you try out any of the above or if you have better tips that I’m missing! 👋🏻
In advance of our move to San Francisco, Jordan and I are getting rid of almost everything we own.
There are only a few ways to get rid of your possessions: sell them, toss them, or donate them. I am using donate loosely. As long as you are not throwing it in the garbage or getting money for it, I will consider it a donation.
I immediately realized there was a framework I was operating under when deciding what to do with each of the things we owned.
Time: How much time will it take to offload this item?
Value: Does this item have good resale value?
Effort: What is the effort involved in getting rid of this item?
For me, most high value/high effort items were furniture and appliances. Our couch is practically brand new and I knew its resale value would hold. So I was willing to invest more time into getting it sold and out of the house. On the flip side, my random collection of wrapping paper and mason jars were much low value/low effort. I could easily toss them or donate them without taking much time.
Examples of low value/high effort items are large, broken things. Think of your grandmother’s garage with two TVs from the 90s. No one wants these things but getting rid of them will involve some effort on your part. As you go through your life try to jettison these items or avoid them all together. It makes moving much easier.
I made a spreadsheet of our high value items with the understanding that it would probably take more time to get rid of these things. I immediately listed our dresser, Vitamix, KitchenAid, etc. on Craigslist so that I wouldn’t be in crunch at the end trying to offload this stuff.
I think the biggest mistakes people make when moving are underestimating the sheer amount of stuff they own and the time it will take to organize/pack/get rid of the stuff they own. If time is on your side (which it usually is) then start the process as soon as you find out you are moving. Jordan thought I was nuts for immediately culling clothes and books but it has made the whole experience way less stressful.
Another mistake is that people totally overvalue their possessions. A good rule of thumb for selling items is 50% off the retail price. Sometimes lower. It cracks me up when people list couches that were purchased for $1200 for $900. People buy used stuff because they want a deal. Understand your target customer.
You also need to remember: You are balancing between the desire to get paid and the desire to get rid of it. I might not have gotten top dollar for everything I sold but I got it out of the house and made some money so I considered it a win.
Tactically, what does getting rid of stuff look like? I leveraged Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, my friends/colleagues, and my local Buy Nothing group.
Some things like stationery, books, costume jewelry, and small decorations are low value/low effort. I could just toss them in the trash! But that makes me sad, so I’ve actually increased my effort by offering these small things to friends and colleagues which sometimes means I am a lugging stuff around to its new owner. However, I happen to value gifting/donating this stuff over throwing it away. That’s just my preference.
I’ve been lifting weights in various forms since 2012. Like many women, weights alluded me in college in favor of an elliptical but once I graduated I joined CrossFit and began my love affair with barbells.
Over these past 7 years I’ve done it all: CrossFit, Olympic lifting classes with a former Olympian, bootcamps, bodybuilding programming, powerlifting programming, Orange Theory, and Barry’s. All of them have their merits and I’m firmly in the camp of “the best workout for you is the one you do.” I have many girlfriends who aren’t interested in lifting weights and choose barre or spin classes. While I’m still convinced they’d see better results if they picked up something heavier than 10 lbs., I’m happy they’re dedicating time to their pursuit of fitness.
For the first 6 months of this year, I did Orange Theory Fitness classes. Orange Theory focuses on interval training where you spend time on a treadmill, rower, and floor with dumbbells. I chose it out of convenience (I lived across the street from the studio) and because I was tired of hyping myself up at the gym where I lifted.
You don’t realize how freeing it is to be able to walk into a room and not think. After a full day at work where you’ve been making decisions left and right I relished the opportunity to just show up and be told what to do.
Admittedly, I should have been doing that with my weightlifting programming (which I pay for and do not write myself) but even getting to the gym and needing to fight for a squat rack felt like too much effort compared to the handholding that Orange Theory provided.
My 6 month contract with Orange Theory ended in June and so did my interest in their workouts. While my cardiovascular health improved tremendously (I ran a 58:08 10K in May) I missed the sense of accomplishment that came with squatting, pressing, and pulling heavy weights.
I’m currently doing 3/week program by Bret Contreras who is extremely knowledgeable about all things lifting. The price? $40/month for programming that is total body but has a slight focus on glutes. 🍑🏋🏽♀️
I used to feel guilt that I couldn’t stick with just one type of workout. But humans like novelty and mixing up my workouts has helped me achieve my fitness philosophy which is “keep moving.” What is yours?
I have been thinking a lot about change recently and how quickly time goes by. This topic has been rolling around in my mind like a marble for the past 6 months and this is my first attempt to articulate my thoughts on the matter.
We moved apartments and 2019 is almost half way over. My (no longer really a) baby sister just graduated high school. Friends are getting married, having babies, and buying homes. Topics of conversation in my friend group include debating the merits of screen time for our unborn children and the benefits of therapy. The last year of my twenties is upon me in full force.
I have never been one to reminisce on the “good old days.” My perspective is that these are the good old days. I have my health, a wonderful spouse, a challenging job, fun hobbies, and loving friends and family.
But then I remember that while I am sitting here writing this that even though I feel at peace now, my current emotion is not representative of how it felt to get here. Change in the moment is stressful. As humans we say things like “Embrace change!” or “Change is inevitable” but if we were as gung ho about change as we say, there wouldn’t be books, blogs, and entire professions designed around shepherding humans towards adoption of a new tool or process.
How can I simultaneously feel at peace in the current moment, grateful for what I have while acknowledging that this moment will pass and new challenges will arise?
I recently read Start Here Now by Susan Piver which is a friendly, accessible book about meditation. She follows the Shambhala tradition of meditation, which includes meditating with your eyes open and palms downward. While I’m still not a meditator I appreciated many aspects of her book including viewing your thoughts as a train racing along the tracks. For many people you are riding the train, unable to get off or observe your thoughts. Through meditation you can disembark the train and instead of being on the train you will be on a hill watching it go by.
After that book, I sought out additional content by her and found an interview with her and Dan Harris on his podcast: 10% Happier. In the podcast she was discussing her new book on marriage and how it relates to the 4 Noble Truths, which could be a post on its own. I was not familiar with the truths prior to this episode:
The truth of suffering
The truth of the origin of suffering
The truth of the cessation of suffering
The truth to the path of the cessation of suffering (source)
The first truth is often stated as “life is suffering” but not in a painful, Jesus on the cross way. According to the podcast, it is hard to translate the concept into English in a way that conveys the original meaning. My understanding is that this “suffering” is caused by our desire to hold onto impermanent things in life. Holding on to our desire to not age, to never leave vacation, to not experience change.
This resonated with me and with my bolded question above. It is such a delicate balance to love the moment you are in while not despairing that the moment will pass.
I created my first Gmail account in 2006 at the tender age of 16. These were the halcyon days when getting access to Gmail required an invite from someone who already had Gmail. My friends and I were early adopters and quickly moved off AIM to Google Chat (remember when it was a separate standalone program on your computer?) A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my archives and reminiscing on softball games and the files I would email myself to print at school.
My walk down memory lane was rudely interrupted by Google threatening to no longer deliver mail to me since my storage was almost full. I could have coughed up the $1.99/mo for 100GB but I hate recurring charges and the main function of this email now is to be my “throwaway” email for promotions and newsletters so paying for storage felt indulgent.
I’ve seen other tricks like searching for attachments but I knew that my issue was pure email volume (hello, 13 years!) vs. straight up documents.
Here’s what I did:
Looked at my All Mail to find low-value emails I no longer cared about. For this example, I’ll choose francesca’s.
2. Open the email and identify the from: address. Bonus: You can also unsubscribe if you don’t want the emails anymore. Copy the address.
3. Navigate back to All Mail and drop that address in the search bar. Make sure to select the conversations and then select “Select all conversations that match this search.” As you can see, there are “many” conversations. If you’ve been subscribed to newsletters or promotions from a company for years you could be dealing with thousands of emails.
4. Select the trash can, it will warn you that you’re about to perform a bulk action. Click OK. Those emails do not spark joy!
5. You’ll probably see a little yellow Loading… bar at the top of your screen while the messages delete. You can navigate away from the page without impacting the deletion process.
6. Your final step is to go to your Trash, select all the messages and choose Delete Forever. Ta-da! No more emails. 🎉
I managed to delete over 6,000 messages and it only took about 5 minutes total. I was at maximum capacity and am now down by 3GB which gives me plenty of space to play. My daily Dictionary.com email had generated over 3,500 emails over the years! Multiply that by a few other subscriptions and you can easily have over 10,000 emails in your inbox.
Enjoy your freshly decluttered inbox and bask in the glory of saving yourself $20/year in storage.
Below are a smattering of thoughts on productivity, efficiency, and just getting things done. I’ve been obsessed with order, process, and planning for almost all my life. I used a planner in middle school. I made a spreadsheet of my budget in high school. I currently help run operations for rapidly growing media company. My qualifications on this topic are that I’ve applied the ideas below to my life with good effect.
However, all advice is given through the lens of the advice giver. Oftentimes, they think their advice is correct (otherwise, why would they give it?). I recognize that this is just one way not the only way. Take what you want and leave the rest.
The most important part of productivity is focusing on the right things. After that, it’s the speed and volume at which you can get those right things done.
-If you are a productivity geek (i.e. you have all the to-do apps, have read all the books above, etc) but still feel like you don’t get anything accomplished, check out Atomic Habits, Better than Before, and The Power of Habit. These focus on habit formation, which is a key part of productivity.
-Choose a system to write stuff down and stick with it. Do not flip between Evernote, your email, and a piece of paper. That is stressful & you’ll have too many open loops & spend more time wondering what you wrote down to do rather than doing it. I personally have tried many apps and I always come back to a single Notepad document on my computer or a Google Doc.
-Per GTD principles, try to only touch something once. When you get an email either respond, ignore, or forward on. This is called do, defer, or delegate. If any item will take you less than 2 minutes to do, just do it.
-I’m a huge fan of followupthen.com which allows you to forward emails for yourself on a specific day. Simply BCC firstname.lastname@example.org (or any time period) on an email you don’t want to forget and on that set time, it comes back to your inbox. I pretty much use this system exclusively for reminders. It is free and awesome.
-Use a password manager because copy + pasting passwords and remembering them is a huge time suck.
-Automate repetitive things like bills, deliveries, savings, etc. Learn a few keyboard shortcuts.
-Get plenty of sleep, drink water, and exercise. It is incredible how being healthy and well-rested can really give you an edge up.
The advice below progresses from work to personal life.
Hiring good people
People say they want to hire good people, but many organizations have employees that make you think, “how the heck did you get here?” A bad hire brings the vibe of the whole team down and is a real bummer. When hiring, look for people smarter than youand that you respect. This can be hard because hiring is hard. This Tweet, and this article are good pieces about hiring.
& delegate to them
You don’t have to have someone work for you to delegate to them (delegate to a spouse, a friend, a family member). You need to realize that you cannot do it all and, even if you could, there is value in giving other people the joy of learning a new skill. You want to be a force multiplier, lifting up everyone around you to be better.
If you find yourself doing something that you think, “God why am I doing this?” you should immediately identify someone to whom you can delegate that task. It is painful in the moment to teach someone a process that “only takes you 5 minutes,” but that 5 minutes is slowly eating away at you and killing you. Take the 60 minutes now to teach someone and you’ll be freed for the rest of your life. Do this with everything else you can think of. Now you have time to think of new cool things to do. Beautiful.
Say no ruthlessly
I don’t have many obligations. For clarity, I’m operating off a more negative definition of obligation: “doing something you don’t really want to.” Almost everything I do in my life is because I want to do it. It is very freeing and a huge contributor to my productivity. It’s much easier to get things done when you’re doing what you want to do, not doing what you have to do. Take a look at your calendar and your life. Are you doing things just because of social pressure or an expectation from someone else? When is the last time you told someone, “No thanks, I’m not interested.” You don’t have to be rude when declining people’s offers but you can’t live your life on someone else’s schedule.
Let things that don’t matter go, no perfectionism
A lot of successful people are perfectionists which can be beneficial in some ways (think of Steve Jobs’ obsession with design and the customer) but can often manifest itself negatively. Perfectionism is the killer of productivity because you continue to work on something that was probably good enough, ergo wasting your time and the time of everyone around you. If you’re a manager, your perfectionism could rub off onto your direct reports and now you’ve just slowed down an entire department. Follow the Pareto principle and be confident that you took it as far as you could within reason. This is easy for me because I’m a satisficer, not a maximizer. The biggest compliment I ever received from a colleague who is the epitome of a perfectionist was when she chatted me and said, “Cynthia! I pulled a you. I turned something in and it wasn’t perfect.” Love it.
Most decisions are reversible, start making more
Decision making is closely related to perfectionism. There are people who are SO stressed about making the “right” decision whether that be where they move, what they have for lunch, or who to marry. There are very few things in life that are not easily reversible. The things that come to mind are tattoos and babies. Most everything else can be undone, even if it costs money or time.
A key part of productivity is the volume of things you get done. This isn’t to say that working on one important thing isn’t productive, it definitely is. But life doesn’t usually let you work on the one important thing. You need to work on lots of things and lots of decisions need to be made. The faster you make decisions, the less time you spend deliberating, and more decisions you make the more feedback you’ll get on your decision making as a skill. The best way to improve a skill is a lots of reps and immediate feedback. You want to tighten that loop. I have many times said, “Do XYZ and if you get in trouble, tell ABC that it was my idea” just so that we could move forward on a project. You know how many times ABC has come after me? Zero.
This post sums up the feedback loop nicely. I haven’t finished reading Thinking in Bets but that is another good book on decision making.
Believe in your work & enjoy the process
It’s a lot easier to get stuff done if you actually care about what you’re doing. If you think your work is pointless or doesn’t have meaning, try to identify who you are serving in your job. Where I work, I help the sales team. I get a lot of joy out of seeing them succeed. Who are your customers? Who are you helping every day? It’s been proven that helping people makes people happier, so try reframing your work that way.
Another aspect of enjoying your work is enjoying the process of getting work done. This is called the “progress principle” and it’s crucial to your happiness. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re just keeping your eyes on the prize. For example, if I save $10,000 for a trip to Bali, just keeping that picture of Bali on my wall wouldn’t be enough while I ate rice and beans for 6 months. I’d be miserable every day. But if I learned to love the daily process of being frugal, walking to work, and coupon clipping, that sense of progress towards of my goal would bring me joy every day. You need to love your work, not just the result of your work.
Be clear in what you want and write it down
This is my current favorite Tweet because it sums up office life so well. A huge inhibitor to productivity is not knowing what to work on. As a leader it is your job to set the vision and make sure everyone is executing it it. However, the vision is probably fuzzier than you think. Now that you have all this free time from delegating you can actually sit and think and then write it all down.
The process of writing things down is a forcing function because in your mind you’ve jumbled a lot of ideas together that aren’t actually that clear. But brains are really good at filling in gaps and so in your head it is all very cohesive. Until you sit down and realize that your ideas are jelly and need a lot more work. Clear writing is clear thinking.
Now imagine being someone on the receiving end of your non-written, non-thought out ideas. You’ve made a lot of assumptions when communicating to them and now they are also making assumptions as they hear your instructions. Next thing you know, no one is really sure what should happen or what success looks like. Write it down.
A tactical, necessary thing related to writing it down: Process documentation. Does your business have basic processes written down and documented? How are new hires onboarded? By reading useful guides that direct them through the basics of their job or by oral tradition? If you don’t have basic processes written down for people to follow you are literally burning time. Take the 60 minutes to write up the processes so you aren’t reinventing the wheel every time do you do something. Another benefit to writing it down: You can get everyone’s agreement that this is the official way to do things. You’d be amazed about how once you write a process down everyone chimes in about how they do it a little differently. Yikes, that doesn’t sound very efficient to me.
Understand yourself, your ambitions and stop making excuses
Are you reading this and nodding but then excusing yourself for not doing certain things because you don’t have enough time or some other unique reason for why this doesn’t apply to you? That could be one of your issues. If you consume a lot of “productivity porn” and nothing is changing you might want to look inside yourself. Why aren’t you sitting down and getting work done? Maybe you don’t actually want to be productive? That’s okay too. But you need to introspect.
This first comment relates well to this, “In other words … it’s obvious that many people don’t want to be successful, and if they were to introspect deeply, they would see this clearly. In fact what they want is to be somewhere comfortable in the middle of the herd, not having to do too much work.”
None of the above matters if you don’t have the building blocks in place
Ultimately, in order to live a productive life, you need to have your values aligned with how you live your life. If you are reading this and agreeing with it but are in crushing debt, barely get 5 hours of sleep, in a job that you hate — you are not embodying these values. Your mind and body are not in harmony. This relates to the elephant/rider metaphor from Jonathan Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis(which I strongly recommend.) The elephant is your primal, emotional, animal brain. The rider is your rational brain. The rider is on top of the elephant and can coax the elephant, but not steer is completely. This is why even when you resolve to do something you sometimes don’t do it. The elephant strikes again!
There is a reason why “making your bed” is popular advice for being a happier person. You need to be in control of your physical and mental environment to get the most out of what I have written above.
I have been a longtime subscriber of The Mad FIentist and he recently did an interview with Cal Newport of Deep Work fame. Cal just released his latest book Digital Minimalism and this interview was a mix of many things I’m interested in: meaningful work, productivity, and financial independence. I enjoyed the podcast so much that I went back and listened to it again while taking notes.
My notes are below along with the timestamp of where that topic starts in the podcast. This is not a transcript just my interpretation of the interview. When a block of text is italicized, that’s me putting in my own two cents about how it relates to my life.
0:00 Why Cal Newport on this podcast? His work has been incredibly influential to Brandon (The Mad FIentist) who has FIRE’d and helps ask and guide you on those questions of what to do with your time and what will bring you happiness. So not a ton of direct FIRE relation but tangential.
There are a lot of people in the FIRE community who believe all they need to do is retire and then they’ll be happy. So while Cal’s advice is not about living frugally or early retirement — it is about the other side of the coin: how to be happy by finding meaning in the things you do.
2:48 On pursuing your “passion.” The pursuit of passion is overrated and the advice of “follow your passion” is trite and overdone. This was basically the premise of Cal’s 2012 book So Good They Can’t Ignore You — where he delved into the dynamics of really loving your work.
So how do people end up loving what they do? As kids you’re sold this bill of goods. “Oh if you just follow your passion you’ll be fine” but research doesn’t support that people have preexisting passions. You career satisfaction is not a matching game and there is very little evidence that people who find fulfillment in their jobs already were interested in the topics
I’m an operations professional who has fallen deep into Salesforce — I can vouch for this being true. “This” being I wasn’t born with an inherent interest for this stuff.
5:48If passion is bogus, then what? Happiness comes from getting good at something not doing something you think you like (it’s the craftsman mindset vs. the passion mindset). The more you work the better you get and then the more you like it. It’s a virtuous cycle.
7:24 Don’t ask people for advice, ask them for their story. You’ll quickly learn that they didn’t have some preexisting thing they loved. More often to not they fell into one thing or another and they got really good at it and that is what unlocked freedom, flexibility, etc. All the things that the FIRE community wants.
8:09 So FIRE enthusiasts might be misguided in “rushing to the finish line?” Most definitely, yes because they are probably giving up career capital and the work that actually might make them happy.
What are you trying to get to? That you have these passions and if you just had more time to do them you’d be happy? Well that isn’t what the research says. It is not a major source of satisfaction. You need sense of autonomy, impact and competence and that comes from meaningful work not from scrolling on Instagram all day.
There isn’t a term for it (maybe I’ll try to invent it, how about Flex FIRE) but instead of focusing on stopping work, try to get so good that you have flexibility and focus on work you want. Then you’ll have a high sense of satisfaction and be well compensated.
Autonomy + Impact + Competence = Happiness
11:03Okay, so we need to get good at something to find our passion and be so good we can’t be ignored. How do I do that? This question sprung out of So Good They Can’t Ignore You and is what inspired the book Deep Work. Deep work is just concentrating without distraction and in today’s age of open offices, Slack, etc. this is becoming increasingly rare. Rare things are often valuable and the ability to put your head down and focus on something that matters is becoming high point of leverage. If you are one of the few people who can cultivate the ability to concentrate without distraction, you’ll have a huge competitive advantage.
Shutting down email, putting away Twitter, etc. It’s incredible how much you can get done when you shut off the distractions.
High Quality Work = Time Spent + Intensity of Focus
I personally am amazed with how much I can get done in just an hour when I put my head down listen to Lo-Fi Beats and have my phone physically away (in my backpack or a drawer) and Slack turned off. It’s scary.
A formula that works is batching deep work. So work undistracted for 2–3 hours and you’ll really get a lot done. What doesn’t work is the sprinkling your day with appointments. It’s really hard to ramp back up from even a quick little context switch and the way a lot of knowledge workers have set up their day makes them basically work with a self-imposed cognitive handicap. It’s like we’re taking a reverse nootropic that is making us dumber.
15:22 Less work & more relaxation doesn’t actually make us happier — which is sort of a troubling concept for the FIRE movement.
Choice quotes from Deep Work: “Relaxation does not result in happiness.” “People are happier at work.” “More flow experiences = more life satisfaction.” “Flow happens when your mind is stretched when you’re trying to accomplish something worthwhile and difficult.”
So all of the above could be at odds with the FIRE movement which basically wants to work as hard as possible so they can relax forever. But is that necessarily good?
People actually like doing hard, meaningful things and it’s just not true that we need to veg. Meaningful work is engaging and rewarding. Cal spoke with Mr. Money Mustache and The Frugalwoods — these people don’t sit around and watch TV. They fill it with difficult, engaging work (building stuff, pouring concrete, chopping wood, etc.) They actually didn’t crave more relaxation.
High quality leisure is key for satisfaction. So Cal recently picked back up guitar playing — which is a quintessential quality leisure activity: high-skill, requires concentration, not easy to do, yet done purely for the pleasure of it.
So as a knowledge worker, it’s not really helpful to think that if you could chill on the couch and scroll through IG all day that you would have a better life. You need to strive to get engaged in something and seek progress in it — that will make you happy. Even my hobby — pottery — is something that I wouldn’t say is particularly relaxing. It’s actually really hard but I derive a lot of joy and satisfaction on working on something difficult and seeing results.
19:35 Skillful management of attention and choosing what you pay attention to
There is so much stuff flying around out there and so your world is really constructed based on what you are concentrating on. If you are focusing most of your attention on things that are difficult to accomplish and meaningful to you, you’ll have a life that is higher in satisfaction. What you pay attention to really influences your attitude and outlook on the world.
Take the above and compare it against scattering your attention across email, lots of apps, content that is frustrating or alarming, etc. and it can be easy to feel like your life doesn’t have a lot of meaning or focus. So that is a hidden benefit of deep work — you’re only focusing on stuff that matters to you and focusing on what matters results in happiness. Which rolls in nicely into Cal’s most recent book Digital Minimalism.
21:50 Maybe I buy these claims about technology in our professional life but what about technology in my personal life? Thus Digital Minimalism was born.
A lot of Cal’s writing is focused on work, but people are addicted to their screens in their personal life as well. Minimalism says that it’s almost always better to focus on fewer things that are the most important (which ties in perfectly with the FIRE movement).
So Marie Kondo is helping you declutter your physical life and Cal’s book is helping you declutter your digital life. Essentially taking all the apps, etc. and rebuilding but only keeping the things that matter. Step away from all the technology in your personal life for 30 days (this helps reduce the compulsive urge to check apps, etc). But what you need to do during these 30 days is get back in touch with what you are really about: what you value, what you want to spend time outside of work doing. Because you’re not just mindlessly scrolling during any second of downtime you can now sit with your thoughts and think critically and answer these hard questions.
And once the 30 days are over, you evaluate each app and thing you want to bring back into your digital life and ask if it is going to help you works towards the goals that you have outlined during these 30 days. And if the answer is no? Be cool with missing out on it, because it is probably not making your life better.
Similar with the FIRE community where people give up lots of little luxuries (i.e. a panini press) because it is not at the core of what makes them happy and moving them towards their goal of FIRE. There might be some value there, but the little bit of value you get isn’t worth the tradeoff of being distracted, anxious, etc so you should just do without it.
This is a small example but I deleted my Snapchat account a couple years ago. I only sometimes used it but I still felt a pull to check it, post with it, etc. I deleted it and sure I might be missing out on some funny Snaps from friends — but overall I’m happier because it’s one less thing to deal with.
20:42 Connection between digital minimalism and the health and fitness industry
Cal has never suggested a “plan” for his readers prior to this 30 day digital detox and he realized that it was necessary because we’re just so inundated with apps, news, alerts, etc. Basically, it’s a fresh start. There are some parallels between our technological consumption and the hyper-palatable food that was invented at the second half of the 20th century. It’s no longer enough to say “just watch your portions” because this stuff (both technology and food) has been designed to be really engaging and addictive.
The people who are most successful with the health usually have a strong guiding philosophy (keto, vegan, paleo, etc) that helps them make consistent decisions. Cal’s aha moment was that technology forces are strong enough that people need a guiding philosophy around it as well. You have to have a strong change in behavior. You have to have the dramatic break to create a reset and create clarity in your choices.
32:00 Downsides of social media
I’m only interjecting in here to say that I think social media and the internet is a huge boon for humankind. The ability to connect with like-minded people that are thousands of miles away on esoteric topics has been greatly facilitated by social media. I personally have made lots of connections with really cool people because of it. With that said, I think it is important to balance your online and offline relationships but I want to go on record to state that I think on the whole social media brings a lot of good with it.
People are constantly looking at their phone and we are making the mistake that it is the phone that has us addicted but that’s not actually true. It’s the applications on the phone that have created this behavior, mostly Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Facebook was coming to their IPO and couldn’t figure out how to make money, even with the amount of users they have. And this is because social media was a static experience prior to them re-engineering the social media experience. It used to be “Oh, I’ll post something and maybe check to see if my friend has posted an update about their life.” The experience now is not about posting and reading other people’s posts but about creating a constant steam of social approval indicators. It has become an incredibly addictive formula to see if people are liking things that you do and because it is about you of course you are interested and it’s random. Sometimes you log into the app and there is stuff to see and sometimes there isn’t and that also creates desire for you to constantly check. The whole social media experience is a slot machine and there is nothing fundamental about the iPhone that makes you want to do that, it’s all because of social media apps.
We don’t need the constant companion model of social media. We are doing this for no real good reason and that is why people are getting frustrated with it.
37:50 Impact of social media on young people and our mental health
Cal spoke to a woman who worked in mental health services for college kids and she said that she has tons more kids coming in related to anxiety and anxiety related orders. She believes this is because these kids grew up with smartphones.
Jean Twenge wrote a book on this called iGen where she measured how the rise of mental health issues between Gen Z and Millennials and the key factor between the two was that Gen Z had widespread smartphone usage starting as kids. And Cal sees this as the digital canary in the coal mine — Gen Z does this behavior that we all do, but to an extreme. So if we start looking at what happens when this behavior is maxed out, when basically all discretionary time is spent looking at a screen, we see massive issues with mental health.
So the message we get out of this experiment is that our brain is not meant for this kind of consistent behavior and that constant low level sense of anxiety that we have is our brain crying out for help, “I’m not supposed to be doing this kind of high-octane, low bit-rate level of digital interaction.” This isn’t what the brain is supposed to be doing and it’s not natural.
But one thing worth mentioning: It’s hard to fill your time when you don’t have digital distraction. A lot of people use social media as a crutch so they don’t have to face the void, face themselves, answer the hard questions of “What do I want to do with my life?” So you need to get disciplined about high quality leisure activities and how you want to spend your time (like Mr. Money Mustache and The Frugalwoods and they got that straight before they added all of this free time to their lives).
Figuring out what you want to do with your life is harder than you think, especially if you don’t have the crutch of the screen.
For the FIRE crowd: You don’t want to work this hard to be “free” just to be scrolling and refreshing a screen. You better start thinking because otherwise you won’t be happy. It’s hard work to figure out what you want to do instead, but it is work that is really worth doing. These screens have been filling in for answer to this question.
Even without social media, humans have a drive to be social. Cal doesn’t have social media but still has a desire to talk to and interact with people. And that is one of the big costs of social media, you think you’re talking to people all day but your brain doesn’t recognize that as socializing and that is why we have these research studies of people saying the more they use social media the lonelier they feel. It’s because it displaces the real world socializing and seems just real enough that you think you’ll be satisfied with just internet relationships but that’s not true.
Another FIRE crowd shoutout: FIRE people are weird and willing to do drastic stuff to achieve their financial goals. Cal is sort of like that with his digital life (see: Why you should quit social media) Taking drastic steps digitally can also have massive positive impact on your life.
46:30 What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who is pursuing financial independence?
Skill is your greatest weapon. If you relentlessly hone a skill that is very valuable you will generate more financial options. You’ll get flexibility and freedom. A magic elixir for career satisfaction is being really really good at something. Even if that requires an in the desert apprenticeship mindset. The better you are at something the market values the more control you have over almost every other variable.