David Tate

Mastering the Art (and Science) of Remote Work

Page 2 of 10

Play to your Strengths – Well, Sometimes.

You hear, and most act upon, the advice to “learn all you can and improve your weaknesses.” Traditional education focuses on being well-rounded and not having any major knowledge gaps, so we get used to pushing through learning things we don’t pick up quickly.

But there is another idea, most commonly learned by taking an assessment like StrengthFinder, to instead figure out what you are good at and then focus on it intensely. The thrust of this idea is that effort multiplies in your areas of power – a week of work improving your public speaking when you are naturally good at it pays off more than a month of working on a weakness.

Combining these, most of us just shore up the very important weaknesses but play to our strengths. Seems simple, well maybe not.

All strengths have blindspots

For example, I am good at solving problems, and I am (relatively) calm in a (work) crisis. Because of this, I’m not afraid of a small crisis. This is a blindspot.

I’m not going to prevent these things from happening as aggressively as someone who freaks out and jumps out of a window when a bug is found in production. This means that my strength is also a weakness – if I “play” to this strength then I, without knowing it, might make it more likely to happen so that someone like me is needed.

I used to work for an executive that had a similar strength: he was very good at convincing employees and clients to not resign or walk away from the contract. He excelled in last-ditch efforts and high-pressure situations. Being good at talking people back into the building is a good tool to have, but he seemed to use it an awful lot. Without meaning to do so, he did a number of other things that seemed to cause situations in which his particular set of skills would always be needed.

Maybe if it happens three times it is partially on you, brother.

I can manage more projects at a time than the average person. I read 3-5 books at a time and can keep track of where I am on each one. I have seen old friends years later and will continue conversations with them that we had two years ago and they will not remember them. I can mentally bookmark things and then return to them.

This means that I might say “yes” to too many things at a time and create situations in which I over-allocate myself, thus making it a weakness. It also means that I might multi-task, a common way to not be productive, more often than someone than can’t do this easily. It is a weakness and a strength.

You have to be careful to not play towards your strength, but instead, recognize when they are truly needed and then use them.

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

Personal Pre-Mortems

If you are like me you can get into a mindset of negative thinking where you can poke holes in any potential project idea or action. After all, thinking of doomsday scenarios is a marketable skill when you actually take action to prevent them, but in our personal lives having this negative view is very bad for us. It makes us hesitate or not get started on an important project with an uncertain future. It makes us not surprised by failure or neutrality. If you expect the worst you will probably get it.

This same method of thinking can be a powerful ally, however, when used as a weapon.

Defensive Weapon

Think of an important project, relationship, or trajectory in your life. Now imagine the worst that can happen. I call this technique “pre-mortems” and it is not the most fun you will have today. Think of the following scenarios:

  • You are divorced
  • You are bankrupt
  • You have a terrible, but preventable, health issue
  • You have lost your job, and are suddenly unable to get another one in the same industry, geographic area, or market due to a damaged reputation.
  • All of your shoes have been replaced with pink crocs.

Now ask yourself this question: “How did this happen?” and list the reasons.

Well if I’m divorced it was probably because my wife and I stopped communicating, or stopped making sure that we spent time together and just focused too much on the kids, or maybe I got a wondering eye because of some unresolved problem, or because I stopped trying.

Well if I’ve got diabetes or cancer it might be because I order fried chicken from a car more times than I exercise most weeks. I guess that wouldn’t be a surprise.

If I’m bankrupt it is because I have become disabled and don’t have good coverage in that area. Since I’m the primary breadwinner and we have kids, my wife’s salary wouldn’t cover everything so we would have to lose the house.

If I can’t work in my field this is probably because some really bad scandal was slowly slipped into by a group of people encouraging or ignoring the warning signs.

If I only have pink crocs it is probably because I lost a bet of some form and am being forced to wear them as some sort of shame spectacle.

Now go and avoid those things, establish guardrails against those results, make contingency plans for those things:

  • I need to make sure I’m focusing and working on my marriage more.
  • I need to get better disability insurance.
  • I need to exercise, eat real food, and focus on my health.
  • I need to continue to avoid any financial or relational gray areas.
  • I should not bet on the New York Jets.

Now take a deep breath – none of these has happened; you still have time. During the life of a project you can apply this same mode of thinking – 60% into a software development project I can sit down and say: “OK this project is late – why?” and list three actions I could take to avoid the most common failure scenarios.

Offensive Weapon

For new projects, you can use the same method without depressing yourself. Let’s imagine something that you want to do but you keep putting it off or convincing yourself that you can’t do it. We all hear a voice that tells us “it won’t work out”, “you will fail and people will see”, “you aren’t good enough”, “your pink crocs are so dumb”, etc.

Maybe you want to write a book, try a new career path, take some time off of work to drive across the country, or audition for American Idol. Pick something you really want to do that you have talked yourself out of a few times.

Let’s listen to the inner voice, really listen for a minute. Give the little hater its chance to make a speech.

OK if you start this project and it fails, then you will have wasted $30,000, which means you would need to sell your crappy car and maybe live with your parents for awhile. As a twenty-eight-year-old man. If you are living with your parents it wouldn’t exactly be a secret, so that would be really embarrassing. Everybody that thought that you had it together would realize that you didn’t, so it would actually erode my reputation in a way that would be hard to crawl out of. From there – living in a basement – it would be really hard to recover emotionally. But I guess since you are not that special it would be what you deserve for trying to be.

Now filter out the emotions, insults, and judgments and just think of the real consequences of failure for your project. Split out how they would make you feel for a moment and just think logistically:

  • I would lose a lot of money
  • I would be spending time on something that didn’t work out, when I could have been doing other things
  • I would trade some of my reputation

Now make some plans to guard against these things being as bad – ways that you can hedge or counter these things – and list them.

  • I would lose some money, but I won’t touch a one-month emergency fund. If I got to the point that I touched this I would get a job at Starbucks. I look great in green.
  • Yes, there is an opportunity cost, but once I get started I would ignore this thought and really commit. Besides, anything else that I worked on would run into the same obstacles – I’ll be smart with the projects I pick to focus in on.
  • My reputation might get hurt, but I might also draw attention and respect for trying something bold – and perhaps I care about those people’s opinions more anyway. Besides, learning from failure means you have to actually fail sometimes.
  • Living with my parents would stink, but I wouldn’t have to do my own laundry. Plus my mom will not make fun of my pink crocs.

Now answer the inner critic with a detailed version of “So, what are you going to do about it?”:

I might fail and lose money, time, and face, but I would have really tried, and probably learned something. I would then be able to rebuild my life by taking a regular job and working to save like I have done so far in my life. Since I would have been following what I really wanted to do I wouldn’t regret it and wouldn’t feel “behind” in the years when I was re-establishing my financial stability. I would have failed doing what I want to do, rather than half-failing over the long-term doing something I didn’t care about.

Read some more about this technique at Business Insider and watch some other practical benefits to Pessimism.

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

We Can’t Let People Work From Home Because _______.

We can’t let our people work from home, they might not work.

Sounds like you hire clowns.

I mean how would I know if they were slacking off?

You don’t have any way to tell if people are making progress?

If I can’t see them to make sure they are working, then I can’t manage them.

Sounds like you need to level up as a manager.

But we can’t let our people not see each other, they won’t communicate well.

Sounds like you hire people that can’t adjust.

If we let people work from home they might leave the company.

Sounds like if they want to and you don’t let them, they will leave to one of the many companies that let them. I hope none of them are your competitors.

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

Why I Hate All These Morning Productivity Blog Posts

I really don’t like blog posts that tell you to get up early, or go for a run in the morning, or get up even earlier, or focus on your morning. I even wrote some satire to try to get it out of my system, but it didn’t work because I’m writing this now.

I think these posts have some truth in them, but they also make a large group of people feel like crap and provide them a false belief about something.

These posts “work” because:

  • Momentum does matter, starting out well lets you keep going well.
  • For many people their diet makes them sleepy in the afternoon, so working before they eat enough bread to choke a horse allows them to work when their energy is highest.
  • For many people who have trouble with “haters” (internal or external), getting up early allows you to work before the inner critic wakes up enough to speak. Once you are going well, you can’t hear them over the humming of your internal engines.
  • For those that have a problem with social media addiction, their mornings are emotional rollercoasters, so telling them to not check their email and not check social media is a much more stable manner of working.
The advice in these posts works accidentally for some, and in a very limited way.

I don’t mean to demean the audience for these posts, and I have described a person who eats badly, is addicted to social media, and is not positive in their thinking. I don’t hate these people; we are all these people – the default settings of culture are pushing us in this direction. I get why these posts are popular.

What else is wrong with these posts?

  • Most people can’t get up any earlier than they do now. For many who work and have either kids or a hellscape commute (or both) reading these posts is like “yeah, right – I wish,” so they just make them feel bad. The stories of people who get up at 5 AM to write or jog are even harder for those that are already up at 5 AM. “Should I get up at 4 AM then?” The blog posts seem to indicate yes, of course, you loser. That works for them, so if you can’t get up earlier, I guess you don’t want it that much.
  • These articles never talk about the rest of the day. Do they stop work at 3 PM? They better to have any credibility. If you are looking to pile on to the “just work harder” category, I’m afraid it has reached its maximum occupancy.
  • People are wired differently, and working at night offers many of the same benefits of morning work regarding lower blood pressure and infrequent distractions.

I am, honestly, more annoyed by how limited these articles are, and by how they don’t tackle the large and more interesting problem of how to manage your energy for the entire day. Maintaining your motivation, inspiration, discipline, and focus is a large problem that plays into your systems, your mindset, your personality, and your environment. You can’t just say: “start earlier, work harder” – this is pure foolishness.

Where is my solution then? If you are interested in real productivity advice, I go over:

If you are interested in real productivity advice, I go over:

  • Global Truths about Super Productivity
  • How to Track Your Productivity
  • Guerrilla Tips on Staying Productive
  • Working to Your Energy, Not Your Time
  • and many other topics related to getting massive amounts of stuff done….

In my upcoming book, signup to hear about it here.

Remote Work Terminology

Jobs in which you don’t have to show up at an office have a large number of terms that are applied to them. The terms have shifted and will continue to change for a few reasons:

  • This concept, although very large and growing, is a new one to many people, so we adjust our language to fit the reality.
  • There is a generational shift with the popularity in working this way – many people graduating from college are used to working / studying with their laptop from all over and get jobs that work this way. Because generations shift the language, there are clear age differences in the terms.
  • Remote work had some early negativity on it, and it still fights some bad stereotypes – negative terms change more quickly than positive ones.

Here is a partial list of terms associated with remote work:


  • This is an old term that isn’t used as much anymore, probably because the “tele-” part feels very old. We have dropped the tele- from telephone already. Also the second part is “commute”, eww.

Virtual Teams / Virtual Work

  • An early term for a team that was across geographic lines. Not used that often anymore because virtual feels pejorative here – we are a real team, not virtually one. The rise of the term virtual reality also killed this term, as VR is clearly not close to real life (yet).

Work from Home

  • WFH is a general term for those that are able to work from their home.
  • Many part-time clerical jobs fall into this category as well as digital professionals.
  • Googling “work from home” typically finds you lower-paying jobs (and many scams) than googling “remote jobs”, and “remote” typically means full-time while WFH can mean part-time.


  • General term for people that work from wherever they want, typically digital “knowledge workers” – writers, programmers, analysts, etc..
  • Over time this term has been starting to be replaced by distributed, as “remote” feels negative to some people (they mean remote minority, which we describe below) – and because you can’t say that you have a “remote” team without people thinking you mean an entire team somewhere else, you have to say “remote friendly” or “remote first”, which is longer.

Remote Minority

  • A term that I use to describe a scenario in which a few people work from offsite, but the majority of the staff are co-located at a headquarters. This is not an easy situation to manage, extra steps need to be taken to make this work.

Remote First

  • A term you apply to a company which means that pretty much everyone works from where they wish, and that the founders worked this way very early and have kept it up. These companies typically have strong support for remote work and processes which support distributed teams well.
  • Remote-first essentially means “remote-only” – there might not be any form of office space anywhere.
  • You might have to get on a plane to visit a coworker at a remote-first company.

Remote Friendly

  • This term carries little consistent meaning and ranges from “you can work from home on Fridays” to “we have entire teams that are remote-first”. Be careful applying for jobs that list this with clarifying what they mean. They also might not know what they mean.
  • You might be able to visit a coworker at a remote-friendly company, and they may want you to do it a few days a week.


  • A nice term that describes quickly a team with remote and/or onsite workers, or a fully “remote” team – they are distributed all over the place. “Distributed worker” does not sound right though, this sounds like some sort a medical emergency.

Nomad, Digital Nomad, Nomading

  • A person that has a remote job on a distributed team that typically does not work from a “home base”, but instead travels from place to place while continuing to work from wherever they are. Think young people traveling across Europe but working from hotels or a family traveling across the U.S. while the mom works during the day from the hotel.
I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.

How To Read 118 Books In One Year

This year I continued my odd quest to read a lot of books and ended up reading more than last year. This feels very odd since I’m a big fan of making things rather than just constantly drowning in consumption.

In fact I’d like to send a special message to the hundreds of people that have visited my website because they typed “Bad Effects of Reading” or “Why Reading is Bad For You” into Google: It isn’t always bad for you, but just reading crap all day long is.

How I Read Two Books a Week

My system for reading this much is quite simple:

  1. When I am in a situation in which it is socially acceptable (or encouraged) to be staring at your phone I read on the Kindle app instead of doing things on social media. These social situations are more frequent than you think and are probably more than 15 minutes a day.
  2. When I am working I take at least one break a day and read for 10+ minutes.
  3. Some nights, not always, I read to help me relax and fall asleep. Some days I drive in my car and listen to books on Audible, about 8-10 of the books were consumed this way.
  4. I read things that I like. If I get 25% into a book and I hate it, I close it, loudly shout a curse word, and then donate it to the library or throw it away. After I shout the curse word I don’t regret having wasted some time on the book, and I try to not ever regret buying a book that I never read.
  5. I surround myself online with other people that read a lot, thus making this amount of reading seem normal.

My Favorite Book This Year

I read a lot of very useful books this year – ones that were fun to read but also actionable – and one that continues to standout is The Obstacle is the Way (by Ryan Holiday). Great writing, good structure, interesting historical anecdotes, and direct relevancy that you don’t see in many books of this form. I am currently reading through the rest of Ryan’s books and have also enjoyed Ego is the Enemy.

What Else I Read This Year

What follows is a partial list of the books I read this year (some items have been removed to protect privacy).  If I recommend that you, dear reader, should also read the book I have included it as a link.

Fun To Read:
– Modern Romance
– Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread
– Silver Screen Fiend
– Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself
– Consider the Lobster
– Zombie Spaceship Wasteland
– Le Metier
– Mere Anarchy
– Funny Girl
– True Grit
– Microserfs
Temporary Stories
The Whites
– The Abortion
– So The Wind Won’t Blow it All Away
Big Fish

Not Fun To Read, But Needed:
– Between The World and Me
– Erasing Hell

– Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why
– Rules for a Knight
– Keep Your Love On

Things That Defy Category and This is a Compliment:
We Learn Nothing

Books That Defy Category Because I am Lazy:
Stories of Your Life and Others
– Turing and the Computer
– Dirty Library
– Calvin and Hobbes
– Ready Player One
– Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine

Advice That I Have Ignored:
– Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual
– The Short Guide to a Long Life

Memoirs and Biographies:
Yes, Please
– Little Black Sheep: A Memoir
The Inventor’s Dilemma: The Remarkable Life of H. Joseph Gerber: maybe 2016 wasn’t the right year to read about how quickly the Nazis took over, but a wonderful read overall about an amazing man.
– My Mother was Nuts

Work / Self-improvement:
Ego is the Enemy
The Obstacle is the Way
The Passionate Programmer
Building Great Software Engineering Teams
The Magic of Thinking Big
The Lean Startup
– The Greatness Guide
– The Greatness Guide: Book 2
– Awaken the Giant Within
– Flourish
– The Talent Code
Zero to One
– Catching the Big Fish
The Hard Thing about Hard Things
– Hooked
– Enough
– The Art of War
Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War
– Don’t Make Me Think
– The Difference Maker
High Output Management
– The 2-minute Leader
– Paper Towns
– Claw Your Way to the Top: How to Become the Head of a Major Corporation in Roughly a Week
– Manage Oneself

Distributed / Remote Working
– The Field Guide to Telecommuting
– Embrace Remote Working

– Egghead
– This is a Book
– Point Your Face at This
– My Life and Hard Times
– The 50 Funniest American Writers
– Fierce Pajamas
– Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans
– Sick in the Head

There is no such thing as Children’s Books:
– Hatchet
– The Poet’s Dog
– The Phantom Tollbooth

Gerald Weinberg:
– The Secrets of Consulting
– More Secrets of Consulting
Are Your Lights On?
– Becoming a Technical Leader

– The Elements of Style
– Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t
– The Writing Life

Written by Someone I Know, or About Someone I Know, or Just Self-Published:
– A Wicked Creature
– Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian
– Fearless Salary Negotiation
– Untethered
– The Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats
– What I’ve Learn from Failure
– Postmortem of a Failed Startup
– The Lost 10 Point Night

OK I guess but not something to base a religion on:
– The Four Agreements
– The Alchemist

Neil Simon Plays
– Biloxi Blues
– Brighton Beach Memoirs

Dave Eggers:
– The Wild Things
– How We are Hungry
– You Shall Know Our Velocity!

Written by Men with Mustaches Who I Wish I Could Meet:
– How to Tell a Story and Other Essays
– Armageddon in Retrospect

A Sudden Interest in Steve Martin:
– Shopgirl
– The Pleasure of My Company
– The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People
– Pure Drivel
– Born Standing Up
– Cruel Shoes

A Constant Interest in Elmore Leonard:
– Riding the Rap
– Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing

Books That Took More Than Six Months to Finish:
– Fifty Great Short Stories
– 12 Essential Skills for Software Architects

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

You Get No Credit for Talking

Most of my career has been spent working for companies with less than fifty people. My consulting career had me working with much larger companies often, and many of the stereotypes about big vs. small are true:

  1. At a small company you are a generalist; you “wear many hats” [Note: don’t literally do this – it confuses people].
  2. At a small company you have more responsibility – if you aren’t pulling your weight everyone can feel it.
  3. At a big company, there are more doughnuts and meetings. Also: office supplies.
  4. The coffee is better at small companies, but big companies offer better benefits in almost all other areas.
  5. People at small companies are much better at ping-pong.

How do small companies become big companies? By bringing on board people that might be from big companies. In fact, a common pattern is for companies to try to “level up” by hiring a Big Boy, Adult, More Experienced Leader, Other Mild Insult to Existing People. If the existing staff know what they are doing and are learners, and the new more experienced people are teachers then this can work out well.

But there is one minefield awaiting small companies hiring experienced leaders from big companies:

At big companies, you can be rewarded for thinking of potential problems even if you do nothing to solve them.

This is not pejorative, this can be good at a big company – there are people that are just thinking ahead, strategically and proactively.  These people struggle to exist at small companies, because at a small company if you bring up a problem without a solution you are just creating extra stress. Within the typical culture of a small company if you bring up a problem you are now tasked to solve it. Since you are already overworked when you come across a problem, you might not speak up. In the worst case, nobody is thinking far enough ahead because it is too painful to do so.

But then you start interviewing people, and they say things like “Hey, have you thought about the Newman protocol, and how you would perform under an audit?” And you think to yourself “Nope”, so you hire them to find and fix that problem.  And instead they sit around; at their old job their work was complete at this point, and here it is just getting started.

Ben Horowitz explains a similar dynamic well:

Your executive has been conditioned to wait for the emails to come in, wait for the phone to ring, and wait for the meetings to get scheduled. In your company, he will be waiting a long time. If your new exec waits (as per his training), your other employees will become suspicious. You’ll hear things like “what does that guy do all day long?” and “why did he get so many options?”

Well if the problem is so obvious then why are there so many bad hires from large companies? Ben’s list of screening questions is certainly effective, and I’ll offer my perspective to detect this as well.

One summer I rented an office in an old motel near my house. I was tired of working from home and wanted to change things up. This worked out pretty well until my second week when the air conditioner stopped working and the Georgia heat started to bring the air temperature up to sunspot levels. A few doors down from mine a small internet startup of four – five people was always around busily working and they did not leave when it happened. One of them went out and bought a few floor fans and they opened all their windows.

On the second day when the building manager announced that the air conditioner would not be fixed until the next week, the leader of that same group left but then returned with a saw and two wall unit air conditioners and installed them without permission. They didn’t appear to know what they were doing and made a mess of it, but their rooms were cool and comfortable.

When I’m interviewing a person from a big company I always ask myself if they would be the type to say: “We have a problem here, the A/C is out” or if they would be the type that would say: “I’m driving to Home Depot, buying an A/C unit, and cutting a hole in this wall”.

Be A Digital Adult

Most of us reading this post are adults. We take care of those around us, hold down jobs, pay bills, shower daily and do other things that are considered mature. We avoid the struggles of children: petty conflict, biting others, and openly weeping when our bananas break.

But the world has changed and done so quickly. There are new skills to be learned, and if you don’t keep up you will continue to act like a child while those around you move forward and have to take care of your weak childish self.

Let’s learn how to be a Digital Adult – an adult in this new data-rich age run on technology:


Attention and Focus

  • Manage your email like your time is valuable. Manage all of your time as if you live in an attention economy. Don’t waste your life watching other live theirs.
  • Practice the ability to focus on actual work for long periods of time; what some call “Deep Work
  • Read things that people spent time making (like, I dunno, BOOKS), not crap like social media and celebrity gossip.

Accuracy of Information: News

You should read the news to know what is happening in the world, and not to be entertained. Read actual journalism, not things that are written as entertainment.  A good metric of this is: would the person who wrote this go to jail for a source? Also: was this “paper” around 15 years ago? Does this site seem always to print things that feel like conspiracy “we just can’t be ahead” theories?

Some things to read about this further:

Accuracy of Information: Healthcare

There is a lot of good information about our bodies and how they work online. Also, we can learn more about nutrition, fitness, and injury prevention than we have ever been able to in the past. But there are a lot of for-profit health “care” information sites that are just pushing their solution.

See the below slideshow and ask yourself if a site is driven by profit or public good.

Now, go and be an adult. Don’t let the big scary people trying to steal your allowance and energy stop you from playing and working.

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

Help with the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a rare productivity tool: simple, powerful, and popular.

Years ago when I first started working by myself, I used the technique to train my mind to focus for longer periods of time; my previous job had so many interruptions I was wired for only ten minute periods of actual work. I organized my day into Pomodoros of longer and longer length to increase my endurance. It was not fun, but it worked.

While I don’t use it every day anymore, I do find myself using it to kickstart myself when things get hard. Typically, when I return from lunch I’ll set a timer to warm everything back up.

Even though the technique is dead-simple it does have some common problems for practical use at work; here is what I hear from people who have tried to use it:

I get interrupted too much at work; I can’t exactly ignore the phone.

Please don’t use Pomodoro if you are a 911 operator.

Otherwise, if you have a job where you have to respond to interruptions with great urgency then you may have to lower the “robustness” of your use of the technique, but it can still help you make the most of the time you aren’t interrupted. In this case, it might make sense to try to lower the Pomodoro time (to less than 20 minutes) so you feel yourself completing them.

For the rest of us we probably just think we have to respond when we don’t. We have been trained to respond to instant messages immediately much like we have all been trained to answer a ringing phone even if someone is right in front of us. These tasks might feel urgent, but are not typically important. If the message isn’t an emergency then ignore it or tell them “I’ll get back to you in 12 minutes”. Once you do this enough you will establish a reputation for being attentive when you do speak with someone.

To help with this you can of course simply communicate that you are using the Pomodoro Technique to get stuff done and therefore might be a bit delayed in responding to IMs. There are also ways to integrate popular messaging tools with Pomodoro tools so you can passively communicate “Do not Disturb” semantics.

If you really never have time for deep work sessions, I’d recommend just creating yourself one time for it, and to use Pomodoro only in that time:  This will keep your endurance up and allow you to keep your ‘focus muscles’ ready for those rare times when you get a few hours to work.

The 5-minute breaks are so dumb. I just check my email or look at the web – what a waste. (Or – the 5 minute breaks aren’t long enough to get a cup of coffee)

You might not be taking effective short breaks, or effective long breaks.

It is tricky because 5 minutes is hardly any time at all to some deep thinkers and too much time for the NADD among us. This will need to be closely managed at a personal level. The idea is to clear your head during the work enough that you are essentially catching your breath a bit but not getting fully out of work mode (that is what the longer breaks are for). Think “stop pedaling during a bike race as you round a large corner” rather than “get a cup of coffee and a doughnut” or “go walk the dog”. I typically stand up, squat, look out the window, take some big deep breaths then freestyle rap for a bit (you know the standard combination) and then sort of let my mind be blank and suddenly the 5 minutes is up and I sit back down.

I don’t want to stop every 25 minutes, once I get going I want to keep going.

Pomodoro doesn’t force 25 minutes as the timeframe – it is just a wise default amount of time. You can increase, as I did and many do, the amount of time for each block of work as it better fits the type of work that you do and your ability to focus. I increased from 25 minutes to 45 minutes with longer breaks; make sure these stay in a sane proportion or you will miss out of some of the benefits of the technique. You control the joystick – if you feel like you can keep going then the timer going off can simply be a reminder to stand up or rest your eyes or some other simple break. The point is long-term endurance rather than exact compliance to a technique.

This puts too much structure in my day man, I need to just ‘feel it’. I’m not a robot; I work when inspiration strikes.

This is true you are a unique snowflake – everyone knows it. Pomodoro works for multiple reasons:

  • It makes you stay in your chair.
  • Because it forces you to catalog all your interruptions it makes you focus on how much you interrupt yourself.
  • It is a form of mental interval training which is a great way to improve your focus and mental endurance.

I agree that doing it as prescribed all day is sort of nuts; I certainly don’t do this. This said, sometimes you have to turn into a robot for awhile to gain the advantages above. And to return to the objection about inspiration – let’s agree that the “work when you feel it” is clear bullshit. All people who have accomplished large works have done it by having a worker mentality that to you might look like a robot. I can’t say it better than Pablo:

La inspiración existe, pero tiene que encontrarte trabajando.

Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.

– pablo picasso

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

Thoughts on the Kindle Ecosystem

I read books using the Kindle ecosystem; having such quick access to books has changed my reading life and increased the quantity and quality of books I read each year. I love how I can start reading something at night on my (physical) Kindle and then use the Kindle app on my phone the next day waiting for a doctor’s appointment, and it saves me from having to carry around the ten books that I am (sort of) reading at any one time.

I occasionally use the iPad Kindle app as well, and the Mac app or online experience less often. While in the car I listen to Audible books about half of the time I’m in the car and gross hip-hop music the other half.

Being a software developer by trade, there are a few things that I notice from using all these apps to read about 100 books a year:

Please Learn About Me

There are exactly zero acceptable times in which any Kindle app should ever be “Learning my reading speed” given that it should have rough data on about 500 books of all forms and one person (me) reading them. I accept that I read some books faster than others, or that some types of books always slow down fast readers. I also understand that people might read faster on an iPad than a phone or computer, or at different speeds at different screen sizes or font configurations. I reject that you don’t have all the data behind this and that you couldn’t put something smarter in there than “Learning…”.

And Then Tell Me You Know Me

When you do know my reading speed, you should have a more accurate value for it. For some books (they seem to be ones with pictures in them or tables) the Kindle is off so much it is useless. I have read entire books in which the entire time the Kindle app says “1 minute left in chapter”. The entire book.  Other times the estimate is simply too high or low – I read a bit faster than average but am in the middle of the bell curve here.

Make all Products Seamless

Audible, GoodReads, and Kindle seem to be three completely separate products – with GoodReads integration only on the Kindle proper (I have the Paperwhite version). Audible is an Amazon company and GoodReads *should* be. Goodreads recommendations are better than Amazon’s. Full stop. Why? Because GoodReads reviews are easier to do, and who buys something versus who reads something (and then enjoys it) are completely different sets. I would love to change the “People also bought” to “People also bought, but we don’t know how it worked out” under a book on Amazon.

Relevant Ads for Books

The physical Kindle hardware is of high quality for readers: battery life, screen, durability, etc. The lock screen has an advertisement on it that changes every time you lock it. This means that every time I look at my Kindle to start reading you have my attention for a second. I have never, NEVER, seen a book that looks interesting to me there. Instead, somehow, ever since I have self-published a book I am served ads by self-published authors, most of which seem to not align with my interests. The Audible, Goodreads, and Amazon “Recommended for You” books seem to be much higher quality lists – why are these not used?

Upsell me on Audible More – I would buy more

The Audible and the Kindle experience are separate apps; Amazon seems to be spending a lot of money on Audible TV and VOD ads (I see them often), how about you encourage people like me to stop spending $10 on a Kindle book and spend $25 on an audible version instead?  I read about ten personal business productivity books a year, but hate reading them and would prefer to listen to the deep lovely baritone of someone reading them to me.  You should know this about me, and use it to take my money every year.

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

Page 2 of 10

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén