A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my upcoming funemployment (which has since begun). I mentioned in that post that my past jobs have helped me figure out how I’m most productive, and I’ve had a couple of people ask me what exactly I’ve learned about that. So, here goes.
I don’t think I’m particularly unique with any (or at least most) of these items, but I’ve found it helpful to be clear about them to myself.
Like everybody else, I prefer fairly lengthy stretches of uninterrupted time. Being easily distracted, I find it easiest to get those stretches early in the morning or late at night – I’ve been known to wake up at 3am when I really need to churn on something to hit a deadline.
I’ve built a Cave for myself in my home office, and I love it. I’ve got a bright orange wall, six huge bookshelves bursting with evidence that I loved reading before I got an e-reader, boxes of comics, a couch, a whiteboard currently hosting a 3,000 piece jigsaw puzzle-in-progress, and everything else I might need to relax and get amazing amounts of stuff done.
My Cave also serves as our guestroom, and it’s when other people are in there that I really understand how essential that room is to me. I’ve lived in the house with my Cave inaccessible for over a week, and I nearly pulled my hair out. If I’m close to the Cave but can’t use it, I’m essentially useless.
That said, if I’m far from the Cave – at an actual office, at a conference, or something similar, I can cobble together places to work where I can still be productive. The key for me is being free to move; instead of the comforting sameness of the Cave, I need variety. Coffee shop, hotel desk, hack room, comfy bench – I can work at any of them as long as I can move to another place easily. (This is why I get almost nothing done when visiting family; I can work for a bit at the in-laws house, but it’s rude to up and leave for another venue after an hour.)
That need for freedom also plays into my opinions on on-site vs. remote work. I can be tremendously productive on-site, up to a point. For my best work, however, I need to get out of the office at times and just focus full-bore on the problem. Similarly, I’ve done a ton as a remote employee, but I do need to get into the office periodically to check in and reset relationships with co-workers.
I’ve made great friends at every one of my past jobs, and I much prefer working with friends to mere acquaintances. Friendship makes communication easier, which has made otherwise difficult remote positions (which are always constrained by communication issues) very successful.
I also love working with people who are smarter than me. Luckily, that’s no so hard to find; the challenge is making sure I take advantage of it. I end up being more productive when I force myself to talk things over with colleagues.
For much of my career, I didn’t care that much about the specific product I worked on – I was much more focused on enjoying the technical aspects of the work, instead of the effects of what I was building. I can still do that and be productive, but I’m unable to maintain that indefinitely. In fact, the length of time I can “look past” what I’m building to enjoy the process is shortening – it’s probably no more than a couple of months now.
Of course, with increasing time spent on a project, you have the potential to become more productive (as your knowledge of the domain increases, etc.) Thus, I’m going to end up being more productive when I’m in love with the project and can see myself spending a long time working on it.
The other problem I had with consulting was one of ownership: even when I was passionate about the project, as a consultant I was largely subject to the whims of the client. Regardless of the strength (or rightness) of my opinions, I could always be overruled by the person writing the checks. I’ve since had the opportunity to work on projects where I had much more control and ownership, and I think that I’ve been much more productive as a result.
The last thing I learned is that I have to build things. I can survive for a while without writing code, but if that continues indefinitely then I eventually become useless for almost any task.
So that’s about it, for now. At the moment, I’m trying to look at these factors and figure out how they should influence my search for what’s next. If you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know!