Q1 Completion Update

Signals

It’s time for the first quarter completion update(sort of, I’ll explain below):

  • Exercise: On track
  • Meditation: Derailed
  • Coding Courses: Slightly behind
  • Paid Writing: On track
  • Editing: On track
  • This Blog: On schedule
  • Product Development: Behind schedule
  • Parental Responsibilities: On track
  • House Renovations: On Track

This is a bit of a strange update. I was supposed to be doing ten week self improvement programs. I had classes lined up and goals set. Then, part way through this first quarter(as I was calling it), I jumped into a startup engineering course put on by Stanford through Coursera. There were two problems with that. The first is that it derailed the courses that I was already taking. The second, is that it won’t end until midway through my next planned quarter. So, saying I’m on or off track with courses is now harder to gauge. So, to handle a bunch of summer complications, I’m going to start my next quarter the week of August 11.

There are a few reasons for that date. First, the renovations to the garage can realistically be done by then along with some shelving and storage issues needed to move everything back in that needs to get moved back in. Second, it will give me some extra time to take my oldest son to do some educational activities during the four days he is between preschool and kindergarten without his little brother, who will still be in preschool. And last, my birthday is two days after kindergarten starts, so I might as well take two days without pressure on myself. I’ll consider it my summer break(sort of).

Now, all that being said, I’m still going to be working on the startup engineering course that whole time, I’ll still be exercising and doing almost everything I’ve been doing. I’ll just be letting go of the guilt of not being on track with those areas I haven’t been on track with. At least until the week of August 11. By that time, I should have eliminated enough speed bumps to allow me to get back up to speed.

Week 10 Status Update

Signals

I’m going to stick with the quick status update for this week:

  • Exercise: On track
  • Meditation: Derailed
  • Coding Courses: Slightly behind
  • Paid Writing: On track
  • Editing: On track
  • This Blog: Behind schedule (changing)
  • Product Development: Behind schedule
  • Parental Responsibilities: On track
  • House Renovations: On Track

Things are going fairly well. Exercise is proceeding apace. Meditation has been pushed out of consideration temporarily. That comes more from where I am focus wise rather than time. I need to fix that, but last week and this week were not and will not be the weeks I fix that. I’m pushing that to possibly next week. Right now I have only been working on a single coding course. That’s because the startup engineering course is time based with homework and classes, so that has made the other classes hard to fit in in any meaningful way. So, I have done a little of one of the other courses, but not enough progress to mention. As for writing on this blog, I’m temporarily going down to this update and maybe another post a week until I can get past some additional responsibilities related to the house renovations.

House renovations are back on track. The current project is the complete renovation of a garage that is over 90 years old. It needed foundation, electrical, window work, trim work, drywall, paint, etc. It would be hard to do more work on that small building without tearing it down. In fact, tearing it down and rebuilding would probably have been easier, but would have destroyed a historic structure. I’m not doing most of the work, but I’ve been coordinating it. I have also been doing some exterior repair work and prep for painting the past week. That has been a surprising amount of work. There are numerous cracks, split boards, gaps and holes that all needed to be repaired. I still have quite a bit of that to do. That is eating in to some of my time, but it needs to be done and once that space is reclaimed, I will be able to work on certain projects more efficiently. More on that another time if it becomes relevant here.

Netflix: Company Culture Done Right

I think about company culture quite often when I think about how I feel about a business I’m working for, working with or that I’m a customer of. Company culture isn’t just a couple buzzwords. They define a company for its management, their employees, their partners and their customers. Company culture informs every interaction with a business and inside the business. That’s what makes it one of the single most important areas for a business to focus on.

Many businesses go through the motions of defining a company culture. Others merely give lip service to the fact that a strong company culture is important. For the most part though, company culture is just something that happens to a company organically. That can turn out well or not. Usually though, it results in an inconsistent company culture at best. The experience in one part of the company could be vastly different than in another part of the company. At worst, the company culture can be completely at odds with the stated goals of the company.

Well, Netflix doesn’t fall into those traps. They focused on company culture early on. Not only did they focus on it, they kept their actual company culture aligned with their stated company culture by staying true to their company culture in hiring, firing and in crafting their work environment. If you want to get a good look at their company culture, their CEO Reed Hastings put out a slideshow outlining their company culture and how they deliver on it. You can find it embedded below. Let me know if you found their presentation compelling and, if so, what was most compelling to you about it?

Week 9 Status Update

Signals

I’m going to stick with the quick status update for this week:

  • Exercise: On track
  • Meditation: Lost focus
  • Coding Courses: Slightly behind
  • Paid Writing: On track
  • Editing: On track
  • This Blog: Barely on track
  • Product Development: Behind schedule
  • Parental Responsibilities: On track
  • House Renovations: Behind schedule

Things are going well. Exercise is humming along. The exercise had become a routine with some help from my wife joining in.(She can always be counted on to join in where exercise is concerned.) Meditation is still out of my early morning routine due to a sense of urgency to put some other areas back on track. Once those areas aren’t driving me so much, I’ll start this week to move meditation back into the schedule. The key is going to be to just do it as the first task of my work day. My coding courses are slightly behind. That’s only because I put two of them on hold while I worked on the Startup Engineering course. There were a few areas in the prerequisites for the course that I was rusty on, so that meant a little extra work to get up to speed. Feeling pretty good about that now. I should be able to start working in more of the other courses again this week.

VC’s Are A Question, Not Necessarily The Answer

decisionEveryone seems to think that the only way to build a great business is to raise outside investment. You know the drill. Build a prototype, gets some angel investment, grow the team and your audience and then raise a venture round with some big venture capitalists. There are a few, but not very many, people speaking against that as the way to go for many businesses. Well, we have a new voice in the room from a new blog, “My Startup has 30 Days to Live.”

The blog is a sobering (anonymous) account of how taking venture capital took a startup that was having some success and started it down the road to destruction. Of course, the blog is anonymous, so take what it says with a grain of salt. Unless the author decides to reveal their identity at a later date, we might never know if any of what is being written is true. However, it is an interesting read because it is all plausible. I would be surprised if there weren’t startups with similar experiences to those being described in the blog.

This blog shouldn’t scare you away from venture funding though. Instead, it should make you consider whether or not you should consider venture funding for your business. And if you take venture funding, you should remember that your investors might not always have the same interests or risk tolerances as you do. So, make sure you partner with investors that align well with you. And, in the end, make your own decisions. You might be spending the venture capitalists money, but they took a risk in you and you are also investing. You’re investing your time and your life. They have plenty of money. Your life is worth more.

Burnout?

Candle Burnt OutI hear a lot of people talk about burnout. That’s a strange term to me. It has a feeling of finality. Burnout is what happens when you get to the end of a candle. So for me, the human equivalent feels like it would have to either be dying or losing your mind. Either way, you’re not going to be returning to what you were doing before. When people speak about burnout though, they are usually talking about being completely and utterly exhausted or worn down. Either of those two states has a solution.

If you’re exhausted, you can take some time off to recharge your batteries. If you’re worn down, you might not be able to continue what you’re doing in the way you are doing it. In that case, you have to fix what has worn you down (maybe the way you work) and move on. Or if things are bad enough and you can’t fix what is wearing you down, maybe you have to move on to something new that you are still able to do.

A lot of people become entrepreneurs as a result of the second type of burnout. They’re worn down by either the meaninglessness of the work they’re doing or because of how they are being treated as an employee. So, rather than continue to either lose their souls to their work or allow themselves to be ground down for decades by less than desirable bosses, they decide to strike out on their own. While that’s a valid reason, it doesn’t work out well for everyone. It’s important to both know why you are burned out and who you are as a person before you can choose how best to fix your situation. (more…)

Week 8 Status Update

Signals

I’m going to stick with the quick status update for this week:

  • Exercise: On track
  • Meditation: Losing focus
  • Coding Courses: Slightly behind
  • Paid Writing: On track
  • Editing: On track
  • This Blog: On track
  • Product Development: Behind schedule
  • Parental Responsibilities: On track
  • House Renovations: On schedule

Things are going well. Exercise is humming along. I haven’t stepped it up to the next level yet, but it is firmly on track to remaining a routine. Meditation has somehow gotten forced out of my early morning routine. I’ll be working this week to move it back on. My coding courses are slightly behind. Notice the bold s at the end there. I added a startup engineering course from Coursera that I mentioned in a previous blog post. I also added a design course that I’ll mention later if I enjoy it. So, that trifecta takes more time than a single course, but I’m trying to push all three forward since the two new courses are on a fixed schedule and are being offered right now. Well, I have homework due soon, so I better get to it!

Create In the Dark, Scrutinize In the Light

Ceiling LightI read an article today on io9.com discussing how creativity is effected by lighting. They referenced a study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology that was looking into the role of the workplace environment on workplace productivity. In their study, they found that when standard overhead work lights were dimmed, the study participants experienced a higher level of creativity in the tasks put before them.  Analytical work, on the other hand, was more effective under brighter light. Researchers said that the increase in creativity experienced with dimmer overhead lights was not due to the light, but to the effect the light had on their perception of the circumstances under which they were working. In their words: “we conclude that priming darkness and dim illumination have similar effects on creative performance due to their shared link to freedom from constraints and the concomitant explorative processing style.” In simpler terms: People are more creative in places where they feel the space is conducive to creativity.

Another part of the study that I found interesting was that the improvement in creativity didn’t hold true in work environments that didn’t use overhead lights, but instead used upright floor lights. The assumption made by the researchers is that work environments that have that style of lighting are usually more informal places where creativity would already be encouraged. What wasn’t mentioned in the article I was reading (I didn’t read the original study, since I don’t have access to that journal) was if the level of creativity in the environment with upright lights had a level of creativity that was equal to that in the environment with the dimmed overhead lights. It also didn’t mention whether or not the level of analytical work suffered in that environment.

So, what I take from this study isn’t necessarily that certain work environments should have dimmer or brighter lights, although that might not be a bad idea. I see this more as an indication that you shouldn’t expect people to operate at their peak creativity in just any environment. If you need people to be creative, you need to place them in an environment that they associate with creativity. And the same goes for analytical work. So, if someone has to do both kinds of work, they would perform better at both if they have two different spaces available to them; one geared to creative work and one geared to analytical work. I’ll be doing my best to see how I can modify my current work environment to reflect that.

Startup Engineering Course

online_class.exeI received an email the other day about an online course that I signed up for in January, I believe. The name of the course is Startup Engineering and it is offered by Stanford through Coursera.org. I had totally forgotten about it because I signed up so long ago with some guys that I was working on a project with at the time. With the project over and that many months in between, it just totally slipped my mind. Since it fits so perfectly into my mission to upgrade my skills and create my first online web service/mobile app, I jumped right into it today.

Unlike a lot of online MOOC(Massive Open Online Courses) classes, this one operates on a timeline, like a traditional class. That means it starts on a set day, has course material released on a weekly basis, has weekly graded homework and has a final project with a set due date. If you score well enough, you will get a certificate of completion. This is a good thing because it forces you to stay on schedule if you want to acquire the certificate. I’m definitely interested in the certificate if, but for the same reason that people collect badges on Foursquare. The reward of completing the class and learning is the real prize, but getting the certificate is a nice extra bonus.

So, that means I’m currently taking this course and an Objective-C class. I feel like I’m back in school again. The only difference is that I’m getting less sleep and hanging out with a lot fewer people. That’s okay though, I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’m happy with the direction in which I’m heading. Enough writing for now, I have to get back to class before the professor notices I’m not paying attention.

Week 7 Status Update

Signals

This is going to be the quickest update to date:

  • Exercise: Back on track
  • Meditation: Back on track
  • Coding Course: Slightly Behind
  • Paid Writing: On track
  • Editing: Back on track
  • This Blog: Back on track
  • Product Development: Behind Schedule
  • Parental Responsibilities: On track
  • House Renovations: Ahead of Schedule

Overall, I’m doing better than expected because not only are my house renovations ahead of schedule, but I’m going to have to do less of the work myself. That means I’ll have more time to fix the areas where I am a bit behind, which is great news. My mood is slightly stressed due to too many balls in the air, but that is improving and I’m optimistic that the trend will continue to be positive.