Author: DKTraub (page 1 of 2)

Buckets

I love analogies. Good ones make it easier to share ideas. Great ones latch on the memory. Even bad ones are useful, if only to be made fun of!

For time management, I love imagining a big pitcher of the water, representing available time. There’s a fixed and finite amount in that pitcher, not an endless supply. It’s not a faucet or fire hose. 24 hours in a day, no more!

With this water pitcher comes a bunch of buckets, representing projects or areas of focus for time. Work, kids, wife, personal projects, exercise, sleep, reading, education, yard work.. all the different areas I can spend my time.

Time management is about being intentional with which buckets get filled up and how much they get filled up. You can’t fill up any single bucket without taking water away from the others. There’s no “work-life balance”, there’s just intentionality about your buckets!

A lot of times we pour all put water in the “loudest” or most urgent bucket and deprive the rest from their share. That’s not to say they should all be equal, just that we should be intentional with the allocation.

For me, this visual image helps me remember that my time is finite and can’t be stretched out. But, I can pick which buckets get filled up!

DKT

100 Days

After leaving my last position, I received the incredible advice to take a 100-day sabbatical before jumping back into the workforce. I wasn’t convinced at first, but what are mentors for if you don’t trust them? I’d been pouring my heart and soul into a single adventure and rightly needed some time to focus back in on the priorities of life. Our second child was born exactly a month before this retreat and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. These 100-days have provided amazing reflection. If you care to ask, here’s what’s been on my mind:

  • We’ll start with the obvious – my family is incredibly blessed to be able to afford a 100-days without my spouse or me working. Even among those of us living in this relatively affluent country, most substantial breaks from a paycheck would lead to constant stress and domestic budgeting. We’ve received an outsized share of luck and fortune.
  • Being a stay-at-home-parent is no joke. Corporate life is a daycare compared the battleground that is a toddler missing his nap. Our 4-month-old has zero respect for my Outlook Calendar and published “do-not-disturb” hours. Our 2-year-old believes destruction of employer property is part of his job description.
  • I’ve always preached about and encouraged “Family First” but haven’t really been living it. It’s one thing to work occasionally excessive hours. It’s another to browse email on the couch at night and allow work-thoughts to distract from real conversations. Be where you are.
  • The “scruffy” look does not work well on me. It’s a bit more homeless-looking than rugged-looking.
  • Cell phones and the always connected mindset of this age will be the ruin of our happiness. We have instant digital access to the knowledge repository of generations and are more “connected” as a society than ever. So why don’t we have increased happiness, global productivity and education to show for it? Why does a blinking notification light on my phone give me an endorphin hit substantial enough to distract me from my laughing child or smiling wife? You don’t need a 100-day sabbatical to take this advice: drop your cell phone in a drawer the second you come home and forget about it until the morning.
  • It’s hard to properly recognize unhealthy habits and relationships without stepping outside the framework they exist in.
  • It is possible to wear only cargo shorts and comfy hoodies for 100 straight days.
  • Spending uninterrupted months with my two little kids, at this age, has been the greatest and happiest time of my life. I say this from an incredibly lucky background; I’ve traveled the world, been to private concerts and met my heroes. Not a single promotion, election or accomplishment I’ve ever received even remotely compares to my joy of this dedicated time with family. I will remember this time whenever I set the priorities in my life.
  • You probably shouldn’t wear only cargo shorts and comfy hoodies for 100 straight days.
  • Sleep and exercise are preventative maintenance for the mind.
  • If you don’t pursue your own dream, you can get paid to help someone else pursue their dream. We call this employment, but not necessarily fulfillment.
  • Experience without reflection is just an event. Personally, I need to do a better job building reflection into my daily routine. If you’re driving for three hours with two screaming babies, you’re stuck just chatting with yourself in your own head – would you like who you’re stuck with?
  • There are folks with integrity and folks with money. And folks with both and folks with neither. And folks who will compromise the first for more of the last. I sincerely believe in the best of people but reading the newspaper every morning makes it more difficult.
  • Why is getting a hood haircut so hard to find?
  • Fear holds us back far more than hope moves us forward. Nearly the best thing a leader can do for their people is balancing those scales.
  • Have I mentioned that stay-at-home parents have one of the most difficult and under-appreciated jobs on the planet? My wife and I have a long-standing agreement to never compare our daily difficulties – nothing good ever came of one-upping someone else’s problems. Still, these 100-days have given me an appreciation for her work that I couldn’t possibly have entirely empathized with before.
  • It’s time to wrap this list up.
  • The world is an amazing place and we’re lucky for every moment we get here. Spend every minute intentionally, ‘cuz you’re never getting ‘em back!

DKT

Whose shoes?

This week, I was writing about fulfilling a customer’s needs and probably ended up rambling a bit too much. However, one notion took up residence in my head and is refusing to vacate. I’m hoping that by sharing here, it might leave me alone for a little while.

Our customers are looking for solutions to their problems and fulfillment for their desires. Your product or service is irrelevant outside this framework. A customer doesn’t decide to hand you money simply because you added a new feature. They do business with you because you solve their problems or meet their desires better than any other options they currently know about. So, those problems and desires need to be at the front of your every thought.

Nuanced in this expression, is the idea that “meeting their desires” often involves helping a customer fulfill their image of themselves. I don’t buy Nike shoes because they protect my feet any better than a New Balance pair, but because I like to think of myself (or perhaps, want others to think of me) as the type of person who wears Nike.

And for their part, Nike understands this perfectly. They don’t advertise the technical specs of their newest sneakers. Hell, they don’t even show their shoes in half their ads. They understand perfectly the need that they are fulfilling.

Try telling me they’re selling shoes…

The overused and annoyingly cliched example from the tech-world is “No one really wants to buy a 1/4 inch drill bit, they all want to buy a 1/4 inch hole“. You might make the best drill bit in the entire world, but if someone came along selling 1/4 inch holes, you’d be in trouble!

You’ve probably experienced what happens when organizations lose sight of their customer’s needs – eroding customer service is a pretty obvious sign, but a lack of commonsense is worse! Nothing is more cringe-worthy than: “I’m sorry, I’d love to help, but company procedure tells me I have to do it this way.”

So… stop it! Stop thinking about your organization from your own shoes. Get yourself and every employee closer to your customer and help remove the sterilizing barriers that prevent your folks from really understanding your customers and their desires. There’s no excuse for an engineer who’s never seen their product in action (not just in the lab!) or for a salesperson who’s never experienced the whole cycle from the other side. Freud would be proud – even calling it the “other side” shows the implicit bias of viewpoint we carry around.

So, take off your Nike’s and put on whatever pair your customers are walking around in. Relentlessly pursue an understanding of their problem and bust your butt to solve it.

DKT

Book: Burnout Generation

A short, audible-only, collections of essays by Anne Helen Peterson.

First, I dislike the millennial thing. Yes, naming generations is easier than repeating “adults aged 25-35”, but it smacks of cliche and I guess it just annoys me! 🙂 But, embracing cliche, we’ll say that this book explores the burnout that many millennial feel.

First, I’m not sure there is anything different in the burnout Anne describes and the crisis facing previous generations. Everyone has their struggles and each of us searches for our own meaning. It just seems self-centered to elevate one generational set of issues above another.

But, all things considered, I do appreciate the explicit naming and discussion of social issues.

  • Student Debt.
  • Housing Prices.
  • Wealth Inequality.
  • Social Media

The discussion I liked most revolved around the stress that comes with being always connected to social media. So many folks advocate getting disconnected, but it’s just not happening. I got my oil changed yesterday and spent about 20 minutes in the Jiffy Lube lobby with nearly a dozen folks. Every single one spent the entire time crouched over their phone…

DKT

Hey Flying Object! It’s okay to be Unidentified!

I’m a bit of a skeptic by nature. I don’t believe in the Loch Ness Monster, psychics or UFOs that travel from light-years away just to leave hidden mysteries in farmer’s cornfields. Though, I’d delight in a universe where any of those are proven true!

Now, there are a number of ways I could take this opening – but I’ll stick to sharing two competing arguments that wrestle in my mind.

It is folly to measure the True and False by our own capacity.

Montaigne (ESSay #27)

I’ve been reading Montaigne’s essays (based mostly on their witty praise/lamentation in A Gentleman in Moscow) and this chapter hit my hard. I can’t possible rewrite his thoughts with any improvement, so I’ll share a bit more direct quotation:

The great Saint Augustine testifies that he saw a blind child restored to sight upon the relics of Saint Gervaise and Saint Protasius at Milan… and several other miracles at which he says he himself was present. Of what shall we accuse both him and two holy bishops, Aurelius and Maximinus, whom he calls upon as his witnesses? Shall it be of ignorance, simplicity, and credulity or of knavery and imposture? Is there any man in our time so impudent that he thinks himself comparable to them, either in virtue or piety, or in learning, judgement, and ability?

It is dangerous and presumptuous, besides the absurd temerity that it implies, to disdain what we do not comprehend.

Montaigne, “essays”

That last sentence resonates well with change management and leadership, but it also helped temper some skepticism in my personal life. A mathematical outlook can remove the romance of life and some mysteries are best accepted, or at least not blithely rejected.

But, in case we pendulum too far, let’s remember that society isn’t logical and that blind acceptance is dangerous. Let’s combat Montaigne with another great recent read:

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.

Charles Mackay in “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the madness of crowds”

This 1852 book is fun from an economic or marketing perspective… But it’s a little depressing from a human one. Mackay makes the point that folks are imitative and illogical – that facts won’t persuade us half as well as a crowd’s belief. You don’t have to look any further than your crazy uncle’s Facebook feed to see it in action.

So, we’ve got to balance it all! Build our opinions based on facts, but also accept our ignorance of the full workings of the universe. Maybe there is a giant ape running around the Cascade’s – who am I to judge? I haven’t invested enough energy to canvas the mountains and search for myself, so why should my disbelief be dis-proportionally stronger. I blindly accept atoms and the existence of black holes, but haven’t seen them myself.

I guess what I’m sharing isn’t about what we might believe in, but about challenging why we believe certain things and discount others. We won’t get far without accepting the knowledge and expertise of others, but we should at least think about it ourselves – and think about it often. In today’s environment, with political season coming up and more media consumption thrust upon us than ever, it’s so important to exercise critical thought and introspection. Even if I haven’t changed my own original beliefs, it’s certainly been worthwhile reflection.

Then again, maybe this is all just my brain searching for a philosophy that will help it cope with the blind faith required in being a Mariners’ fan…

DKT

Book: Children of Ruin

Note: I’m not a book reviewer and I’m not an English professor! 🙂 Three years ago I made a new year’s resolution to read a book a week and I’ve stayed pretty much on track. But, sometimes I fly through books without thinking much about them – which seems such an awful missed opportunity! So, I’m typing up my quick thoughts after finishing.

Adrian Tchaikovsky’s follow up to the sci-fi book Children of Time.

The first book was strange, this book is stranger. The first book was amazing, this book is slightly less so. I loved following the evolution of the Portiads on Kern’s World and the narrative was so immersive. Children of Ruin spent a little more time building anxiety and fear, with much less time given to the stories that made Children of Time so great.

I tried explaining this book to my wife… bad idea. How do you sound sane when you’re describing “spiders, who were supposed to be monkeys, who evolved into a super-species on a distant planet and now partnered up with humans to travel the galaxy. And they run into a partially terraformed planet where sentient octopi try to keep them away from a cellular infection that destroys life but is actually a new form of life itself“. What? Huh? Why am I reading this? Also, why is it actually pretty good.

The first book was recommended to me by a friend and I loved it. I’m partial to books that explore culture. In this case, how differently cultures might develop when left alone. Because, yes, you’ve always wondered how a group of space-faring spiders would interact with each other. Actually, I’m pretty sure only Adrian (the author) has ever pondered that question and I feel strange just typing it out, but somehow the book is immersive and rewarding and weird and great.

DKT

Excel: EOMonth

One if my favorite simple Excel formulas is EOMonth. When working with reports over multiple date ranges or just creating a calendar, it’s a quick tool to make life easy. Unfortunately, it’s name obscures a bit of it’s usefulness. Yes, it technically returns the last day of a month, but this can easily hijacked for all sort’s of wonderful things!

Here’s the basic format:

=EOMonth(Start_Date, Months)

Give the formula a date and a number and it will return back a date. For example:

  • =EOMonth(“1-1-2019”, 0) will return “1-31-2019”
  • =EOMonth(“1-12-2019”, 0) will return “1-31-2019”
  • =EOMonth(‘1-12-2019″, 2) will return “3-31-2019”
  • =EOMonth(“1-12-2019, -1) will return “12-31-2019”

How’s this useful? Glad you asked!

  1. A label that always shows the current month:
    • =EOMonth(Today(),-1)+1
    • Then, apply custom formatting “MMM” to shorten the display to month name only.
  2. Working days in the current month:
    • =NetWorkDays(EOMonth(Today(),-1)+1, EOMonth(Today(), 0))
    • You could do a similar formula with “Days” instead to calculate the total days rather than the working days.
  3. The first day of the current year (useful for dynamically updating):
    • =EOMonth(Today(), -Month(Today()))+1
  4. For reports “by month”, I prefer to use formulas rather than hand-typing each month. Use the formula above for January and then for each cell above:
    • =EOMonth(*reference cell above*, 0)+1
    • Fill the formula down the column and each cell will have the next month.

Dates can be tricky to wrangle in Excel, but EOMonth helps a ton!

DKT

Legends

Kate and I went to Felix Hernandez’s “last game” yesterday. In a season with little else to celebrate, Felix roaring and pointing to the crowd with every “K” was the memory we needed.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the beginning of the sixth inning, as he walked alone to the mound – the rest of his team remaining in the dugout to give him his well-earned moment. Somehow the field didn’t feel empty, with #34 alone in a white jersey warming up for his last battle. Certainly the city filled it up with cheers for the most ferocious player to never make the playoffs.

That he stayed in Seattle through the Mariners most dismal years is incredible. Nowadays players switch teams so often it’s hard to track which team you’re rooting for.

It got me thinking about all this “churn” in the workforce, where 5+ years at a single company is a lifetime. It’s a sad fact that the easiest way to get a raise is to find a new company. What’s that say about the respect shown? Is it laziness or arrogance that allows a organization to compensate their own less than others happily will. And, by not taking care of their own, companies invite employees to treat the organization as disposable in return. The smartest (or perhaps most money-driven) will bounce from employer to employer, chasing the opportunity to renegotiate their earnings entirely instead of just receiving a 3% bump.

How many folks and how many organizations will stay loyal to each other and treat each other with enough respect to earn the sort of goodbye that Felix received last night?

I’ve worked for three different employers and was lucky enough to find two that believed in this loyalty and found it, for the most part, reciprocated. Only the middle organization, nearly ten years ago, didn’t exercise this opportunity to build trust and their workforce showed it. With the job-market what it is now, I can’t imagine the mindset of the executive who doesn’t obsess over how to better take care of their people.

But, back to baseball! There’s no such thing as storybook ending and Felix didn’t get a win. His last out was a pop-up to left field, not some wicked changeup to catch a guy swinging. But it didn’t matter. Felix will be a legend for his resolute loyalty. His fidelity somehow more tremendous than even his pitching.

All in all, I think that’s how a fellow would prefer to be remembered.

Thanks for some great memories!

DKT

Book: A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Note: I’m not a book reviewer and I’m not an English professor! 🙂 Three years ago I made a new year’s resolution to read a book a week and I’ve stayed pretty much on track. But, sometimes I fly through books without thinking much about them – which seems such an awful missed opportunity! So, I’m typing up my quick thoughts after finishing.

Wrapped this one up on Audible – what a great read! Written by Bill Bryson, this book walks through the history of scientific discovery with a relaxing and approachable touch.

What entertained me most was the “behind-the-scenes” descriptions of the discoveries. The background of the scientists, the drama between them and the random facts of their life were sometimes more memorable than the science itself.

I loved the opening description of science books. Bryson describes reading a book about the Earth’s core and wondering “how do they know?” He complains about exciting topics being reduced to boring paragraphs that put students to sleep. In comparison, his book makes DNA, evolution and ancient geology engrossing and memorable.

My most memorable part was the poor folks trying to measure the transit of Venus in order to calculate the size of the solar system. To spend years traveling across the world in the 1700’s for the perfect viewing point of a once-in-a-hundred-years event, only to have cloudy skies ruin all visibility… ugh.

Not high on the list for “re-readability”, but a good mix of education and entertainment.

DKT

Subscriptions

There are so many great places to get information, news and to learn more. Here’s the ones I subscribe or read regularly:

  • Wall Street Journal. Print subscription, because there’s something romantic about reading the paper in the morning.
  • NextDraft. A daily list of the top news. Hilariously curated, though with a heavy liberal tilt.
  • HackerNewsletter. A Friday digest of news, projects and tips from the Tech sector. Most of the code is over my head, but fascinating to browse.
  • Arts and Letters Daily. A newsletter of thoughts, essays and books.
  • Letters of Note. Unpredictable schedule, but fun to read these historical or notable letters.

DKT

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