Ten work rules
I had just started writing this week’s newsletter when I came across Miriam’s link to ten pieces of advice from Lyrissa Barnet Lidsky.
“But Daniel,” you say, “if you’d started writing, what were you doing on Twitter.”
Sigh. That is a great question and something I need to address. Maybe that can be one of the three words I try to live by in the new year…
For now, I remain easily distracted so a more precise way to put it would be, I had just started thinking I really need to write this week’s newsletter when I came across Miriam’s link.
I was going to write an essay about Channukah, but advice number two jarred me into paying attention to the whole list.
Here’s number two: “Every piece of writing is a compromise with time. Be grateful for deadlines.”
It’s why I haven’t skipped a week since starting this newsletter. Once I treat these deadlines as the artificial, self-imposed constraint that they are, I will let one week pass, then another, and another and may never ship another piece.
Not that that would be a tragedy - but this weekly essay is good for me. It improves my writing and forces me to focus on a topic and not jump back on Twitter or any of the other distractions that beckon.
I am grateful for this weekly deadline and am happy to have pushed “Send” before Tuesday comes to a close.
Her fifth piece of advice is that “Little mantras help overcome procrastination and self-doubt.”
I’ve never found that to be true for me but it may be that I’m too self-conscious to try. I know many people who use mantras or affirmations and they find that it focuses them or keeps them motivated. I find myself rolling my eyes - but maybe I’ll give it a try.
I can’t see using something in the Stuart Smalley style. This SNL character of Al Franken’s would look in the mirror and say, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
I would be more likely to use the line from Joe Gideon, Roy Scheider’s character in the movie “All that Jazz”. He would follow a late night of damage his body and mind with an early morning of showering and trying to get himself back together. As he prepares to head out to face the day, he looks in the mirror and says, “It’s show time, folks.”
I’ve stood backstage preparing to go on, stretching my face into a smile. I’ve prepared to record a podcast and exercised my mouth so that I would enunciate. I’ve closed my eyes before sitting down to code and taken a deep breath thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish. I put my knives and cutting board on the counter and walk to the refrigerator to see what’s inside that I can make into dinner.
I don’t look in a mirror and I don’t say anything out loud, but I am thinking something like, “it’s show time, folks.”
This past week I started working on a project to produce slides for videos.
Yes it’s my annual, “shouldn’t I be producing videos” introspective before the Teachable renewal comes up.
For some accountability and for technical reasons, I decided to publish the individual steps as Swift packages on GitHub.
It is a bit scary to publish code publicly like that - but it is also somewhat in line with rule 10, “I’d rather have transparency backfire than be accused of sneaking one over!”
That doesn’t quite apply but it’s close enough.
I want people to see what I’m working on and thinking about. I’d love getting feedback on my code and projects. My first response, if the criticism is communicated kindly, is always, “Thank you.”
As rule eight admonishes, “If you’re going to gather the info you need to lead, never shoot the messenger. Make it safe for people to tell you hard things.”
I actually had issues with the first rule.
Rule number one is “Institutions don’t love you back. If you disappear tomorrow the institution will go on.”
This can be very healthy advice to follow if it means you don’t harm yourself in giving too much to this entity that doesn’t and can’t care about you at all.
On the other hand, it’s very difficult to see institutions change their direction or die and there’s something inside of us that wants us to save it.
There are times where it is important for us to do so even when it costs us something. I think of the institution of democracy in the US right now.
But there are times when a decision has been made that the landscape has changed and the reasons you joined the company are no longer what the company must do to survive. I know you loved storefronts where you rented VHS tapes to customers so they could watch their favorite movies - but there just aren’t enough customers who want to rent movies that way anymore.
The institution might have set a deadline that requires that you work late at night and through weekends and postpone or cancel family or fun commitments you scheduled for your free time.
This rule helps you re-examine what is and should be meant by “deadline”, “requires”, and “free time.”
Why do you insist on giving your institution a lengthy notice that you’re leaving? I’ve had friends find out they were terminated when they woke up in the morning and went to check their email.
It’s great to work for institutions you believe in on projects that are important. But rule four reminds us that it’s the people not the institution. “If you have a choice between committing to abstract principles or committing to competent people with strong moral values, do the latter.”
We spend most of our time working on teams with and for other people. These people are so important.
Rule six reminds us that, “There is no pleasure on earth like the pleasure of working on a great team. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Great teams take work. Like all relationships, it takes a lot of work to build healthy trusting relationships where people agree on what they are building. I won’t cite rule 7 but it reminds us that we should be wary of the sort of relationships we form at work.
On a brighter note, rule three tells us that we can’t get everyone on the same page in a meeting. We need to “ build consensus one person at a time. Invest in the relationship before you need it.”
Wow. That. Right there. Tucked at the end of a rule.
Invest in your relationships before you need them.
You don’t come to someone for the first time when you need something from them.
Whether with individuals or teams, rule nine builds on this idea and reminds us that “It is impossible to communicate as often as you should. Try anyway. Communication builds support for moving forward.”
Anyway, I found these rules to be a helpful way to frame so many of the things I need to become better at.
I should have packaged them up better, but it’s Tuesday mid-afternoon and as we learned in rule two, “Every piece of writing is a compromise with time.”
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 88. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe