The problem vs your feelings about the problem

Are you dealing with a difficult maths problem or with difficult feelings about a maths problem?

Is the struggle with the work itself, or with your feelings – apathy, disillusionment, fury – about doing it?

It might help to shift your attention to those feelings instead of the problem in front of you. So your focus is no longer “write this article” or “make this thing” but “master my feelings about this work” or “inspire myself to finish this piece of the project.”

It might not help, of course, but working with our feelings often turns out to be the hardest part of doing good work. If you can work with them, there’s a double satisfaction in a job well done.

Matt Mullenweg on distributed work

Here’s a short video with Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO of Automattic*. He talks a bit about lessons he’s learned in running a distributed company, and why he calls his workforce distributed rather than remote.

These are his tips for physical companies interested in transitioning to distributed work:

  1. Document everything – so that key information like the reasons for decisions are clear to those who weren’t in the room.
  2. Move communications online – “when everything’s shared and public, it allows new people to read through and catch up quickly.”
  3. Find the right tools – “If you look around the office, the things that change how you work probably aren’t objects anymore – they’re things you access through your computer. So test out and experiment with different tools for collaboration – see what works.”
  4. Create productive face-to-face time -Automattic holds an annual get together “half-work, half-play” to create the empathy and connection that helps the distributed team work together productively for the rest of the year.
  5. Give people the flexibility to create their own work environment – “Every person in Automattic has a co-working stipend… and a home-office stipend… so that they can have the most productive environment for them.

I feel wary of losing the connection and accountability that in-person work allows, but there’s a long list of potential upsides here – including a wider talent pool, greater diversity of perspectives, more time and flexibility for employees, huge savings on office space and other overheads that can be spent on other things – that make it worth thinking more deeply about this.

Today there are just a few companies that are distributed first, but if you fast-forward a decade or two I predict that 90% of the companies that are going to changing the course of the world are going to function this way. I think that companies will evolve to be distributed first, or they’re going to replace those that are.

Matt Mullenweg

See also: easier tomorrow

*the company which, among other things, makes WordPress.

Motto (3): Work hard

Have fun, learn lots, work hard, be kind.

Of course you should work smart. Automate what you can. Delegate and outsource to people who can do things better than you. Shamelessly avoid, or ruthlessly eliminate, the unnecessary.

Then identify your real work – the things that only you can do, probably things for which there are no instructions or maps. Throw in a few inefficient things that you’ve discovered you need to do to keep you honest – and do the hard work of consistently showing up and getting it done.

Work hard to…

In my experience the hardest work to do well is the important, non-urgent, values-laden, emotional-labour intensive stuff. For me, this includes

  • Focusing on doing the work, and on the people it’s for, and not on how I look doing it – no-one else actually cares
  • Managing people well – not just to get the job done, but to look after them and help them grow
  • The necessary ‘wrapper’ of thorough preparation and follow-up so that meetings, events, regular training are really worth the time
  • Being present, staying focused and committed and pushing forward when the next step isn’t clear or it feels like nothing’s working, or nothing’s working
  • Having time for people at the right time – and being able to say ‘no’, or ‘I have to go’
  • Following up on things I’ve delegated and doing what it takes to get them done
  • Finishing things when they’re good enough.

A reading list for 2019

Here’s a DC-related hitlist for the first part of 2019… images link to Amazon UK.

The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution – and How We can Fight Back – Garry Fuller

The Invisible Killer: The Rising Global Threat of Air Pollution - and How We Can Fight Back by [Fuller, Gary]

A gift from Sharky. Necessary reading for someone living in Jakarta. Or anywhere.

The Inevitable – Kevin Kelly

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by [Kelly, Kevin]

See also WtF? Technology and You. KK is great at describing big picture trends, and this is good so far. Definitely generative reading.

This is Marketing – Seth Godin

This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See by [Godin, Seth]

Seth has written and produced so much helpful stuff centred (increasingly) around doing ‘work that matters for people who care.’ This is his first book for five years or so, and he describes it as a distillation of the most important things he knows about marketing.

See also my series of posts on the Boostrapper’s Workshop for Non-Profits and The Marketing Seminar.

Execution: The Discipline of Getting things Done – Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan

Apparently a classic which will help me get things done.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling

4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by [Covey, Sean, McChesney, Chris, Huling, Jim]

Recommended by a good friend who does business growth for a living. This is also going to help me get things done.

Leveraged Learning – Danny Iny

Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners, and Experts with Something to Teach by [Iny, Danny]

A jumping off point for thinking about the challenges and opportunities in education today.

Forgotten Wars – The End of Britain’s Asian Empire – Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper

Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain's Asian Empire by [Bayly, Christopher, Harper, Tim]

More for the Hinterland… I found the prequel to this hugely enriching to my understanding of SE Asia. This was a Christmas present a year ago, and I owe it time this year.

Defeat Into Victory – William Slim

Defeat Into Victory: (Pan Military Classics Series) by [Slim, William]

Slim played an important part in the history described above – he’s an interesting guy and a great case study. This is a book to enrich (i.e. network with) Forgotten Wars – and vice-versa.

The Daily Drucker – Peter Drucker

The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done by [Drucker, Peter F.]

Drucker is excellent. I’ll be dipping in and out of this throughout the year.

Compound interest

We all know about compound interest in the world of money. Save £100 a month for thirty years at one percent interest** and you’ll have a little under £42,000 by the end of that time (compared to £36,000 at zero-percent).

Make that investment at 5% and suddenly you’ll hit £83,000.

10%*** makes almost £228,000.

It takes time, and the commitment to building something steadily. No tricks, no promises of outrageous returns, a degree of risk – but not when compared to not investing at all.

What if the interest we seek for our work – attention, respect, partnership, remuneration – could compound in the same way? Often it seems that we’re after a flash in the pan (Viral. Now.), or that we’re not building anything consistently at all.

Starting with almost nothing, drop by drip, brick by brick, little by little, we can build a mountain.

** 1% annually, calculated monthly

*** A reasonable return from a stocks-and-shares index fund

Work: living in the middle

With types of work (work: generative; work: decisive) the virtue is in the mean.**

One plants, births, grows, opens.

The other prevents, kills, prunes, closes.

And we have these gardens, between the wilderness and the desert.

** Aristotle

Work: executive / decisive

These are tasks that you can finish and be done with – at least for a time.  An annual report, paying a bill, creating a resource, completing a job, trying up loose ends.

Getting these things done closes down options, shuts down possibilities.

We decide the scope of a project – and cut off the possibilities outside it so that we can focus and get things done.

We carry out a project – execute on a task, deliver a result – and it’s done.

We say ‘no’ to an offer or request – and save hours of thought and work down the road.

Executive and decisive work are central to our ability to get things done. It feels good to finish. Closing doors and cutting things away reduces friction and brings us closure. It’s worth learning to execute well.

At the same time, improving at this kind of work only brings incremental gains – you do what you were doing before, only faster. You might change how far you go, but it won’t change your direction.