LinkedIn shut down last week, giving its employees a week to take a breath and recharge. For me, that felt mostly like me trying to relax and forget about work without stepping away from my phone, hoping to get that hit of adrenaline of having work ping me about something.
As a workaholic, work has been my escape, and life outside of work feels like a waiting area most of the time. This stems from years of struggling with mania. I did sports at school. I hung out with friends on weekends; I did whatever I did to fill the space where most people live their life, with stuff. As I got older, work was a new outlet for my mania, manifesting as working till 2 am, working weekends, and never being to wake up without the thought of "oh, this would be cool to do at work." For a long time, I just chalked it up to that's just how all people operated. They have moments of energy and then moments where they can't even lift their hands to type.
Gabriel eventually realized this is not just another thing life throws at you as you get older.
This week was another one of those events of being hardly able to move, but with the realization that I didn't plan my life like I planned my work. I have things at work that I plan, resource, and get done, and in my life, I have these dreams of one day creating a comic book, working on Arduino stuff, building a town of legos, printing tabletop pieces (that couples with the comic book and the list of things that I daydream of continues on.
People, who know me personally know this as, "oh, Gabe is just being distracted; what about that thing he talked about last week?" This has always been hard for me as a person who loves the process of envisioning new things and coming up with "what ifs." Over the last week, I realize that the source of my lack of planning in my personal life is a fear that the outcome will not match the reality, coupled with the fact that I don't apply the same systems I use at work with my personal life.
Using a System
If you ask some of the people who have lived with or went to school with me, they will describe my system of organization as "chaotic." On a normal day, you will see my desk with tens of sticky notes, a notepad, random notes in the notes app or slack. Is there a better way? Yes. Have I tried other things? Yes, in the past I have had;
- A Github private repo that I put things and try to organize my thoughts
- The reminders app (lol)
- The Paper App (before weTransfer bought it)
- A personal Trello board
- The Things App
- Custom-built reminder apps (yes, apps meaning multiple, that I tried to build myself. I blame all the tutorials for entry-level engineers trying to build a todo app using a certain framework. My 12-year-old self thought I could really do something. A side note here, don't make the starter application to your framework a todo list; make it a notes app or something, not a todo list)
- Jira (yes, I even tried to custom Jira my personal and work life)
Anyone still reading this is like, "yeah, Gabe, lots of apps; what's the point?" My point being the single biggest point of failure using any of these apps was consolidation. I struggled to pick something and use it. This means even for new things, I shouldn't have tried to cobble together a productive environment with multiple tools. For some people, this might work; as a person who gets very interested in executing and constantly moving, it was a common source of my inability to finish.
You might be reading this and thinking, "Gabe, I have no problem finishing things," which is great! This section might help you understand people who might struggle to finish things and give some perspective on why. For people who might be on the other side of the equation where you have someone tell you consistently, "your new ideas are cool, but shouldn't you finish that other thing?"; I have always struggled with this feedback. It would either result in me shutting down or throwing away the idea entirely. It sucks having your creativity pegged to "finishing" something else. I have always moved onto new things when the things I am doing no longer give me joy. I come up with an idea asking others to validate, and then I realize that it requires investment to continue. To this day, it happens even at work where I will say, "oh, what if we did this, it would take like x days, and we would get this out of it," and as a result, eye rolls would ensue. Being someone who is constantly thinking about multiple different approaches, people have always never understood me. It has even been used as a case for me not to be promoted as I was "unfocused." As they would reference my random work being done on the side. As an aside, if someone ever is trying to discredit your work with the fact you have multiple things in the air, there are a few things you can do not to have this been frustrating for you.
- Show the receipts. If you have the work you are obligated to finish and are doing more work on the side, your manager will know. If they don't advocate for you, advocate for yourself by self-promoting. Showing people what you have done isn't bragging; it's just speaking facts.
- Escalate. There is nothing worse than someone trying to discredit you by spreading false information. In this case, after multiple attempts at trying to reconcile this with the person in question, I went to my manager and their manager for support.
- Let the facts speak. If you have done all of the things above and have a reputation for doing your job, sometimes the best thing you can do is just let the facts speak for themselves.
I got the promotion, don't dull your shine when others don't understand you, okay end of aside. This experience and many others, coupled with mentorship, made me realize that at work when coming up with a new idea to frame it with context on where it could fit in (e.g., to help the team, things you are working on, an opportunity for growth).
Where does it fit in?
Framing new or existing things is always helpful when providing context. This can be done simply by identifying, "where does this fit in?". There is always a priority queue of; must-haves, wants and nice to have. Or phrased differently, things you are accountable for, things you want to do but are not accountable for completing, and nice to haves are things that could be done at any point. Coming up with something new that you want to take on needs to fit into one of those categories. Potentially answering a few of the following questions and identifying which column it should fit in, kind of like a build your own adventure game.
- Does this need to be done right now? (If yes, what is the time commitment, and can you get help and provide support for direction and sign off. If not, file it away as a thing to pick up and plan when you check off a must-have.)
- Can someone else work on this and grow? (If yes, this is a great way to level up leadership and have a multiplying effect on others. If not, what can you drop an item from? Wants to nice to have not to affect your already planned work?)
- Does doing this help with other things that are planned? (If yes, awesome! It's always great to sequence things that can line up and help accomplish multiple things with one swoop. If no, could #1 or #2 be the answer?)
This is in no way a complete ven diagram of how things could fit into your life, but developing your own system of prioritizing things can be extremely beneficial. Okay, so Gabe, we went through many strung-together thoughts about revelation, life, and planning; what now?
Consolidation, Recreation, and Tomorrow
I will not get super philosophical, but every day you can choose to do things differently and make small steps to being a better you. As of Sunday, April 11th, here are some things I am going to do differently tomorrow, April 12th.
- Pick a system and stick with it. For work and life, apply the same rigor of goal setting and execution planning for important things. When I shut my computer for work, am I putting enough energy into the things I worked so hard for outside of work? My mother constantly tells me how work should invest back into our lives.
- Set the context for when things are finished. I have a co-worker who always reminds me when I randomly spam our team channel with random links or thoughts that I should set the context so others know where I am coming from. This helps with wanting to prioritize new work or ideas to ensure that where you are coming from is a place of purposeful intent and not just, "oh, this looks shiny." Identifying how and why something is important to validate the thing and ensure it's something you can get alignment on.
- Reflect. Every day stopping work at a certain time to identify a plan of what I didn't do today or need to do tomorrow. Maybe not every day or every month, but making time to reflect internally at work (I just started to blog about work things that don't really make sense outside of work) and outside of work is something that I felt has been missing in my life when it comes to identifying what works, doesn't work and what I start to try to do more of.
- Invest. Taking time every day to invest in myself and my dreams. My dreams and work can exist in the same world, and both have 100% of my energy. I want weekends and holidays where I don't dream about the next thing at work. I want to live in that moment.
If you are someone that has struggled with not having people understand your constant curiosity of all the what-ifs that could be, you are not alone. You are not wrong for thinking these things, this is a superpower, and sometimes it takes practice to realize what it is capable of. Keep coming up with new thoughts and ideas, but do so in a way that keeps you productive and even offers others access to your powers by sharing them.