Find The Good First

Most of the time we have to learn new things, its because we want to, but sometimes we are less than willing.  Work may require you know a piece of software, a programming language or framework that you are completely unfamiliar with.  I’m often faced with the “should I adapt some new technology” question, and in the past I’ve approached it by asking if it really did the job better – often that was no.  The reason I came to those conclusions is because I looked for the bad.

Every new thing has flaws.  A saw is a wonderful tool for cutting, but terrible for writing messages.  A serrated knife is better than a straight blade for certain cuts.  Instead of finding all the things that this new thing doesn’t have, focus on the things it does have and that it does well.

Most tools are built with a highly specific purpose in mind, and the secondary purposes are just bonus.  Focus on that specific purpose and give it a try.  Get used to using a tool where it does best, and it will become easier to handle when trying to deal with trickier situation.

Also – you can always use multiple tools at the same time to solve a problem.

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Schedule

We all have tasks that we have to do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  The best way to ensure that these tasks get done and never forgotten, create a recurring calendar event and schedule when you are going to complete the task.  Simply noting when the task is due does not ensure you will remember to do it before that time.

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Elbow Grease

We all love things that are new and shiny.  In time, things tarnish, get dusty, and generally lose their shine.  But did we buy it for the shine or for the utility?

Businesses have trained us that it is easier to toss an old gadget and just buy a new shiny one, yet, with good care and a bit of elbow grease, you can transform old gadgets into something shiny again.

It also helps to remember what the utility is you get from something.  Newer, better, faster is great, but only if it is newer, better, faster where you need it.

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Don’t give up

Not every project can be a success.  That doesn’t mean you should simply give up on it and walk away.  Doing so leaves a great deal of value unfinished and ultimately leaves us with a “fail” on our hands.  As a project enters a stage of decline, allow yourself to re-align your goals and change your expectations.

For example, imagine that you wanted to build an online store to learn how to build websites.  You download a bunch of pre-made code and put everything together and have a great idea as to how to do search/display results that is new and unique.  You spend a few weekends working on it and get some of it working but realize you are in over your head on the custom search thing – your motivation starts to wane for the project.

At this point, you could simply declare it an experiment and walk away, or you could re-assess your mission.  You could work on getting the simplest form of the site done – a simple site that displays some products and sells them.  Or you could chop the project up into smaller pieces and use search/display as a learning experience then to find tutorials or a mentor who can help you with those parts.

Even if you manage to get the code complete and working, then give up the project and never market it, at least you have something complete that you can put on a resume.  Even if your new potential job has nothing to do with coding, by showing that you have the ability to start and finish something, and overcome obstacles, you have a marketable skill.

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Be Weird

Humans are hardwired to notice things that are different.  The object in motion among the still plains, the dab of red in a field of blues, it is part of our survival.  The same goes with social interactions.

I’m not suggesting you do something that is out-of-character, but you should be yourself as efficiently as possible.  If you have a witty sense of humor, don’t hold back on your jokes.  If you like helping people, don’t just ask if someone needs help, just start helping.  Never censor yourself from doing something that might make someone smile or help.

I’ve always stuck out my entire life – for tons of different reasons.  When I was younger, I tried too hard to stand out, simply to stand out, and in many cases it had the opposite effect than intended.  The issue was motives.  I was trying to stand out so I could get admiration and simply be noticed – not because I wanted to help or bring a smile.

How does this relate to tech?

Everything you make is an extension of yourself.  While you are not responsible for the actions people take with the things you create, you are responsible for intentions and have the power to shape a tool’s use.  There are countless ways for people to spend their time, and if you want your product to stand out you need to make sure it helps or makes them smile.  Chances are, the functionality is available elsewhere and the differentiating factor is you – and the aspects of your personality you wish to add in to your application.

 

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Vices

It is impossible to be productive for your entire day.  First off, you must sleep.  But, even getting about 8 hours of sleep, you simply cannot be 100% productive the remaining 16 hours.  The problem I see people often doing is stretching themselves thin.  They believe they can work for 12-14 hours straight but end up getting into such a fatigue that their productivity is less than that of someone who simply worked 8 hours.

Our bodies and minds work best when they are in balance.  To achieve balance, you need to sleep, eat, drink water, exercise your body, and exercise your mind.  The same way your body gets fatigued after extended periods of exercise, so does your mind.

What is this post about?  Oh yes – vices.  I mention the above because there is something important to note.  It is OK to be unproductive.  If and only if that unproductive time is acting as a mental cool down for you.

This observation started for me when I worked for a large business and I noticed that employees that were smokers seemed to work better in the later hours (or put differently, they tended to remain productive into the late hours).  Nicotine is a stimulant, but so is coffee, and those who drank coffee but did not smoke seemed not to fare as well.  I decided to take “smoke breaks” with the smokers (I don’t smoke).  While doing nothing for 45 minutes a day would be frowned upon, going outside for a “smoke” was perfectly acceptable.  On these smoke breaks, I chatted with the smokers, had a snack, and simply took my mind off work for a few minutes.  The results – I found that I felt less mentally fatigued by the end of the day.  Another odd by-product, if I was stuck on something, I could ask the smokers for help, and often they could help me work through the issue.

What spurred this post is that sometimes I feel guilty about doing an activity that is “non-productive” such as playing a video game, reading a tech-news website, or watching a funny video on the internet.  The reality is, while that singular event is unproductive, it is giving my mind the rest it needs to run at full capacity when it needs to.

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I am… (not)

A definition is hard to change.  When you state something like “I am” you are making a promise and and expectation as to a list of skills.  To state “I am a doctor” tells people you have a knowledge and skillset which could be very useful in certain situations.

Stating “I am” can be a wonderful thing (when it is true) but the worst thing you can do is state “I am not.”  That is a promise that you will never be something.  While there are some cases, like if a person asks you “are you a doctor” where it is appropriate to say “I am not a doctor.”  The right way to look at things is “I have no interest in becoming a [something].”  Or “I would like to become a [something].”

By saying something like “I am not a programmer” or “I am not good with technology” or even “I am not a cook” you are ensuring that you will never be.  Learning any new skill or trade requires perseverance and attitude.  If you believe you are not something, you have neither the attitude or the perseverance.

Alternatively, by recognizing you want to be better at something – “I want to become a cook,” or even “I want to be better at cooking” you do not set expectation for skillset, but you give yourself the leeway to stretch your skillset and set yourself up for becoming.

It is never too late to redefine who you are – so stop saying “I am not” and start saying “I want to be a better…”

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