This is how I work

Happy Monday Tuesday! I started writing this post yesterday but ran out of time. It’s a fairly comprehensive look at how I work:

  • Systems and processes
  • Running retros with plus/delta
  • Everything starts with writing
  • Getting things done with Todoist
  • My daily routine

Why did I write this? Because I like seeing how the sausage gets made. I find this sort of behind-the-scenes sharing to be really interesting in general. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

I was inspired by the exercise of writing a personal user manual. It’s a document that helps colleagues understand how you work.

I thought it’d be worth documenting this now and coming back in a few months or years to see how things have changed.

I sometimes wish I had started doing this years ago so I could go back and compare notes with my past self.

If you have written a post like this — or decide to write one — please get in touch and let me know. I’d love to read it and share it.

BTW: As with last week, I drafted this whole thing in markdown using VS Code before flipping it over to WordPress. Unlike last week, I pulled the intro out of the markdown block so I could drop a “Read More” after it.

Writing in markdown using VS Code

Systems & processes

Years ago I was told that I have a mind for systems and processes. I didn’t think much about it at first, but now that I’m dipping my toes into team-building, I can see it.

When I’m tasked to start a new initiative, I trot out three deliverables: a tracker; a playbook; and a block of time in my calendar.

The tracker, aka the Master Plan, is what you’d imagine. It’s a central repository of tasks. It usually starts as a spreadsheet because spreadsheets are flexible, database-esque platforms.

I update the tracker with new rows and columns as I figure out what data I need to collect. I’ll migrate to a different solution only when my needs expand beyond the capabilities of a spreadsheet.

The playbook is a living document. It’s purpose is to serve as a reference manual for the initiative. It starts at a high level, describing what we’re doing and why. Further down it’ll cover step-by-step instructions for specific tasks. Then it wraps up with an FAQs section.

I’ve flipped between different apps to handle playbook development. Right now I’m using Word docs in SharePoint folders so the docs are easily findable and shareable. Plus, with Track Changes enabled, I can keep an eye on modifications and version control.

Blocking off time in my calendar is the only way I can hold myself accountable. It’s a visual reminder of how much work I’m doing, and when I run reports at the end of the week or month, it helps me reflect on what I’ve done.


Running retros with plus/delta

I hold a retro meeting after bigger community events using a plus/delta format. The retro (retrospective) meeting comes from agile development, while the plus/delta comes from my former colleague Chris Carfi.

The retro is a short meeting (20-30 minutes) with a simple agenda:

  • Plus: What worked?
  • Delta: What do we change for next time?
  • What are our immediate follow-up actions?

I like the plus/delta approach because it reframes a potential negative (what went wrong, what didn’t work, etc.) into a constructive, forward-looking action.

We’re not putting anyone in the hot seat because something didn’t work. Trial and error is how we learn. It’s like the scientific method: Form a hypothesis, run an experiment, record the results, adjust and keep going.


Getting Things Done with Todoist

I shared a bit about my personal productivity methods back in January. It was in response to a blog post from Gina Trapani about aligning work through a "think => organize => do" process.

In my earlier post I mentioned Todoist* as my inbox for personal tasks, while my work tasks get dropped in Microsoft Planner. Now I’m using Todoist for both personal and work tasks, while I use Planner for collaborative projects.

*Note: Yes, this is a referral link. No, I don’t get paid. It just discounts my Todoist Premium subscription if you sign up for a Premium plan.

Why the switch?

Microsoft Planner works great if you’re invested into the Office 365 environment. Every Planner project spins up a new Office 365 group. You can expand on that group via integrations with SharePoint, Teams, Outlook, etc. But that’s not as compelling if you’re not working on a project with others.

Todoist, meanwhile, works wonderfully for an individual. The mobile app is sleek and responsive while still being powerful.

The browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome let you quickly add URLs as tasks. You can also set recurring tasks and nest projects.

If you upgrade to the premium version — which I did last week — you can use the Comments feature to add supplementary notes to your tasks.

All of this makes Todoist a powerful catch-all app for projects, reminders, and bookmarks.

(I also like that it has a bit of gamification by tracking your task completion over time and rewarding you through cumulative scoring and ranking.)

So what does this have to do with Getting Things Done?

If you’re not familiar with the GTD method, here’s the gist: Every task that comes your way needs to be saved in a central place. This is the "collecting" step.

At a set time each day you review your inbox and take action. This is the "processing" step. You have four options to choose from:

  1. Doing it, if the task is minor and takes a couple minutes.
  2. Delegating the task to someone else.
  3. Deferring it to later, i.e. blocking off your calendar.
  4. Dropping it (archive/delete) if it’s not actionable.

Check out this post from Lifehacker for a more detailed introduction to the Getting Things Done method.

The GTD method prescribes having one inbox, but that’s unrealistic, in my opinion. I have four: My work email, my personal email, Microsoft Planner, and Todoist.

Requests from other people land in my email. Work tasks that I delegate or defer will move to Microsoft Planner. Personal tasks that I defer will move to Todoist.

If I need to reference the email for a task, I’ll flag/star for follow-up.

Ideas that come to me when I’m out and about, like a blog post topic or a reminder for work, go in Todoist. Ditto for any webpages that I want to share. I’ll save those as tasks, too.

I look at my email inboxes 2-3 times per day. I check Planner intermittently and triage Todoist on evenings and weekends.

While this might seem like a lot at first, it all becomes muscle memory pretty quickly. I don’t have to think about it. And that means I’m not trying to juggle a bunch of to-do items spread across different places or, god forbid, keeping it all in my head.


Everything starts with writing

I shared my writing process in last week’s blog post. When I write, I start with an outline and slowly beef it up one section at a time.

But I don’t just use that method for writing long-form content.

Everything starts with writing for me. It’s how I organize my thoughts and process information.

When I talk, I tend to meander off down tangential side roads, taking up more time than I should. I’ve always been that way, and I know it can be exhausting, and I know it’s not fair to others.

That’s why I opt for emails and Slack messages over video calls. It’s also why I drop my thoughts into the chat during group meetings.

Writing lets me chew on an idea before responding. It also prevents me from hijacking a conversation or climbing on my soapbox. (Though I’ll happily do that if prompted!)

Likewise, I try to write for the medium.

My blog posts are long, heavy with formatting, short paragraphs and headings, flowing from one to the next while (hopefully?) staying skimmable. I drop in links and images where needed and if I have the time.

My emails are short and efficient. Tight sentences. Quick paragraphs. Terse lists. No essays. I assume it’s read on a phone. Short glances. What’s the point?

My Slack messages are chatty, punctuated by emojis, gifs, and lol’s. Digital office banter. It’s conversation written one line at a time. Blame it on an adolescence spent with mIRC, message boards, MSN Messenger, and multiplayer PC gaming.


My daily routine

I’ve worked remotely full-time for nearly five years. The daily routine has evolved, especially in these past couple months, but the rhythm is largely the same from one year to the next.

I wake up around 7am. My early mornings alternate between exercise and other physical activities like housework. We have a small workout space in our basement with a bench and some weights. I’m quite fond of kettlebells right now, which I may have mentioned once or twice in previous blog posts.

Most of my team is on the west coast, so they’re not getting online until noon-ish. That gives me a solid block of 2-3 hours to focus on deep work like reading, writing, and editing. I’ll make an Americano and sip that while working.

My home workstation is a custom gaming PC that’s a little long in the tooth. I built it when I joined GoDaddy back in 2015 and haven’t done much to it since.

Being the Logitech fanboy that I am, all my peripherals are Logitech G series: mouse, keyboard, headset, webcam. The monitors are a HP 24es pair that I grabbed on sale on Costco. No complaints.

I have a Yeti mic mounted to a swing arm that usually stays off screen. I bought it for recording screencasts and podcasts — two of the (many) media types I’ve wanted to do more of, but haven’t carved time out for.

I hop on Slack around 12-12:30pm. That’s when the notifications start coming in. I’m in ~15 different Slack teams, and actively pay attention to about half of those.

My afternoons are packed with meetings and administrative tasks. I try to stack these on Tuesdays through Thursdays so my Mondays and Fridays are less of a time crunch. Work wraps around 6pm – 7pm. I’ll do a quick check of my personal emails before shutting down for the day.

Evenings are family time: a walk around the neighbourhood, if weather allows, followed by dinner and Netflix. We might also be on our phones, skimming through our social feeds, if what we’re watching can’t hold our attention.

I wind down by reading before bed, either chewing through my Pocket reading list or a book, depending on what I’m in the mood for. If I’m on Pocket, I might clip article excerpts for curating later, or throw a recommendation up on Twitter.

At some point in the day, if it’s not too hectic, I’ll try to squeeze in an hour of gaming. While toiling away in the game I’ll listen to a podcast, watch a webinar, or dig up something educational on YouTube.


What I’m reading

Membership is an attitude

An organization able to build relationships with members—as opposed to plain customers—has, as we’ll see, a powerful competitive edge. It’s not just changing the words you use; it’s about changing the way you think about the people you serve and how you treat them.

Why community success is critical in modern software

Community success is the idea of investing your time and effort in the community to improve the experience of using the software. This applies even if you are not a direct code contributor. Whether you create, support, or use the software, investing in community success benefits everybody.

How to write 10,000 words a week

Too many writers have been taught to be afraid of writing and have had their voices suppressed as a result. You don’t have to be one of those writers. […] Writing is a matter of sketching and building and arranging and fixing what is in your brain.

We’re all in the bathroom filming ourselves

The bathroom is so often being used for filming that it can be awkward for kids who have to use it for its intended functions. Recently Mr. Ramirez was in one of the stalls when a group of kids came in and immediately began filming TikToks. “I was like, ‘I am in here,’” he said. They continued to film.

The empty promises of Marie Kondo

Minimalist cleanliness is the state of acceptable normalcy that everyone must adhere to, no matter how boring it looks. […] Just because something looks simple does not mean it is; the aesthetics of simplicity cloak artifice, or even unsustainable excess.

…find more of my recommended reads on Pocket.


P.S. Check these out

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