Yesterday marked my 3rd anniversary of the first post on this blog. On April 21st, 2016, my first post went live – Welcome and First Post It was the typical post you see on most blogs to announce a new voice has been added to the internet – the “Hello World” of the blogosphere.
In those three years, I have posted 158 times, and put up content on a nearly consistent weekly schedule. While the blog still doesn’t really have a focus, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made and even of some of the insights and musings I’ve published. I still find it strange that my most visited post continues to be my review of the Zombies, Run! training app, with a total of 1,366 page views as of writing (a minimum of 100 monthly visits since August 2018). Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with having 3,136 views from 2,417 visitors. It makes me feel special.
Shout-out to my 73 followers on WordPress! And shout-out to my top two commenters, my Aunt K and Tis Leigh of Tis But A Moment! I’m glad you find value in my ramblings.
Even without focus or purpose, I plan to keep up the habit of writing and posting things weekly. Here’s to another few years of writing yet!
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been onboarding my replacement at work. On the one hand, it’s great to finally offload the extra tasks that I’ve been juggling since assuming my new position. On the other hand, I’m having to experience a new world at work in the form of management and performance coaching. It’s one thing to do the tasks yourself, but it’s an entirely different thing to anticipate another person’s tasks, teach those tasks to the person, the follow-up on the progress with feedback.
While I am not the direct manager for the new program assistant, I share some of the responsibilities for ensuring she’s successful in her new role by virtue of me being the last person who occupied the role. I suppose I’m over-thinking this a bit, since employees move on all the time and are not accountable for the new person’s performance. Nevertheless, between me still working in the same office and me being a team player, I feel that it is my duty to help the new employee succeed until she can run under her own steam. Afterall, the program assistant position is a job that was developed over the course of four years, so it’s a lot to take in all at once.
I knew prior to her starting that I would need to reflect intentionally on how I could teach someone to do the job that I have built over time, and figure out how to deconstruct the tasks and portfolios so that it makes sense to a fresh set of eyes. Since this is my first time doing this, I took a stab at it and realized that there was a lot more I could have done to prepare for onboarding her.
One example is at the end of her first day. I met with her to do a mini-debrief on how she felt her first day went. She admitted it was a bit overwhelming, but was confident that she would learn more as she did the tasks. She then asked for my input on what she should do the next day. I hadn’t anticipated this question, so I floundered a bit, suggesting that she should take some time to read through the relevant policies and procedures I’ve got stashed away in a binder, as well as reviewing the committee minutes from the past year for an upcoming meeting she will need to plan.
After work, I reflected on this and realized that I didn’t do a good job of setting her up with concrete tasks for her to fill her day meaningfully. Don’t get me wrong – at some point she will need to read over all of that stuff as it will be important to her job. However, I realized there are better ways she could be utilizing her time. Instead of reading over abstract documents, I need to get her working on tasks that are directly related to what she will be doing over time.
The next day, I jotted some ideas down and met with her in the afternoon to discuss how things are going and give her concrete tasks to start figuring out, such as responding to program-based email inquiries, learning where to find reports, typing up committee minutes so I could critique them, etc. I also coached her on setting up meetings with the program Chairs to 1.) introduce herself more formally, and b.) to learn from them what their needs and wishes are. I seeded some questions with her on topics she ought to cover, and left it to her to arrange the meetings. In the background, I also spoke informally with some of the Chairs to let them know she was doing this, and to suggest ways they could help onboard her to their program areas.
This was a much better way to onboard her, and she was busy over the rest of the week learning various systems. She would stop by my office a few times a day to ask clarifying questions or ask advice on how she should approach a certain task. She was learning by doing, and seems to be adjusting well to her new role. I’ll leave it for her actual boss to determine whether she is meeting targets, but at least I know she’s able to work with us as a team behind her.
Last week, I discussed how I felt really good after a particularly productive day. Just as I was drafting the post, I shared my thoughts with my wife. She was happy for my sense of accomplishment and expressed encouraging words about the value of feeling fulfilled, productive, and useful. But, I didn’t just marry her to build me up; my wife is also my best sounding board to check my intuitions.
In her wisdom, she asked if that kind of feeling of satisfaction is a healthy one. I knew what she was getting at right away. She wasn’t expressing skepticism about this one instance, but instead she was gesturing at a longer trend of mine.
I have a mindset and set of expectations on myself that are dangerously close to being unhealthy, to the point where I know I would never try and convince a person to adopt it themselves.
You see, I hate feeling like I’m wasting my time. I don’t mean this in a hustle/grind sort of way, nor does this mean that I don’t waste loads of my time (hello YouTube; you are my true weakness).
I hate napping because I feel like it’s a waste of my time.
I should qualify that a little bit. When I say a waste of my time, I don’t mean that napping isn’t good for me. I know that sleep is good. Sleep will rejuvenate you, help your brain work better, help you feel better, etc.
When I say that napping is a waste of my time, I mean it in an existential sense. When I sleep, I am unconscious, and when I’m unconscious, time slips past me faster. It’s almost like time travel. I go to sleep and wake up in the future. All the time in the middle is gone, and I can never get it back. I have done nothing, and made no memories.
This line of thinking extends to downtime. I don’t handle downtime very well, often feeling guilty to take time to myself to mindlessly indulge in “non-productive” things (the aforementioned YouTube, movies/tv, videogames, etc). When I give myself permission to focus on fun things, it’s always clouded with the knowledge that by taking time to do a fun thing, it’s time not spent on something productive, and no matter how much fun I have, I know that those tasks and projects I need to work on will still have to be done. I’m not trading off tasks; I’m delaying progress because time runs linearly.
My wife (rhetorically) asked if this line of thinking is sustainable, and it is obviously not. Indeed, she rightfully labelled it as a stupid worldview to hold.
The real problem is that while I would never advocate for anyone else to frame their worldview in these terms, I want to (and choose to) do it for myself. I think this is largely because I’m so disordered in my productivity and I’m always battling against my akrasia (a fancy Greek term for making bad decisions due to weakness of the will). It’s my way of punishing myself for not focusing when I want to focus.
The reason why I mentioned that this is an existential problem for me is because when I think about my mortality, I know that every moment that passes is bringing me closer to death. Every moment that I spend watching YouTube videos instead of getting stuff done is non-renewable time that I can’t get back and exchange for time on more important things like my wife, my dog, family, friends, or leisurely pursuits. Realistically, I have finite time, a finite number of heartbeats, and no way of buying more. Instead, decisions like not going to the gym, not sleeping, or eating unhealthily have the opposite effect and are likely shortening my life.
I know this is stupid. I know this is unhealthy. And I don’t have a good solution to address it. This isn’t a case of believing that hustling for the sake of hustling is inherently virtuous. Quite the opposite, I think grinding away should be in service of something higher than itself. This is, plainly, a different flavour of a fear of missing out. I’m worried about missing out on things by not being productive.
I don’t have an adequate response to the charge that my worldview is not good. At least I have some semblance of self-awareness and a great partner in my wife that calls me out on my shenanigans.
I was reflecting on a day I had last week that I would classify as a “really good” day. I’m not saying it was perfect, but when I think about it from a personal level, I was very happy with it.
And by a really good day, I mean it was a really good professional day. It was a day where I went to bed, and I felt professionally and creatively satisfied. Most days, I feel like I’ve wasted my day with either pointless tasks or active procrastination. I look back over the day and think that I’ve let it slip away, never to be recovered, and I have nothing to show for it – no movement on any projects, I haven’t grown in any significant way, and I’ve let my base instincts drag me away from what’s important.
I’ve had many good days with friends and family, but I find good professional days to be rare – possibly because I spend so much time at work relatively to anything else in my life.
When thinking about this really good day, I suppose this is what Simon Sinek gets at when he talks about finding your “why,” or your purpose. I still can’t articulate my “why,” but I feel like the elements that made up my good day somehow speak to what fulfills me.
Anyway, I’ve talked around the topic enough. What was this day?
Here is a list of things I did that I felt fulfilled by:
I took a phone call to consult with a client about some ethics questions related to their project.
I secured some consent from industry partners on a development project I’m working on to create a new engineering degree.
I had a meta-discussion about working at the college with a boss.
I went home and got exercise by shoveling the driveway.
My normally scheduled board meeting was cancelled due to the weather, and I took the night off from working at the bar, which meant I had a free night that I’d normally not have in the week.
I watched some videos from a Udemy course I’m taking on how to record videos better (I enrolled to help me make better vlogs and possibly future courses).
I spent an hour or so reading 40-50 pages of a book on professional/career development while listening to ambient white noise.
I spend 30-45 minutes reading book about literary structure for fun.
I think what made these events so meaningful is I felt like I was either learning/developing through the process, or I was able to get good, positive reinforcement on tasks I was initiating. It’s not about “winning” or succeeding, but in this case, it’s about drawing a line that connects an intentional effort to find a certain outcome, and reaching that outcome precisely how you intended to do it.
In other word, I think the day felt so great because it felt intentional. I felt those elements that lead to professional satisfaction – I felt autonomous, a sense of control, and I was working towards mastery.