David Tate

Mastering the Art (and Science) of Remote Work

Category: writing

Recent Items In Other Places

A few quick notes on recent activity outside of this blog that I’ve been involved in:

Vetting People for Remote Work

I wrote this article about some approaches for effectively determining if someone will mesh well with your existing remote team over at the Buy Sell Ads publication. They have an entire Remote Life series that is worth reading through.

Ground Rules for Working with Tech Recruiters

I was interviewed for a piece discussing how you should treat recruiters [in summary: follow the golden rule]; this post ended up being a bit controversial as many tech workers think that recruiters are wasting their time, proving my point. If this is interesting to you also see The Three Laws of Robotics (for tech recruiters) and How to deal with robots and get your poodle a job .

Remote vs. in-office software teams: Which is better?

This is a great summary article about the pros and cons of allowing distributed work; my upcoming book is mentioned as a partial solution to some of the problems. If you are new to thinking through this issue many of the surveys and books mentioned are great starting points on the options and challenges you will face.

How to Generate Content for Your Blog

Heard some great advice recently that I’d like to pass along.

When writing a developer blog there is a tendency to try to be smarter than you are – you follow blogs and read books and you want to make something as good, interesting, and relevant as they are. So you write a couple of drafts and they don’t measure up, so you quit.

The better way to do it is to blog about what you just did. Maybe you ran a standup meeting, or debugged a strange query, or managed to calm down an angry team member. Maybe you ate a good taco while on a conference call. What you just did to someone else might be impressive (depending on the size of the taco) or useful and impressive (calming down a coworker).  You have no way of knowing if what you just did was good, interesting, and relevant to them.

Obsession with Tools

Last year I wrote, but I also wasted a lot of time not writing. I read more and wrote a book while procrastinating writing another one.  Looking back I can see a good deal of fake work performed – work that did not move the ball forward but felt like work – and one specific case of this type was an over-obsession with tools.

With great shame I present the following screenshot from my present day machine:

I also used 750 words and Draft and played around with any new writing tool I hear about (latest: The Most Dangerous Writing App).

11 tools to type? Why did I do this?

Because it felt like work – it felt like I was a professional – and so I gave myself a break.  I would get ideas for the book or work so I did need a way to capture these quickly and easily, and Evernote was a solid solution for this.  It would be nice to have a tool that easily stored the chapters and allowed exporting to Kindle, etc.  But these items distracted me from the core work of writing the book.

At the end of the day, you don’t need that many tools to really work.  After I was cranking away my toolset got real simple:

  • Plain text or markdown stored on Dropbox.
  • Evernote for idea captures.

That’s it.  The real tool isn’t some software or hardware it is time.

All of the time I spent evaluating tools I should have instead been establishing a daily ritual of writing.  That habit, once established (even 15 minutes a day) trumps any gain in productivity by a tool.  Feedback from that process (such as “it would be nice to tag things easily for searching” or “I wish I could export this to PDF and print easily”) should have driven tool purchases and not things like “this one looks cool” (OmmWriter) or “I think I need this one to really be a writer” (Grammarly).




Write in 2012

Last year I resolved to write more this year.  I ran across the idea of Morning Pages and found a writing site and some tools that helped me no matter where I was.  In this post I’ll talk about what this has meant and done for me and encourage you to spend some time writing in 2012 ’cause I think it is dope.

I write first thing in the morning and then intentionally at lunch a few days during the week or I jot down notes as the day passes over me.  I just write anything.  Sometimes it’s in the form of a 13 year old girl’s diary in that I dump my emotions on the page and other times its intentional work towards a blog post.  More often it’s simply noting patterns, entertaining myself, and processing whatever is in me.

Most of the writing that I do is not published – it is a language of communication in which the sender is the present me and the receiver is future me.  I started writing in 2002 after graduating college and being really bored in my first job.  I wrote it on a Movable Type blog that had a password on it – a personal pay-wall of sorts to ensures that only I read it.  Write for yourself first.

Why spend time writing?

If you don’t intend to ever pursue writing as a career or serious hobby why would you spend time writing?  I mean don’t you have Facebook stalking to do and fart apps to download?

Well let’s start with a list of small to medium-size benefits:

  1. If you work for a small business you can easily use your writing skills to establish a culture, public voice, and internal attitude for your company.
  2. It doesn’t matter what your job is – if you can clearly convey an idea over email, the phone, text message, smoke signal etc. you are going to be better at your job. It is a natural prejudice but a positive one: if you can clearly communicate people think you are much better at other things.  Software developers with clearly-written blogs are thought to be great programmers even if it isn’t so.
  3. Writing gets you in touch with yourself – what is in you comes out with stream of consciousness writing.  It reveals your prejudices, in-the-moment emotions, and things that you can’t process without “talking about it”.
  4. Archived writing is stored state of mind.  I go back and read stuff I wrote when we had our first child in 2007 and it is fascinating and beautiful just because it takes me back there better than music or photos.
  5. Writing is an effective break during work – you clear your head in the same way that reading does while keeping your mind more active.
  6. Writing gets new ideas out of your head and new ideas are stuck behind old ideas.

On to the bigger benefits:

Writing helps you learn to create

In writing you create something from nothing.  Most of us don’t think that we can draw or sing or dance or freestyle rap but any literate person can write.  You don’t have to be fancy; you can write a story about anything to please yourself and create a thing. Creating changes you in many positive ways and writing is the most accessible of those ways.  One of my takeaways this year was how often I came up with something new while writing.

Writing helps you learn to focus

Writing is a very intensive focus-based activity.  You can switch over to a web browser while writing but the structure of words and sentences means you probably won’t do so in the middle of typing out the word “encyclopedia”.  In this way writing is a good way to bootstrap your focus muscles – letter by letter, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter, book by book, obscenity by obscenity.

Resolve to write

Anyway, my unsolicited advice: write something this year.  No excuses.

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

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