One of the greatest learnings of my career leading software development efforts is the importance of communication. Use these 4 tools to greatly improve your organizations ability to communicate.
I have a lot of ideas and they are not all great. Some of them are personal, some business related and others more theoretical in nature. That is great, right. Lots of ideas! Well when you have lots of ideas that means there are lots of roads in your mind, all of which are appealing for some reason or another. That can be wonderful and also harmful. For me, in recent times, it has been harmful.
This is what happens... I have an idea. I clear out as much as I can and focus on that idea. I get that idea up and running (normally a website or online store, etc.). It is up and running... score! Now, I walk away from it. WTF! You just spent days or maybe weeks building this, sometimes even learning how to use new tools, like Photoshop or Squarespace, and now that it exists you aren't interested. It is a feather in the cap; a mission accomplished. It is so dumb! It would be one thing if I did these things and then left them and they just disappeared, but they don't. I am involved in them just enough to be distracted. This becomes taxing when you add them all up. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to meaningless distractions.
Mosquitoes can ruin the hunt for big game. -David Allen
There is no more accurate quote when it comes to distractions. So, of course, this post was born from an IDEA. Idea alert! But this time it comes from a different headspace. This could be the result of the fact that I have been doing some self reflection over the past few months. Basically doing a self-audit with the help of some books and a therapist. I am also on day 10 of this mindfulness exercise I have been doing every morning; which is awesome! What I found was there are so many thoughts in my head that I have to consider that I don't want to fill the limited space I have with any of this other bullshit.
Addition by subtraction.
That was my idea. How many things can I stop doing without causing any impact on my state of well-being (or pursuit thereof) or finances? My thinking was by eliminating some of these outstanding and unneeded responsibilities I would feel more at peace and available to focus energy and thought on truly meaningful things. So I got started....
First thing to go was my Etsy store. What a joke this was! I like to build furniture so a while back I listed some of the items I had built. I went through and made a store and set the shipping and return policies, etc. all of this nonsense. And for what!? Probably to give my ego a boost when someone became a fan of my store or watched an item. Well, I don't really care about selling furniture to people on Etsy nor do I have the proper setup to be able to support it. If I were to actually have success in this area I wouldn't be able to sclae it nor do I want to. Etsy store, GONE!
Next thing, OfferUp account. Gone! Same basic idea as the above except I got to deal with all of these idiots that said they wanted to buy furniture but only had half the money right now or wanted it slightly different than it was. I can think of 100 things I would rather do that try and negotiate the sales price of a nightstand made out of pallets. I don't need to scratch the itch of furniture enthusiasts in the Tampa Bay Area. There are others that can and they are way better than I am at it too.
Next up, my t-shirt website and online store. I poured a lot of time into this one and closed it without hesitation. I learned how to make tshirt designs in Photoshop. I had to learn how to use Shopify then learn how to setup a printshop using Printful. Then I integrated the two applications together so that everything would drop-ship and I wouldn't have to do anything. And it worked! I had a few orders and the integration worked perfectly. It was so cool to have a tshirt store... for like 3 days. Then I left it alone after creating like 40 designs and OF COURSE an Instagram account for it. Do I really care to compete in the tshirt business, no! Do I want the ability to create my own tshirts, yes! Do I need an online store for that, no! Goodbye tshirt store!
Next, all these stupid ass apps that are on my iPhone. Some of them I don't even know what they are for. Goodbye, stupid apps that I never use. You know, you don't need the Wordpress app if you no longer have a Wordpress website. Watch those little icons dance around as you narrow in on the X in the corner; like shooting fish in a barrel.
What next, websites! I have a hosting account through Bluehost.com and have had as many as 12 domains registered under it at any given time. Each domain is a placeholder that whispers 'unfinished idea'... So I went through them and the ones that I wasn't truly passionate about I set them to expire without auto-renew. Granted some of them don't expire for a year but so what, I don't need to worry about them any longer. Some domains that I saved: this one, obviously and another one for a technology/ data analysis consulting company that I want to start (which is why I am getting rid of all of these other distractions). Speaking of these websites and why I have so many registered... there was a time that I thought my secret to being filthy rich was affiliate marketing through Amazon and Bluehost. I actually setup my affiliate accounts and tagging before I had any websites that had any traffic. How much sense does that make?! It just speaks to how easily distracted you can get, or I can get, by unregulated ideas!
To date... I have ended accounts, deleted apps, closed stores, deleted email accounts, ended subscriptions and guess what... My sense of self is still intact. My ego is just fine! I think if no one ever virtually 'likes' a table I built I will be ok... if I never sell another tshirt I am going to be ok and if I don't get rich from affiliate marketing I will be ok. I will not be ok, however, if I let all this bullshit pile up like a damn and block me from doing the few things I really am passionate about.
For me, the next step is figuring out how to manage ideas and opportunities moving forward. I talk about this all the time with my team here at work, the importance of vision and mission to steer the decision making process of our company. It just dawned on me that I do not have a clear vision or mission for myself. I think it will help guide me and my decision making; maybe it could help you. That is a topic to discuss later... for now, I will appreciate the act of stopping.
The following excerpt was taken from Seth Godin's blog several months ago. I stumbled upon it adding notes to Evernote. I keep a Notebook called #worthsaving that I paste things in for, well, times like these I guess.
For each person who cares enough to make something, who is bold enough to ship it, who is generous enough to say, "here, I made this,"...
There are ten people who say, "I could have done it better."
A hundred people who say, "Who are you to do this?"
A thousand people who say, "I was just about to do that,"
and ten thousand people who don't care at all.
And all of that is okay, because the person we need, the one we cherish, the one we would miss, is the first person, the initiator, the one who cares.
Thanks for shipping your work.
The biggest take away, for me, from this excerpt, was that each of us has to make a decision at some point. Are you a consumer or a creator? Consuming is much easier and safer. Creating is hard and risky. Most people consume. I consume more than I create.
I am actively working to do more creating and it is a lot harder than I thought. To take an idea and spend the time necessary to turn it into something that someone else can consume, even if that means a post on a website, takes effort and guts. What I have learned is to be true to your intended audience; myself and those interested, and let the rest go. An example of this is a t-shirt site that I created called TheBlackTeesCo. I always wanted to start a t-shirt site, so I did. It isn't changing the world or anything but it is mine and I made it and shipped it.
If you are working on putting yourself out there, shipping your work, creating art and sharing it... It is a tough road but it is appreciated; we appreciate it. We need more like you.
As I mentioned in the About section I started my career off at the Water Management District in Tampa, FL, as an engineering intern. Soon after graduation I moved into the position of Hydrogeologist. This meant that I was looking at how water flows under the ground (for the most part). My time at the District, was probably the most boring and monotonous work I have ever done and yet it gave rise to the most creative work I have ever done.
At the time, around 2010, there was a major issue with farmers over pumping groundwater to protect their crops. This over-pumping drew the aquifer levels down so much that sink holes opened up and residential wells went dry. Crops were lost, homes were swallowed up by the earth and massive holes opened up in roadways.
To mitigate for this the District was pushing for alternative water supplies; such as alternative water supply like surface water ponds. This was new territory and the District and the farmers didn't have a way to analyze the potential efficiency or usage of these surface water ponds. I was facing this problem directly as I tried to permit said ponds to make sure that the farmer would have adequate volume of water to protect their crops. Since there was no tools to us, I decided that I should try and create one. I took what I knew of surface water flows from my engineering background and what I knew of groundwater flows from my training as a hydrogeologist and put them to work in an Excel spreadsheet.
Fast forward two years later and I am training the entire District, 16 counties, on the use of the surface water design tool (still in Excel mind you). This little Excel calculator was now capable of reviewing maximum flow rates of pipes, calculate soil porosity, it predicted available water supply based on the size of the pond, predicted drawdown, it simulated a three day freeze event; it did a lot. There is an expression that goes something along the lines of:
'I will know what I am building when I am done'
This was definitely the case here. And the craziest thing was that I was like 22 years old maybe. And I didn't know what I was doing at the beginning. By the end of it I was the foremost expert within our District. There were different professors, professionals, colleagues and the like that were critical of the project the methodology. I did some things wrong admittedly but I kept at it. I took their criticism and advice and made it better. There were dozens of revisions and improvements. It ended up becoming part of the permitting process and applicants were required to use the tool to design their surface water ponds.
After several years of work on this project I left the District and left the tool with them. It was a tangible example of my ability to perceiver through difficult projects and work through critical feedback, to solve problems, to think analytically, to take what is known to solve the unknown. It was how I stumbled onto my abilities.
Below you will see some screenshots of the tool.
Do you have any examples of how you were able to solve a critical problem at work or school? I would love to hear about it.