One thing I liked this week #1

For the 12th year in a row, I went to Tomorrowland with a great group of friends. I think this was the best edition so far: amazing weather, awesome stages (hello Rose Garden stage?!) and some great sets.

The ones that stuck out for me:

  • Marshmello (Rose Garden)
  • Dj Ghost (Rose Garden)
  • Oliver Heldens (Garden of Madness)
  • Paul Kalkbrenner (Mainstage)

The inspiration for this (soon to be) series of posts comes from Seth Clifford.

Taking time off work

IMAGE BY  Szűcs László

I've been thinking a lot about work-life balance after seeing some close friends/colleagues burn out. As my former boss told me: "There's no such thing as work-life balance. Work is part of your life, work-private balance would be a better name."

With everything that's available to us, it's increasingly more difficult to define a clear boundary between work and private time. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but we should be aware of how we spend our time in order to live a (mentally) healthy life.

I read through some things I saved a while ago and these two resources really clicked for me, with regards to work-private balance.

Shawn Blanc - Concerning the Ebb and Flow of “Work”

There is no shame in taking time “off” of your work, in order to learn something, experience something, and be inspired. In fact, it’s our duty.
— Shawn Blanc

I can remember a time where I'd constantly check e-mail during the evenings/weekends/holidays. Just to be sure that I wouldn't miss anything and could reply as soon as possible. At times, I would already be stressing out on Saturday, about something I read in my mailbox.

Why? Think about it for a second. What's the worst that could happen if you didn't check your mail on Saturday?

From my own experience, only good things happen:

  • my mind is not constantly in racing mode
  • some of my best ideas for work related topics, came by taking time to rest and think
  • there's extra time to pursue other things in life

I follow some basic rules, to make sure I take time "off" work every single day:

  • no work e-mail checking between 7pm and 7am
  • no work e-mail checking during the weekends/holidays
  • no e-mail notifications. Ever.

Read Shawn's post here.

Merlin Mann - Back to Work 158: Merlin-Sized Hole

Merlin makes the analogy of receiving/reading e-mail at night vs having someone knock at your door at 9pm. You're not expecting it, you don't want to have someone at your door.

The following two quotes are the ones that resonated most with me:

There are very few circumstances where I would want somebody coming into my house after 9pm. Unless there’s a fire, or somebody was screaming,...

True.

Getting to a place where I’m not even wondering if there might be someone coming at 9pm.

Unless it's been a stressful day, I usually don't need much time to "switch off". My ride home (20m - 1h) with a podcast on, is usually enough. Not reading any work e-mail after work, helps keep me switched off. Stop wondering if X or Y has sent you an e-mail, there's another day tomorrow to respond.

If you want to hear it yourself, listen from 1h12m - 1h17m.

Stop complaining

You know that feeling of: "This looks like an interesting article, video,... I'll save it for later!" I'm pretty picky of what I want to save, but there's still too much to process it all (FOMO, right?).

This week I found myself looking at my Youtube "Watch later" list and found a talk with Tina Roth Eisenberg (Swiss Miss) from December 2013. That sounds like ages ago, but the entire video is still a great watch.

If you don't have 33 minutes to spare, let me help you out. Of all the ideas in the video, the quote below is an important one to live by:

If I find myself complaining about something I have two options: Do something about it or let it go.
— Tina Roth Eisenberg

Empty your cup

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
— Shunryo Suzuki

I first heard of Shoshin during a meditation exercise of Calm.com.

Shoshin means "beginner's mind". It's about approaching life with an attitude of openness. Looking at the world with fresh eyes. Putting aside the believes you have, freeing yourself from limiting preconceptions.

There are many times where we are biased before experiencing something new. We have read or heard about it and so we already created an opinion that might influence how we experience this new thing. Now imagine experiencing the same thing through the eyes of someone who had no idea what to expect, that's beginner's mind.

Imagine driving to work. You've done this so many times, it's almost on autopilot. You aren't noticing all the small things you were looking at when you first made this drive. If you take the time to look at it with fresh eyes, you'll probably find out you missed some things that changed since that first drive.

IMAGE BY  COLE HUTSON

IMAGE BY COLE HUTSON

There's a great Zen story about this:

A student went to see a Zen Master to gain knowledge and deepen his learning. He asked a lot of questions and then went into a detailed explanation of everything he understood. The student spoke so much, the master wasn't able to offer his wisdom.

While the student was speaking, the Zen Master started pouring cups of tea. One for himself and one for the student. The student's cup filled to the brim and the Zen Master kept pouring tea while spilling all over the table.

The student yelled: "Stop! The cup is full, there's no room for more!"

The Zen Master replied: "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I teach you Zen, before you first empty your cup?"

How to help teams complete actions effectively

As a Scrum Master my brain is hardwired to be in project delivery mode most of the time. There are deadlines on which we have to deliver (part of) a project to our customers. The only way to achieve this is by communicating often and clearly about our status, so we can respond to change as quickly as possible.

My approach to this is, that I'll gather all actions from a daily standup, meeting, discussion,... and communicate these actions accompanied with an owner and a deadline on which we want an answer. Preferably on a whiteboard in our teamroom, so you can't not see it.

So far, this sounds easy, right?

Transparency and honesty

In reality I sometimes encounter teams where it's common practice to hide slow progress or issues, creating surprises at the end of a sprint. The daily standup is the perfect setting to let your team know you're running behind, won't be able to complete an action, ask for help with something,... Failing to do so, tells your team everything's going according to plan.

When this happens, it's important to coach your team on being transparent and honest when giving a status update.

Imagine you have a date with your SO in a restaurant at 8pm:

  • If it's 7pm and you know you won't make it, you're probably going to call her and tell her you're late. At this time, it's not a big issue and plans can be rearranged.
  • If it's 10pm and you haven't called her, I wouldn't like to be in your shoes. You missed your deadline, the damage is done.

Surprisingly, the second point happens quite a lot when working in teams/with clients.

Can I help you?

So let's circle back to actions, owners and deadlines. Writing them down is the easy part. Completing them can be a lot harder. To avoid frustrating conversations when deadlines pass without completed actions, try this:

Before the deadline passes, ask if the owner of the action needs help to complete it. This serves two purposes:

  • If the answer is no: you know your colleague/client got reminded of an upcoming deadline that's important to you.
  • If the answer is yes: you'll have a better view on the status, you're able to respond to change before the deadline arrives and offer a helping hand.

This is a great step to work towards transparent and honest communication within a team. Team members will learn that taking responsibility is part of working in a team and that the team is there for you when you need help.