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The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 52

July 13th, 2014 6 comments

photo - Version 2This is the fifty-second and final post in my epic journey going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here.

So, first of all, I’m kind of astonished that this happened.  The fact that I’m writing this post means two things (well many things, but two primary things):

  1. I actually succeeded in fulfilling my commitment to blog this journey for an entire year.  Let me assure you, this has not been an insignificant accomplishment.
  2. I’ve completed a year of entrepreneurship.  That is also not an insignificant accomplishment.

My intent today is to give a bit of a retrospective.  The things that have happened, the changes in my business, and what I’ve grown into and moved away from.

The biggest thing I’ve moved away from is fear.  Fear that things will fail, or fall apart, of that I’ll be completely doomed, or anything else.  That’s shown up in a big way in how I work.

There’s a scene in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, where Robin is battling Little John.  He jumps up out of the water, and pulls Little John into the water.  Little John starts to scream and shout, “I’m drowning, I’m drowning!”.

When he finally yields to Robin Hood, Robin calmly tells him, “Put your feet down”.  The water was shallow enough that he could simply stand in it.

That’s how I was at the start of the year.  Gasping for air.  Every referral that would come my way, I would gasp in like a man desperate for oxygen.  There was no enjoyment.  I was relieved when someone was referred to me (and very grateful too), and would make every conceivable effort under the sun to connect with them.  There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but there was no joy in it.  Further, it probably came off as a little bit needy, which isn’t much fun either (and frankly, it’s kind of creepy).

And lastly, that kind of approach gets in the way of you getting to see possibility for your clients and hold them at their highest and greatest.  If I’m focused on what I can get, it makes it really hard to truly serve someone.  Not what I’m committed to.  Not at all.

I realized myself that if you trust it and simply focus on providing value to people, you’ll survive.  All that gasping for air and flailing was keeping me from enjoying the process.

In terms of numbers or changes, that’s a little more intangible.  The big change that has resulted from that shift has been that I spend my time serving people instead of doing what “I have to do” to build my business.

So many coaches early on dogmatically state “I need to work on my website, I need to create my business card, I need to spend more time working on marketing”.  And then, ironically, they say “I hate marketing”.  (I know this is true because I train and coach new coaches).

The truth is, you don’t need to do any of that stuff.  If you want to be a coach, you need to get out there and coach people.  Lots of them.  Provide people value and change their lives as a result of the conversations you’re having.  If you do that, it’s inevitable that, over time, people will take note of what you’re doing and start talking about you.  All of that other stuff — that “marketing” — just gets in the way of coaching.  (Which is often why new coaches focus on it.  If nothing else, it prevents them from doing the scary task of coaching people when they’re new to it).

It’s the same for many professions.  I’ve coached public speakers and writers, and the same thing holds true.  If you want to get paid for public speaking, go out there and speak in front of groups.

A couple of people have asked me about tangible results at the end of this year.  I’ve struggled a bit to figure out how I want to share that, because what I charge is more a reflection of who I accept as my clients these days than anything else.  The power of commitment is really what allows for transformation — and I’m a demand that people really commit to what they want to create in their lives.

So, that being said, here are some of the tangibles:

  • My rates have tripled since I first began coaching
  • The majority of my time marketing these days is now spent over-serving and astonishing my clients as opposed to worrying about attending mixers and pounding the pavement
  • For the last 4 months, my practice has been full.  Recently two clients completed with me, and so I now have two slots available
  • The minimum commitment I’ll work with a client for has now doubled — again, because I’m committed to creating breakthroughs and transformation with the people I take on, as opposed to short-term solutions to problems

That may all sound well and good, but it pales in comparison to the internal work that I’ve done.  The stuff on the outside — the external tangibles — are merely reflections of how we’re showing up within.  Never lose sight of that fact.

And that’s the ultimate lesson from this year.  It isn’t about the externals and what you can point to tangibly.  It’s about how you’re being and what you are creating internally.  Don’t get distracted by the stuff on the outside.  Keep doing the inner work, and trust that the external stuff will come to you.

Because… it will.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series.  It’s been a crazy journey for me, and I’m now letting this blog sit a little bit while I devote more time to the book I’m writing.  Please check back to hear more about that, and in the meantime, check out Bay and I writing over at Evergrowth.

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The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 44

April 19th, 2014 2 comments

IMG_2873 - Version 2This is the forty-fourth post in my epic journey going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

Mindfulness and a life by design.

Those are the two things that have really been on my mind lately.  One of the things that really drives my life is passion.  If you spend two hours talking with me, you get a sense that I’m deeply passionate about the things I take on.  I’ll talk to you about the funk-styles of dancing forever if you want me to.  Ask me about what makes a good angle in boogaloo, and I’ll tell you all of the theories I have, and everything I’ve come up with over the years of getting down.

If you ask me about the nuances of P vs. 2P in Virtua Fighter, I’ll explain the situations where you want to choose one over the other (actually, you don’t even have to.  You can just go and read the blog I used to write about that exact kind of thing here).

Anyhow, that passion really drives me forward.  I’m voracious when I start to love something.  The flipside of that passion can be obsession.  I want something so much that I lose sight of the life that I have around me.  I put all of my focus, time, and energy into what I’m pursuing, and then realize I’ve spent a week working on it.

There’s nothing wrong with that, if it’s a joyful, intentional week, but with obsession, it starts to get dark.  Instead of loving the progress and the journey, I can start to focus only on what I’m not currently achieving.  Then it becomes a treadmill that I’m always running faster and faster along.

This week, I’ve been really taking on a practice in mindfulness.  Because, whats the point of having an amazing life, if I’m not present to it.  I get to do work that I love, but if I’m not taking the time to stop and really appreciate everything I’m creating, it’s only slightly better than a life than I spend with my head buried in a bunch of papers at a deskjob I don’t enjoy.

Mindfulness means doing things like running and really focusing on every aspect of the run, rather than just doing it so I can stay slim.  (I caught myself doing that recently.  Crazy).

The other thing that has been dawning on me has been how important it is to design our lives as entrepreneurs.  I mean, it’s why we get into the work in the first place — freedom!

I’ve slowly been reviewing the pieces of my schedule and life, and determining whether I actually want things to look this way.  If I don’t, then I look at what needs to happen to rearrange them.

That’s a lot different than the space I was coming in to 44 weeks ago, which was “I’ll say yes to everything and find a way to make it fit”.  I know I can be successful under that paradigm, but it’s not what I’m really interested in.

But I have to start somewhere.  If I don’t be a demand for the schedule I want, who will?  That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will be happy about it, but that’s not what matters.

What matters is that I love my life.

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 36

February 25th, 2014 No comments

IMG_2818 - Version 2This is the thirty-sixth post in my epic journey going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

What an unusual week – no big ups or downs.  Nothing terrifying.  No moments of waking up in fright and remembering what I hadn’t done.  Just opportunities to slow down and enjoy what was showing up.

Two times I’ve graduated from a post-secondary education, and both times, the same phenomenon has occurred.  I’ve gotten to the end of the week, sat up on the weekend, and felt guilty for not working on something.  There’s a sense that you should be doing something and that it’s wrong that I wasn’t.

Almost every student has experienced this process.  The shift from a pattern of always trying to play catch-up to trying to remember that it’s okay to relax.

What I realize is that being an entrepreneur is a lot like making this journey, back and forth, over and over, on a much more frequent basis.  Underneath it all, we are constantly working to develop the ability to simply be with whatever uncertainty shows up.

Lately, that’s meant recognizing when my fear shows up and just leaning right in to it.  I got really embarrassed last week, and after allowing myself to feel that way, I became present to the fact that embarrassment, rather than being something to avoid, is actually a sign that I’m taking on something outside of my comfort zone.  If it wasn’t embarrassed, I’d probably already be good at it, or already comfortable with what I was experiencing.

So in a lot of ways, it’s a bit confusing.  We’re learning how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That almost doesn’t make sense.

I think a lot of us approach this from the belief that once we’ve developed enough, we stop feeling uncomfortable, but that’s not true.  Discomfort is there as a sign that I’m taking on something different or new.  As long as you’re alive, you’re capable of feeling discomfort.

As an entrepreneur or anyone else stepping in to possibility, it’s important to recognize that fear and discomfort is going to show up.  If it hasn’t, it’s time to take another step.

The funny thing is that sometimes it’s as difficult to learn how to embrace the calm, as it is the storm.

Ah!  There’s the lesson for this week.

To really love your life and your work as an entrepreneur, you have to learn how to love the calm as much as the storm.  Entrepreneurship is no different than life.  After every storm there is a calm, and after ever calm, there is a storm.  Trust that it will all work out, and learn to love each part of it.

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 23

November 25th, 2013 1 comment

IMG_2710This is the twenty-third post in my epic journey going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

I’m not really sure what lesson I learned this week.  I think the big take away has been that you never really reach any real kind of destination as an entrepreneur – the scale just shifts.

I know a lot of people fantasize about how different their lives would be if they won the lottery, or get that new job they’ve been after, or change careers, or finally get the boyfriend they’ve been pining for.  But I also know that that isn’t true at all.  Things won’t be any different, because you won’t be any different.

As an entrepreneur, the things that overwhelm me out or that I cannot be with don’t change simply because I’ve started bringing in a certain amount of income.  Just because I’m making X amount of dollars a month doesn’t mean I’m any less concerned about money.  The only that that has really changed is the scale.

The funny thing is that stuff happens when you give yourself and the universe the space to allow it.  For me it’s so easy to get caught up in the sheer amount of doing that I can step right over the opportunities for peace and tranquility that I’m looking for.

I’m trying to create flexiliby and dynamism in my life, but locking that out by continually doing more and more stuff because I’m entertaining the fear that I will fail if I stop.

Yesterday I woke up in the middle of the shitpit.  Everything was wrong and I was frustrated and grumpy.  Rather than try to fix it, I just chose to be a stand for authenticity.  Whenever someone asked me how my day was doing, I shared with them what I was going through.  Not from a place of victimhood and complaint, but from a place of having it distinguished that I just woke up feeling shitty and grumpy.

It was amazing what it allowed.  Instead of resisting it, trying to pave over top of it, or doing to remedy the problem, I just let myself sit in it, and shared it when it was appropriate.  By the end of the day, I was feeling fantastic, and had accomplished more than any other day that week.

So I guess what I’m taking away this week is that the real work isn’t what you think it is.  It’s not working 12 hours a day and converting your blood, sweat and tears into widgets, product releases and dollar signs.  The real work is actually about creating space for you to not do those things.

Today, I stand for stillness and space.  Give yourself room to expand.

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Week 1

June 14th, 2013 No comments

IMG_2285 copy - Version 2This is the first post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read next week’s entry here.

This post kicks off a 52-post series.  WHUT!  52 posts is madness.  I would actually have to regularly update in order to meet a goal like that!  Well, I am mad.  Mad enough, in fact, to leave a career as a lawyer and go all in on my passion of coaching.  Read on…

Let’s start with the background.  Three years ago, while in law school and working at the Department of Justice, I met a life coach.  Suddenly, I was made present to something I had been searching for for the past 5 years: a career that aligned with who I am.  From that moment on, I vowed to create a successful coaching practice.

Much to the chagrin of my own impatience, I still had 1.5 years and a year of articling to finish before I could fully embrace what I now knew to be the next step for me.  Half way through my year of articling, my principal agreed to allow me to practice law part-time while I built my coaching practice.  It would have been so easy to say yes – it was the safety net that I wanted.  It would protect me, if I failed.  But it was also more of the same.  It was more of me choosing everything, instead of actually making a choice.

So I made a choice.  I told my principal I would not be staying on with him after the year finished.  That I would not continue practicing law.  And, on June 6, 2013, I finished my last day as a lawyer.

This series is intended to document the first year of this process for me, and hopefully provide some inspiration and encouragement to other entrepreneurs that are on the precipice of choosing what they want and confronting their fears.

A week ago today was my first day working for myself (http://evergrowthcoaching.com).  What I had was five clients lined up, two people that I was training as a coach through one of the two programs I graduated from (http://accomplishmentcoaching.com), and enough income saved up with my wife to provide us with a four-month runway.

Four months might seem like a long time if you are working a secure job, but if you are me, with my stuff, and my fears, it seems like an impossibly short period of time.

Throughout the time I spent in school, I let people know what I was up to and what I intended to do after graduation.  I offered people complimentary sessions, even though I was worried they would judge me for it and think I was making a mistake (which was actually me projecting my own fears and stories onto them – most people were incredibly supportive).

While articling, I experienced a lot of demands on my time.  It never felt like there was enough time during the day, and no matter what it was, every interruption felt like it was taking away from precious time.  Ironically, there was an abundance of time, and Darren was great about how I spent my time.

This pressure came along for the ride when I switched to working for myself.  Sure, I woke up each morning and jogged or biked (which I missed doing immensely), but I was ever cognizant of the hands of the clock.  What time did I absolutely need to be out of the house by to ensure I was back in time to get everything accomplished?

So that’s the lesson I’ve learned this week – the pressure comes from within.  Now don’t get me wrong, the legal profession is hungry for people that will self-impose this pressure, and is happy to toss some of its own demands on to the back of your pressure-camel (believe it or not, facility with metaphor is both a strong legal and coaching trait).  However, at the end of the day, the pressure is internal, and if you want to fight it off, you have to start by addressing the story from within.

This is a scary journey, but it’s the right one, because it’s my passion.  This is what I know to be true: follow your passion, and you will succeed.  Follow your fear, and you will get more fear.

See you next week.

P.S. Yes, those are my socks, and yes, I am very pleased with them.

It’s hard…

January 17th, 2012 2 comments

It’s hard to be human.

It’s difficult to fully expose who we are, and to be comfortable putting that person out there, regardless of any judgment that may result from it.

We all know that other people may judge us, but how often do you devote thought to the fact that you are probably also judging yourself every time you expose vulnerability?

Getting comfortable with who we are includes accepting and indeed, loving, all of our emotions and feelings, including the negative ones.

The fact that you feel negative at the moment does not make you a negative person.  The fact that right now, you feel angry and resentful, does not make you an angry, resentful person.

It has been years since I’ve cried openly.  It’s not because I don’t feel overwhelmed with emotion at times (in fact, I do, often).  Rather, it’s that as soon as I begin to feel that way, I clamp down and assert control over how I am feeling.

Why?

To protect myself.  To prevent myself from experiencing emotions that I judge weak, or negative, or unhelpful.  To ensure that I am a positive person, and not a negative one.

I currently feel overwhelmed, some despair, and at times, like I’m throwing life away.  That doesn’t mean that I’m in over my head, suffering depression, or a failure.  It just means that I too experience emotions like overwhelm and fear.

I am working to embrace these emotions as part of who I am, and to share them more openly.  I invite you to do the same.

It’s hard to be human – but it’s worth it.

Head up — Breathe — Head down.

May 26th, 2011 No comments

.Breathe.They say that one of the most important things in swimming is learning to breathe correctly.  In a sport that is ultimately based on streamlining and moving yourself as efficiently as possible, the extra drag that is created every time you take a breath can be the difference between winning and losing a close race.

However, if you don’t take breaths often enough, you won’t be feeding your muscles and body the oxygen that it requires to be as efficient as possible, in which case you may be as streamlined as possible, but your engine won’t be functioning efficiently.  (Or you’ll just drown and die.  And also lose the race.)

 

(It’s a metaphor)

 

When technology first started to improve our efficiency, it allowed us to shift our focus to spending more time in leisure and with friends and family (formerly only the privilege of royalty).  However, as time has progressed, our focus has slowly drifted away from the notion of technology enabling us to do less, to enabling us to take on ever-increasing amounts of work.

These days, the increasing emphasis placed upon productivity is reaching epidemic levels.  This is in part due to the fact that productivity and efficiency have become ingrained in the fabric of the modern working world.  Operating at the subconscious level, most of us aren’t even aware of how much pressure we put on ourselves to produce.

I am by no means suggesting that being productive and efficient are bad things, all else considered equal.  But when an emphasis and priority are placed on these two concepts to the exclusion or detriment of the rest of our lives, things start to fall apart.  You need look no further than places like Japan’s working culture and our more demanding professional careers like lawyers and doctors to see that efficiency and productivity without balance are detrimental in the long run.  (see my friend Michi’s blog for an insider’s perspective on Japanese working culture).

Recognizing the importance of balance is one thing, but understanding how to actually affect changes in your life that allow for it is another altogether.  Many of us get caught up in feedback loops that lead to a lack of balance simply because we don’t know any better.  All we know is that working hard got us to where we are, so presumably working even harder will take us even further.

But we know that this approach is fallacious in swimming, and so too is it in life.  So what should you do?  Simple:

 

Stop.  Breathe.  Repeat.


Literally.  Just breathe.  Don’t think about what to do next.  Don’t think about what you aren’t doing while you’re taking time out to breathe.  Don’t think about your deadlines, or what you need to do next, or where you’re going to be tomorrow.

Just breathe.  Physically.

Put down what you’re doing, close your laptop, put your phone on vibrate, and just breathe for five minutes.

It’s not a huge commitment – but it is a commitment.  Five minutes may feel like eternity to you if you’re not used to taking time out from your own productivity.  Commit to those five minutes (set a timer if you need to), and turn your focus toward breathing.

You need to make sure that you’re kicking and stroking with your arms as you swim, but you also need to actively increase your drag (temporarily) so that you can take the time to provide your body with the nourishment that it requires.

 

Practicing What I Preach

 

I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.  It’s easy to tangled up by all of the strings pulling at me, and if I’m not careful, I can find myself with days that are booked up from 9 in the morning to 9 at night.  This does not leave much time for reflection or relaxation, let alone spending time with my wife.

I find it especially challenging to maintain balance when I have multiple projects or commitments demanding my time, as they are not always willing to play nice, and the only commonality between them is myself.  This kind of situation makes breathing that much more important.

When things are really busy, it’s all I can do to try to follow my own advice.  Bring up my head and breathe.  Take a look around, see what the rest of the world is doing, and get a handle on what I’m currently undertaking.

The reason that granting yourself moments of breathing and clarity is so valuable is that when our heads are down, we’re unable to get a feel for what we actually have on the go.  Our attention is focused on the immediate task at hand.  Every intrusion feels overwhelming and like a whole new emergency requiring our attention, regardless of what the distraction may be (Eg, e-mail, a new piece of reading, a meeting request, a phone call, etc.).  All we can tell is that it is not what we are currently focused on, it is another thing to be added to our plate, and good grief, don’t we have enough stuff on our plate already?

 

Lift your head up and breathe

 

Find time to pull yourself up from what you are currently focused on and assess what you’ve got on the go.  What are the things that are currently demanding your attention?  What are your immediate priorities?  What do you need to do, but can be left until later?  (If you’re having trouble figuring it out, a braindump may be a good way to go).

I generally find that most people prefer not to seek the answers to the questions I’ve asked above — they’re worried that knowing will only add to their stress.  The reality is that there are few things that generate as much fear and anxiety as the unknown.  If you know what the demands on your time are, you can at least take active steps to prioritize what needs to be done, and alert the appropriate people if a deadline is going to slip.

Awareness will free you from the burden of knowing only that you have an undefined number of other things you need to do.  (This is a common concept in GTD, and much of the methodology is based around addressing the open loops that are tugging at your mind, thereby freeing it up to focus).

You’ll be amazed at the relief and clarity that can be brought by the simple action of taking ten minutes out to assess where you stand and what needs to be done.  I can attest that I am regularly surprised whenever I conduct this exercise, generally discovering that I actually have a lot less that needs to be dealt with immediately than it felt like I did ten minutes ago.

Above all, try to remember that the way that you feel about the demands on your time does not necessarily reflect reality.

 

The larger context

 

In the larger context, making the time to take a deep breath is analogous to making time to perform weekly reviews, or setting aside time during your day to meditate.  Both of these activities simply represent other ways to pull your head up and assess where you stand and where you’re going.

If these suggestions sound simple, that’s good.  Life doesn’t need to be as complicated as we make it.  Taking steps to simplify your life may be exactly what you need.

 

TLDR

 

As always, here’s the summary of the keypoints:

  • While taking time to stop what you’re doing may cost a little in the short term, it will benefit you greatly in the long
    • (Remember, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re swimming if you’re dead)
  • The unknown will generate more stress than anything else.  Taking stock of where you are and what demands are on your time will give you clarity and relax you
  • Learning the skill of retreating to centre yourself (this is what we’ve been talking about) will continue to serve you as you get better at it
    • Meditation, weekly reviews, and other techniques are all just different implementations of this simple concept

A new way of budgeting your time and productivity

May 10th, 2011 No comments

Time budgetSchool started proper again yesterday, and that means that the makeup of my days will change radically from that of the previous four months.  Although I’m writing today, the frequency of my posts will decrease drastically once work really gets underway.

I made the decision to take on a fair number of items this term, including:

  • Continue to be a good husband (yes, continue);
  • Continue to do well in school;
  • Devote a non-trivial amount of time to an application I’m working on with some colleagues; and
  • Teach weekly dance classes with my friend Jesse at a studio we’re renting in town

All of these items require substantial amounts of my time, and inconsistently to boot (meaning that I won’t get to choose when one of these items will need more attention – there will be peaks and troughs for all of them).  I believe that I’ve got the skills and ability to meet all four of these goals while maintaining my own sanity.  However, it will require planning to ensure that I’m ready when the storms start to strike.

This is a pretty short post, but if you’d like to jump to the summary, you can do so here.

A new way of looking at my available productivity

Because of these competing demands, it’s very important that I figure out the best way to maximize my productivity.  If I waste my opportunity to be productive, things will start to get backed up, and I’ll quickly find myself with too many things to do and not enough time to do them in.  Something will necessarily fall by the wayside (and if I’m being honest, I suspect it will be item #1 – it’s often easiest to let things slide with the person around which we’re the most comfortable).

Rather than try to plan everything down to the hour, I took a new approach to scheduling my productivity this term.  To start, here are my assumptions:

  • I can achieve what I’m setting out to do.

This is the most important assumption because it’s the starting point for everything else.  If I don’t believe this, then I should return to my list above and remove one of the items.  (If you don’t get this, ask yourself why you are planning to try and accomplish something that you don’t actually believe you are capable of achieving?)

  • I was apathetic the previous term and often felt myself wasting time playing video games instead of studying.

While I found the feeling of apathy generated stress, my grades did not suffer and I exceeded the standards I had set for myself.  This suggests to me that I had additional spare time that could be put to better uses.

  • I don’t want to spend any time this term feeling bored.

That is an indication to me that I currently have too much spare time.  Relaxing and just cooling out is one thing, but sitting around literally feeling bored is off the books.  If I find myself feeling this way, I should be looking to engage myself with a different pursuit.

  • I can be more efficient if I’m able to divide my time across multiple tasks.

Like most of us (all of us?), I experience diminishing returns the longer I spend working on any one particular task.  If I can divide my time across a number of tasks related to the different projects I’ve set out for myself above, I should be able to avoid the fall off that results from working on only one task for too long.

  • I have, roughly, between 3 and 5 good bouts of productivity in a day.

On really good days, I can get my process started first thing in the morning, and also find a second wind after the post-lunch tiredness.  On a bad day, I can’t seem to get the gears turning until 11AM, take a break for lunch, and only just manage to accomplish things by the time 5PM rolls around.

  • My bouts of productivity cannot easily be divided up into “clean” blocks of time.

Just like I don’t know what kind of day I will have until I find myself at the end of it (or mid-way through at least), I don’t know beforehand how long I will be able to stay in my flow for, nor how long it will take to read a particular set of readings.

Creating a workable system

So, with the above assumptions in mind, I set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to devise the system by which I would plan out my time and stay on track this term.  That system is based on the concept of productivity units (PUs from here on in).  PUs are what I call the blocks of productive work that I am talking about above in items 5 and 6.

Based on my assumption in #6, I don’t think that it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and map a PU to a specific amount of time.  In fact, it’s clear that I don’t usually think that’s possible.

Taking my range from item #5, I estimate that on any given day, I can probably accomplish about 4 PU worth of work in any given day, with no other demands on my time.

What does this actually mean?

So, what does it actually mean to accomplish one PU worth of work, if you can’t map the block reliably to an amount of time?

Here are some examples of what I would consider a PU worth of work:

  • Complete a set of readings for one of my classes
  • Spend some time writing out a few pages of a paper
  • Sit down and clear out my inbox, processing everything there and responding to any necessary e-mail
  • Spend some time working on my development team’s wiki, organizing everything and ensuring that all of our recent thoughts have been captured and stored somewhere for later reference
  • Attend one class

It is important to understand that these are the benchmarks I have drawn for myself.  Based on what you see above, you could probably estimate that one of my PUs probably roughly translates to 1 to 2 hours worth of work.  This is reasonable.  However, this will not always be the case, and there are times when it will take two PUs to finish a set of readings, or only half of my available energy to complete something.

The important part of my system is that it is adaptive, flexible, and dynamic, as these are all characteristics that I wish to imbue in the work that I do.  If my system does not embody the same traits that I myself wish to, there’s going to be conflict (which generally leads to the system being discarded and returning to old ways).

Your mileage may vary – you may find that you prefer to work in smaller chunks, but fit more of them into a day.  Whatever works for you is what you should do.  For me, this provides a clean and lightweight way in which I can rapidly estimate how much work I can accomplish each day.

This approach also provides me with a metric by which I can determine whether or not I should really be feeling upset that I’m not being maximally productive.  Let me explain.

I have no classes on Tuesday, which means that this is a wide-open day.  However, I have no shortage of work, and so ideally, I’d like to get 4 PUs in on Tuesday.  If I’ve finished one PUs worth of work, it’s currently 3PM, and I’m sitting on the couch playing video games, things probably aren’t going too well.  I should be kicking myself back into work.  But, if I find myself in the same situation, having completed 3 PUs worth of work, I’m actually doing pretty good.

Why is this distinction meaningful to draw – isn’t this pretty obvious and intuitive?

No – it isn’t.

These kind of separations are always obvious to us when we’re external to them, having them explained to us or reading about them on someone’s blog.  It’s easy to divide everything into bright clean lines when you don’t have anything at stake and you’re not in the middle of all of the chaos and demands placed on your time.  However, when you do find yourself in the middle of everything that’s when you will most need to be able to determine if the way you are feeling is due to something legitimate or simply a pressure external to yourself that actually doesn’t matter.

Thinking in these terms provides a quick “escape ladder” that can be used if I need to pull my head up from the mess and figure out if the way I’m feeling is really something that requires my concern.

The honest truth is that sometimes you’re going to feel guilty for taking some much needed time to recharge.  It doesn’t matter that that is the best thing you could do – your psychology will play games with you and tell you that you could not possibly take the time off from working on that paper!

Dividing my time up into these kind of chunks is a convenient way for me to check the way I’m feeling and determine if I really need to get the gears turning again, or can relax knowing that the break I’m taking is well-deserved (and will actually make me more efficient on the whole).

The view from my desk

Here’s the example that I’ve created, to provide you with some context.  My class schedule roughly looks like this:

  • Monday: 3 classes
  • Tuesday: 0 classes
  • Wednesday: 2 classes
  • Thursday: 1 class
  • Friday: 1 class

On Monday, I also run a dance jam down at Centenniel Square in Victoria, which eats up a decent chunk of time.  In short, I don’t have any additional PUs available for Monday.

Tuesday is wide open, and so I can aim for my maximal goal: 4 PUs.  The plan going forward will be to divide this time between reading/studying and the necessary time required for me to continue PMing the project I’m working on.  I have my time loosely divided in half between the two, but I can be flexible and if needed, I can devote all 4 separate PUs to studying (though I would rather not, as that will increase the diminishing returns that I experience).

Wednesday I have two classes, which means I have about 2 PUs remaining.  Likewise, Thursday and Friday each have one class, so I have 3 PUs for both of those days.  Just at a glance, this way of looking at my spare time gives me a rough idea of how much time I will have available to devote to the demands on my time.

If things get panicky or packed in tight, I may need to adjust my schedule, or attempt to squeeze an extra PU out of my day.  While this may be possible for brief bursts of time, I’m skeptical that that would be a sustainable practice.  Being productive for 10 of my 16 waking hours, on an extended basis, intuitively feels like I would be pushing the limits of my mental, emotional and physical health, not to mention my marriage.

Rehash

That’s all I’ve got for today.  In general, writing a blog post is probably about 1 or 2 PUs worth of work.  It requires writing (a task unto itself), then polishing and editing before publishing.  I’ve finished three sessions worth of reading, and completing this entry makes a total of four PUs.  That means that I can now devote the rest of my day to relaxing and pursuing hobbies that are less intensive, and ignore any guilt that may pop up from time to time trying to tell me I should actually be working harder.  Not only should I not be working harder, I’m not convinced that my yield would be worth the extra effort.

Here’s the summary of what we’ve covered:

  • To maximize your productivity, break your time up so that you can focus your energy on multiple things throughout the day;
  • Breaking your time up into productive units, or PUs, can provide a convenient way to get a loose handle on what you can realistically accomplish in any given day;
  • Your PUs may be different than mine, and that’s fine – do what works for you;
  • If you’re feeling lazy or like you should be doing more work, check in to see what you’ve accomplished in terms of your PUs, and ground the way you feel based on that.  Sometimes you need to kick your ass back into gear.  Sometimes, you need to relax.  Both of these things will be equally hard to accomplish at different times;
  • A system doesn’t need to schedule or track every last available minute you have for it to work for you; and
  • Check in with yourself from time to time to see if the way that you’re feeling is a reaction to your circumstances, or something external (eg, unrealistic societal pressure that you can or should be productive for every single minute that you’re at work).

Saiyonara

August 14th, 2009 No comments

Well, I’ve finished my last day at work.  As a result of the fact that I’ve cleaned up all of my loose ends, I’m left with very little to do today – that will no doubt be a completely different story from my life a month from now.  

The timeline for my last day was:

Last day of work:

8:00 Last day arriving at work

8:10 Pour last cup of coffee

8:30 Login and go through morning routine last time

9:30 Fill out timesheets for the last time ever

9:45 Last scrum at Refractions

10:00 Last coffee with Graham at work

1:15 Last JV lunch (while working at Refractions) downtown with Bay

3:30 Sent out goodbye e-mails to co-workers

3:45 Deleted archived e-mails from my computer

4:00 So long Refractions

While cleaning up my desk this week, I came across two of my logbooks that I had maintained when I first started.

 

I originally started maintaining a logbook when, during my first review, Paul Ramsey (the former president of Refractions, and someone for who I have a great deal of respect) mentioned that he noticed I worked better under pressure and when there was a lot on my plate.  He recognized that that he too operated in this manner as well, but that something to work on would be to track what I was working on and to try and maintain a more consistent pace.

 

The logbook was my first attempt to do this, and really, my first attempt to begin any kind of system.  About three years back, I realized that although I was now twenty-seven years old (thirty now!), with both a high-school and a university education, no one had ever taught me any kind of system for managing my tasks (really, for managing my life, both at work and at home).  Before I even made this realization though, I knew that I wanted to pursue Paul’s advice.

 

The logbook was the first attempt to accomplish this.  Looking through the book is a bit nostalgic: projects that I’ve long since forgotten, and that have long since died.  Attempts at organization that I now recognize as convoluted and problematic.  Lists of TODO items that remain unchecked to this day (did these ever actually get done?).  Even with all of these flaws, I still recognize the value that these first attempts brought me.  They provided me with a starting point.  They set me down a path, and gave me a base from which I could start evolving my own system.  You can never go for a run if you don’t take that first step, and that’s exactly what this book was.

 

I scanned in some representative pages from each month, along with an appendix that I had created at the back, so that you can see how I started progressing along the path towards a full-fledged system like GTD, and get a feel for the missteps that it’s okay to make as you attempt to get yourself organized (if you choose to).  Let’s repeat that one more time – it’s okay to make mistakes.  Take that first step!

 

January.png

February.png

The first two images are simply scans from the month of January and February.  Although the domain and context of what I was working on isn’t relevant, you can see from the way I was taking notes that there was still much to be desired.

The first scan shows an action item at the bottom, but with nothing to differentiate it from the rest of my notes.  How would I know at a glance that this is something that I have to act upon, versus something that I can just use as reference for later on?  What about the state of this action item?  Did I ever actually complete this task?  Did I just neglect to complete this?  Did it simply stop being necessary?  There’s no way to tell what happened here.  While I’m sure that I did in fact complete this item, you can see that it is important to create ways in your system that allow you to determine the answer to these questions quickly and at a glance.  Otherwise we’re just taking up valuable mental cycles that could be devote to more valuable tasks.

Unfortunately, I only realized now that I scanned in the wrong pages from my appendix, so I no longer retain the code I used to mark up the pages.  The main colour used were blue and green.  Blue items indicated discussions I had with co-workers, while green items indicated useful information or knowledge to reference back to later.  Orange  indicated important TODO items.  Whenever I had a page where I had created one of these items, I would colour the top or bottom corner (or both if I had multiple items on a page), allowing me to quickly determine if I had something that needed to be referenced on a given page.

This system quickly got out of hand, as it is impractical to flip through pages of a book trying to find the correct coloured corner that corresponds to a piece of information I need.  There is no ability to categorize a given piece of reference information, as it sits forever on a page in the book.  I have no folder that I can put the information in, and no ability to search through the book, other than sequentially flipping through each page.  Obviously this system left a lot to be desired, but it was a starting point.

Once I started PMing projects, I moved away from a static book and to a system that was more focused on the GTD approach to managing tasks, using looseleaf paper, and folders to organize it.

That’s the end of my time spent PMing.  Onwards to new challenges!

The end of one story, the beginning of another

July 18th, 2009 2 comments

On Friday of last week, I handed in my notice to let my employers know that I would be leaving the company in one month’s time.  This action is a milestone indicative of plans that have been underway for over a year.

I try to be a fairly risk-verse person, and as a result, I do my best to avoid counting my chickens before they have hatched.  Going to school to pursue law is not a decision to be taken lightly, and they system helps ensure that by putting into place a number of hoops that the potential candidate needs to jump through.
About 18 months ago, Bay and I took a trip island for brunch in Nanaimo.  Brunch was nice, but the real value was the opportunity to talk to each other about where we both currently felt in our respective jobs.  The end result of this trip was that we came back with a concrete set of next steps to act upon in order to making something that had previously only been fanciful into a reality.  Bay made the decision to return to school to get an MBA, and so, came home, registered to write the GMAT, studied for the GMAT, and began stressing out about the GMAT. 

I began the process of looking into what it would take to start writing the LSAT, what entry requirements existed, and figuring out how to break the news to my parents (further education is no doubt exciting, but it does come with a hefty price-tag, of which we would no doubt be hoping to borrow some money from Mum and Dad to make ends meet).

Writing the LSAT was no peach, and I guess they make it fairly excruciating to weed people out.  Although I’ve got plenty of experience writing tests under a time limit, I was not used to this format.  I found myself writing as fast as I could and scrambling to get every question completed in time (and correctly), only to put my pencil down, take a breath, and be told that our time was up and we needed to move on to the next section.  By the end of that day, I was exhausted and didn’t want to consider what it would mean if I didn’t get a reasonable grade and had to rewrite.

Fortunately my score was pretty good, and my undergraduate GPA was also good.  I wrote the admissions officer at UVic to ask if she felt my chances were reasonable that I would be offered a position.  It was with a big sigh of relief that I checked my e-mail last Summer while we were in Nova Scotia and read that if I had correctly calculated my GPA, I would most likely be receiving an offer.

That is a massive if, so I probably spent the next three months recalculating it over and over to make sure that I wasn’t mistaken.  When you hear things like that, your mind starts to play games with you.  Bay and I were willing to move to Vancouver or out East to pursue school if that was necessary, but it would be nice to stay in Victoria for at least a few more years.  I didn’t have any choice but to wait to hear from UVic, and to begin preparing applications for other universities in the meantime.

In time, I did receive an e-mail from UVic letting me know that they were in fact offering me a position to start Law in the Fall, and that I could stop shaking and sweating.  Huzzah!

After that, it was simply a matter of hurry up and wait.  It is never easy to sit still when you have a new pursuit and direction, and this is especially true for individuals like myself, that thrive on growth and overcoming challenges.  The remaining months of work have been difficult.  Not because the work itself has been challenging or hard to accomplish, but because I know that I have reached the end point for my interest in this path, and that I have a new path to pursue.

That brings us full circle back to the beginning of this post, as I have now provided my notice of departure, and am tying off all remaining loose ends.  Five years is a very long time to be at one company, and I’m not certain whether or not I will find myself in a similar position again.  It is almost impossible to accurately ascertain that until you actually come face-to-face with the same situation.

During my tenure here, I have learned a great number of things.  Many of them related to the various aspects that make a software project come to fruition, but also many related simply to the act of effectively managing both projects and people (and believe me, the majority of project management is about managing people, not the project itself).  I’ve also learned a good deal about HR, both good and bad.

I’ve met some good friends through work, and have learned a large number of skills that I’m confident I will be able to apply in whatever field I eventually end up working in (GTD anyone?).

It is difficult to say whether or not I will return to the role of managing projects in the future.  I know that I have a knack for the role, and possess many of the innate skills that are needed to effectively manage a project, but, my biggest concern would be that I be able to find new aspects of this kind of work that continue to challenge me.  Regardless, I’m not the sort of person to mentally shut doors on anything, and if an opportunity presents itself that I think will be rewarding, I will be willing to go for it.  I don’t really know of any other way to live life.

Revealing the fact that I’m returning to school to pursue Law has been met with an interesting range of reactions.  Many of my closer friends usually say “Ah yeah, that makes sense” (with the implication that I argue too much and am generally a heartless prick – maybe I’m inferring that).  People that are not particularly close with me, or with which I have a strictly working relationship, generally react with “Really?  That’s a big shift!”.  I suppose that in some ways it is, but the ability to discern what rules we are currently constrained by, and how we can operate and find a solution within those rules is really the crux of both the project manager and the lawyer.  The rules just happen to be defined differently (one by competing business and political interests, the other by codified laws and our bill of rights).

For those curious, I am initially drawn to intellectual property law, and for a number of reasons.  First of all, I think that my background will serve me well in this field, as I have a good deal of experience not only with managing and directing efforts in this realm, I also have a very strong understanding of the entire procedure, from start to finish (requirements, all the way up to implementation and delivery).  This field of law is also particularly interesting these days, as our technologies are opening up more and more doors every day, and challenging existing copyright laws that have previously been bound and determined by some fundamental principles (such as “reproducing something like a book is difficult to do, and thus not an offence that will be committed frequently”).

I think that’s a sufficient update into my professional life.  Next up is an update on dancing.  Keep it locked.