Managing Slack

My work slack is very active, partly of the result of having both a healthy remote-working environment and partly because I work with awesome people. Recently, I’ve been trying to manage the level of attention Slack takes up in my day, because folks are chatty and my brain wants to keep up with everything. I’ve tried a couple things to manage the drain on my attention, with mixed success and finally found a good solution last week.

Muting/unmuting channels in groups

This turned out to be higher friction than I would have liked. I had to remember to switch them on and off and “unreads” doesn’t work the same when you have channel groups. When you mute a group and then unmute it, unread messages don’t reflect in “All unreads” and you have to click into each channel to read the messages. (Something that I’d like to see Slack improve on)

Quitting out of slack completely

I tried this when I needed to deep focus, allowing my phone notifications to ping me with @’s. But this proved cumbersome as well. I was getting pinged often enough that having to restart slack and then close it back down was a bad experience.

Turn off the “unread” indicator

Finally! A good solution! I turned off the little red “unread” indicator on my slack icon. I now only get a tag there if I have an @ mention. It’s made a big difference in my focus level. Turning off the indicator is zero friction and I can ignore slack unless I get @’d. When I pop in to check on my @’s, I can take a moment to get caught up on whatever chatter is going on and then minimize slack again and ignore it.

 

Makeshift haramaki

It’s getting cooler here in the NE finally and that means it’s time to start pulling out the cozy garments! My office is in an enclosed attic that’s still pretty dang drafty. I often use a space heater on the very cold days, but when it’s just a bit chilly I don’t like wasting electricity. So, gloves, hats, and blankets fill the void. I sometimes have trouble keeping my lower back warm and remembered hearing about haramaki. I could buy one, sure, but more fun to scrounge one! I grabbed an extra long, stretchy, wide scarf and wrapped it around my middle and my kidneys are thanking me right now.

a purple scarf shown being used as a haramaki

I made this scarf a few years ago and felt like it was a failure. I somehow kept adding stitches because the bulky yarn was such a pain to work with, but now I’m thrilled to have it. Eventually, I’ll find a nice sweater pin or something less intrusive than a chopstick to hold it closed.

Emma

I have a dear friend who lives “across the pond”. We’ve never met in person (or even virtually) because we met on theforce.net fanfic forums 15 years ago. Back then we were both under the spell of Revenge of the Sith and spinning tales about Obi-Wan and Anakin, while chatting regularly about our lives as we helped each other grow as writers.

We’ve both moved on from that site long ago and we no longer stay in touch with any kind of regularity, but on each of our birthdays we write each other a long email and catch each other up. It’s not even something we decided to do in any official way, which is what makes it even more special.

We ask about each other’s family, we talk about our work and if we’re still writing. It’s always a little mix of happy news and a little about the struggles. As we go into middle age (we’re the same age) the stories change. Her oldest just graduated law school, I finally found a job I love, we’re both feeling our bodies start to ache in new and interesting ways.

It’s one of my favorite things in my life, that we still have this connection, still care about each other. If we met in person, it would be hard to get us to stop talking and sharing. We also expect nothing more of the other and even the birthday emails continue to be an amazing surprise and catch me off guard.

Oh yes, I remember you, you are my dear friend, I can’t wait to hear how you are.

 

On writing personal decision records

I have a few things in my life that I am having trouble making decisions on. None of them are life-altering, but they’re small things that have some daily impact.

Workona is a great example. I’ve been using it for a couple months and really dig it. It’s going to a subscription model as it comes out of beta and I need to decide if this is worth it to me to pay for or scale back and use the free version that’s more limited.

As I’ve been doing over the last few years, I’m looking to the skills and process I’ve learned as a software engineer to tackle this problem. As an experiment, I’m going to try out making a form of architectural decision record for some of my personal choices.

As the choices I’m thinking about revolve around tools and productivity-oriented processes in my life, making ADRs seems like a natural choice. It likely seems a bit analytical, but for me it makes sense to get my thoughts down in a more concrete format. Having them stored in a notebook so I can come back to them later and see if my thoughts on things have changed would also be helpful.

Time to set up a folder in Obsidian and make some decisions. The first one is going to be pretty meta and common: an ADR on choosing to use ADRs.

 

A reclamation of that which I am not done with yet

As I think about writing zines again and creating a few games, I find myself thinking about visual language. I used to have a very defined graphic style, but I haven’t done much creative design work over the last decade. While there have been book covers and typography work, not much that was purely creative, bordering on art.

The zines and other personal projects I’m thinking of working on would benefit greatly from some more intentional design work. As a bonus, it’s a chance to stretch muscles that are long atrophied.

Part of me considered looking around and seeing what the kids are up to these days and trying to evolve my style to be more “modern” and up to date. But when I start thinking seriously about that, my heart is not happy. I like my old style and, as we’ve been saying often around my house, this is something I’m not done with yet. I still feel like it has value and use.

I might do some exercises, play with things a bit, and see if I can find all my old photoshop brushes and textures, etc. I want to see if I can reclaim this style, in particular:

It’s not what you see much anymore in today’s world, obsessed as designers nowadays are with minimalism. It’s still holding onto a piece of the early aughts grunginess, with my own spin on what feels “right”.

I opened up my Dribbble account for the first time in eons and I am pleasantly surprised by the work I found there. It may not be the cream of the crop, but I can see what I was reaching for at the time. I still find my voice in there.

I look forward to reclaiming this kind of work, reclaiming my visual voice, and seeing what I have left in the tank. I suspect it’s still quite full and that does make my heart happy.

 

Report from the land of Brood X. We now welcome our new cicada overlords.

On the recording, you’ll hear some birds, some individual cicadas and then the entire background susurrus is the Brood X horde singing.

They started emerging over the last couple weeks but this weekend they really started swarming. There’s entire tree trunks in my neighborhood coated in them.

I live in an area that hasn’t been touched in decades, lots of old houses with established landscaping. So they’ve just been chilling underground for the last 17 years and at least a few generations have been able to do the same.

Questions for myself

I recently started getting James Clear’s newsletter. In it, he asks a question for the reader to ponder. This week’s was:

“How can I create an environment that will naturally bring about my desired change?”

This is an important question and one that, for me, brings other questions. Most importantly, what is my desired change right now?

My current answer to that is probably: I want to write, study, and read more.

If I take a look around, my environment is already dang well set up for bringing about that desired change. I’ve got an office separate from the rest of the house (huzzah finished attics) and multiple options for where I want to work. Inside, outside, the entirety of my environment is set up for doing good work.

So, why then do I struggle to write, read, and study the way I envision?

Some of it is disorganization. The things I want to work on are in a bit of chaos, spread out over various notebooks and file structures. That aspect is slowly being brought under control as I consolidate digital notes into Obsidian. Physical notebooks are a little harder to rein in. They have an organic flow to them that doesn’t digitize as easily as I’d like. Even so, this is all an active work in progress.

Some of my struggle is related to my the way my mind works, how my brain is wired. Work days leave me mentally tired, usually too fatigued to do much more than eat dinner and watch something. I’m also currently working on this aspect as I look at ways to carve more creative time out of my week. Leaving my phone far from my bed has started improving this considerably.

Some of my challenge is life itself. This aspect doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room. There is laundry to do, meals to cook and eat, and the seemingly endless task of sorting and reorganizing my various collections of stuff. This last continues to be a source of stress, both in finding time to do the sorting and in deciding what things I can truly let go of, regret-free.

All in all, this whole question of creating an environment that will naturally bring about change is a difficult one. I can see where I’ve set some things up to help facilitate change, but I honestly don’t know how “naturally” that will ever occur for me. Maybe accepting that the changes I want will not happen naturally is part of the work I need to do. Accepting that I’ll have to work for the changes I want in my life is okay. As is accepting that they will not happen as quickly as I’d like.

I’ll just keep showing up and working to manifest them and maybe one day I’ll turn around and the path behind me will look natural after all.

On reclaiming boredom

I am starting a challenging experiment: seeking ways to reclaim my brain and creativity from the attention economy. I’m not overly tied to my phone. I’m not on facebook and the only reason I have a twitter account is viewing things other people send me, yet I still see the effects. Youtube is a rabbit hole I have trouble escaping and I compulsively check email even when there’s zero urgency to do so. My morning and bedtime habits are where I really get stuck.

The biggest impact I see is that I have trouble reading for long periods without falling asleep and my fiction writing has utterly dried up over the last year. I also have trouble getting up and going to sleep when I intend to because I surf in bed. Sure, the pandemic has had an impact on things and I’m accounting for that. Even so, I can do better for myself.

So, I’m working out how to reshape my wake up and bedtime. I’m starting with something simple: using my old phone by my bed instead of my current phone. My old one is an iphone 6 and still works well. I was using it up until last summer. I’m recharging it as we speak and it will be stripped down to have my alarm, meditation apps, music, and a few puzzle games (because insomnia is a thing and they help). Basically a device I don’t mind having by my bed.

My phone will also get a few things stripped off it and I’ll have it at hand less often. There’s honestly only a handful of apps I use regularly and even a few of those are bad for my attention.

My hope is that I can replace that literally wasted time with more intentional time on my laptop, more reading, more journaling, and a better quality of rest. I’ll keep you all updated if you’re interested in how it’s going.

Digital gardening for myself

On my habitual Sunday morning drive I spend a lot of time thinking. It’s my “out of the house” treat for the week, just me in the car going over hill and dale, waving to horses. I rarely even put music on. The only destination is my favorite convenience store for coffee.

This morning I was thinking about how pleased I am that I’ve got my notes and writing organization project well underway. Obsidian has helped considerably with that, as well as the surprisingly robust export tools of the various apps I was using before. While I still have a few questions to iron out (I do still like Scrivener for various things, organizing the actual structure of the folders), the bulk of the notes have been moved over. Now it’s down to organizing, a simple drag and drop between folders task.

Another phase of this digital organization project is looking at my bookmarks. So many times I run across something amazing or cool and I want to save it for later and share it out with people, but it just ends up lost among the 3,600+ bookmarks I’ve carried with me for literal decades now.

In thinking about woolgathering I reminded myself that I created the site to get back to curation, to go deeper into thoughts I have, and not for anyone else, but for myself. Sure, I’m sharing that stuff publicly, but the public aspect makes it handy to share out when I want to or am asked to. The important part of that site is that to me it’s not a site at all. It’s a Obsidian instance on my computer, with all that lovely interconnectedness going on.

So I’m embracing curation, I’m treating my digital garden like a garden. That includes pruning and cleaning and watering. In the end, sure I’ll have some things I can share with people, but that’s not really what it’s about.

I’m old enough to not be concerned about chasing followers. I frankly don’t care if anyone reads my newsletter or this post or anything else I produce. It’s really freeing that outside of my day job and Luna Station work, no one even cares what I’m doing. In this new internet, that’s a blessing.

So I’m grabbing my digital hoe and rake and I’m doing some spring cleaning. If you’re reading this, thanks for stopping by.

My 2020 tech job search play by play

This was such a stressful process because I had no idea when I would be furloughed. There was no set date and client budget and priorities kept changing. There were a lot of unknowns, but at least I was still getting paid.

Additionally, holy shit tech job interview processes are hell. I mean, I knew this from previous experience but it felt more intense this time. I was working 40 hours plus juggling upwards of 10 personal and technical interviews a week along with the back and forth emails to get them scheduled. Plus take home code challenges on the weekends and some evenings.

In short, I would not have gotten through that without Trello, a calendar app, and shutting everything else down. I have a lot of wonderful, challenging catch up work to do.

The pluses of all that work though was that:

  • I was in demand for the first time in my life.
  • I got to see a ton of different interview styles and patterns.
  • I learned that I really prefer take home challenges and panel style interviews over pairing/whiteboards and a string of single person interviews.

I was rejected most of the time, mostly because I wasn’t up to snuff on algorithms. On the other hand, I actually rejected a few companies for the first time in my life. I got to learn about a lot of different industries and company structures. I also got to interview with Disney, but wasn’t upset about that rejection. It was a bad skill fit.

The end result? An emotional rollercoaster over the last week, particularly the last 2 days.

There were two companies who I really liked and where I had made my way through to the final offer stage. One (a consultancy) was going to be another week or so to final offer. The other (a startup) gave me a verbal offer on Monday, set to finalize on Friday.

The startup had me meet with the founder and scheduled the final offer chat. On Thursday afternoon, I was planning to accept the offer. I was happy with it and ready to sign on the dotted line. Then the consultancy opened door number two, asking if I had other offers or if they should see about accelerating their process.

I replied that I had indeed gotten an offer, but I was still very interested. What kind of acceleration was possible?

They accelerated. FAST. Like, within a couple hours and not with information but with an offer. I would get details in the morning.

It’s familiar territory. I can start there with confidence. But was I concerned about being pigeonholed as a consultant? The startup was still very attractive. The offer was going to be the deciding factor. Sort of. Along with a lot of talking things over with my family.

The offer came in the next morning (actually, there were weird glitches in the matrix all day Thursday and it had come in the night before but didn’t land in my inbox until the morning, but I digress). It was stellar. Hands down better than the startup. I was still undecided for a few reasons. There was a lot more talking through things.

In the end, I surprised everyone, including myself and my family, by taking the consultancy gig. Money and benefits weren’t the only factor. I also gelled considerably better with their founder and leadership. I’m likely pigeonholed in consultancy work, but tbh I’m 45 and I really don’t think I give a shit about that. It’s good, stable work that I know well. That’s an asset rather than a detriment from here on out.

At the end of the day, this process was a massive confidence boost. I know where my skills sit amongst my peers’. I know where my gaps are, but I also know that my approach and skills are really valuable in this industry. I’ve never been called “amazing” so many times in such a short period. I’m still processing that, but also taking it as a mandate for my next steps. It’s difficult to maintain imposter syndrome in the face of all that. 😀

I’m going to step into this new opportunity with joy.