Placing Effort in the Right Places

A few years ago I was routinely bored at school and in general; I just wanted to be involved, to be more busy, to feel needed by my peers.

Well, this week was intensely busy. And it has been like that for about a year now. Actually, there has been so much change in my life that I can’t even relate to who I was in the past. I can’t recognize or mentally relate to who that person was.

Has my life gotten better? Yes, but it isn’t thanks to being busy. It’s great to have energy and consistency, but it’s absolutely useless if it burns you out by making you work the wrong way and by saying yes to every opportunity. It might work at the beginning, but eventually you spread yourself thin and that’s when overworking yourself leads to frequent withdrawals and personal exhaustion. So here’s something I came up with to review my actions on a moment-to-moment basis with a case-study.

Last Christmas I helped this landlord clean a brick wall with wire brush. I was focused on each individual brick. As I went along, I stepped back to look at the wall in it’s entirety. I would also think about how I used the brush, how much pressure I needed to put and what was doable in 2 hours. Heck, I even asked myself why I was doing it in the first place.

It is all of these components that make for an effective job. Let’s see why by analysing the previous brick-cleaning story :

  1. Asking why? Bruce Lee used to say that there were two ways of progressing, by asking why and how. It makes a whole lot of sense. Ideally you would like to take this step first, otherwise there’s no real incentive or you might very well be on the losing side of a deal. When you are doing a task, you want it to be win-win for both parties. The only exception is a compromise, which can happen sometimes depending on circumstances.
  2. Cleaning up-close. Doing it up-close is all about the details. It’s also rewarding to complete micro-goals.
  3. Stepping back and looking at the whole.You may do this as often as you need to. It procures you a sense of understanding and let’s you check to see if the job is going well or you need to make adjustments. If you have previous experience it is a good time to look at history to make improvements if required.
  4. Use the right tool. I worked in a restaurant during my late teens. I remember the cook saying : “If you’re given the tools to get a job done better, then use them”. If you don’t have the right tools; find them.
  5. Using the right technique. Good tools are pointless if you don’t know how to use them. I was working at a farm yesterday and my friend told me that most of the inexperienced people handle the tools wrong and end up getting lower-back pain. When you use a tool, make sure you are using it correctly. Otherwise take the time to understand how it’s used.
  6. Take breaks. Remember to take breaks. There’s no need to explain why, just do it. Sometimes, it’s better to call it a day and give yourself some time to re-evaluate your methodologies after a good rest.
  7. It’s all good if you screw up. Don’t be too hard on yourself, every problem hides a valid lesson, if you think something went wrong, then you probably omitted one of the previous steps.

And there you go, this can be applied to something basic like washing the dishes, learning a skateboard trick or to succeed in completing more involved projects.

Leaving a job

I’m in a situation where my current job is rather underwhelming. As a new graduate who put in a lot of hours ironing out my skills the position I am in is all but fulfilling. After 5 months of work for the current firm I work for I was approached by a small start-up to work on a different, rather promising project(they all look great at first glance).

I won’t go into the details, but the current corp I work for is suffering from rather serious cultural clashes after my firm’s recent acquisition of an off-shore company. This is hurting my career big-time because these clashes forced upon us, engineers, tools and methodologies that are difficult to work with and cannot be changed in the short-term. The start-up already has a legitimate amount of funding as well as two of my old friends working full-time on the project.

It can be exciting to see an exit sign, but it is still worth some time to objectively look at such a decision as it can have an impact on various spheres of ones life… and to an extent the people around you.

I devised this little system to help in decision making. It could be applied to other decisions, as long as we take the time to do it slowly. I will explain the steps and an example will follow.

  1. The first step is to put the decision in written form as the header. Write it as an affirmation.(E.g. “Leaving the job” or “Staying at the job”)
  2. The second step is to write down in bullet form the pro’s and con’s of this decision. Think of direct and indirect ways in which this decision will impact your life.
  3. After laying out the list, for each item, set a word that acts as a general concept for the point.(E.g. “career”, “health”, “social”)
  4. The third step is to rate each bullet point from the second step. Rate each of them with a value between one and five. One being importance and five being high importance.
  5. You are now in a position to look at this list and objectively see if it makes sense to go forward with your choice.

Here’s mine :

Subject: Leaving my full-time position to work at a start-up

Pro’s:

  • (2) I will mostly work with old school mates. —Social
  • (5) Flexible schedule, remote work, start at 25 hours a week. — Freedom
  • (5) Work with bleeding edge technology. — Career
  • (2) Possibility for equity. — Money
  • (4) New experience with a group of resolved individuals. — Exciting

Total: 18 points

Con’s:

  • (5) No salary for the first two months. — Money
  • (1) Leaving a permanent job after 5 months. — Reputation
  • (1) Project may fail and lead to being jobless. — Jobless
  • (1) Won’t see the work colleagues I bonded with as regularly. — Social
  • (2) Will lose my insurance and other big-corp benefits. — Health

Total: 10 points

It’s worth adding that one could also look at alternatives, this system is about choosing between two options AFTER having looked at various options.

So which decision do you think I am going to make, stay or leave? Stay tuned.