Keeping Up With Who?

Props to Merlin over at 43 Folders for pointing me at The myth of "keeping up" on stuff.

This is something else that falls out of the concept of "being honest with yourself." If you can look at everything in your life and be truly honest with yourself about whether or not you can realistically do it--or even should--then you can more easily eliminate the "noise" and "stacks of crap" from your life.

Changing Priorities

I was recently asked to drop everything and write up a plan for something. A couple of hours later, I had a reasonably well detailed about what needed to be done. I needed a time estimate for this task--an estimate I wasn't exactly qualified to make. I send out the plan for review. No response. I sent it out again asking for a response. I get a time estimate. The person who had asked me to do this task and told me how critical it was has yet to respond. So much for this task being critical. Makes me feel like I wasted my time.

One thing I've learned to deal with as a support engineer is interrupts. If you think about it, everything a support engineer does is interrupt-driven. Stuff breaks, customers call support, it's a critical customer, all hands on deck, etc. This is part of the job. However, at a certain point, those interrupts need to be prioritized. What order do you address these tasks in? In my job, at least, I've gotten pretty good at assessing what needs to be done in what order. I am not always perfect, and certainly within my life, I could do a better job prioritizing what I need to do. Even so, there are times when I clearly need help.

At my day job, my management generally has a good overall view and generally do a fantastic job helping to keep all these competing priorities in check. If I come to them and ask "which thing do I do first" I usually get a clear answer. I don't always because, let's face it, sometimes that kind of judgement call is tough to make, but then at least my management and I agree on what the priority is and we move forward. That doesn't mean the situation won't get re-evaluated in a few days or even a few hours, but at least there is agreement. Once we agree, the priority generally doesn't change until the critical situation has de-escalated.

If you're going to be in charge, you have to be able to prioritize. Ten years ago when I was a bit less experienced, I worked ever-so-briefly at the Giant Lizard. My manager was telling my team how it was our responsibility to monitor the support queue and make sure we initially respond to our customers within four hours. This was non-negotiable and must be done. Okay, I understood that. I asked avery critical question: if there are two cases in the queue that area bout to hit the SLA, but I can only respond to one of them, which do I choose? His answer: both of them. I persisted: I have five minutes left until both cases hit the SLA. There is no way I can possibly respond intelligently to both cases in this period of time. How do I choose? He still said: both. A real manager would have given some guidelines for choosing which one, or would have understood the situation and given a standard "use your best judgement, do the best you can" answer.

Not only must you be able to prioritize, you need to be consistent in how things are prioritized. What do I mean by consistent? I mean that priorities are set according to a stable set of guidelines that generally don't change. Does that mean priorities won't change? Of course not, they will change anyway. That's because there are plenty of factors outside of your direct control. You never know when a "more important customer" will call and demand that you fix a bug they've found. However, everyone involved will understand why the priorities have changed because there are guidelines in place.

In another example from my day job, I feel that the product I am working on right now is going in a positive direction. Customer issues are getting addressed in a reasonable fashion. Everyone is fairly clear what the expectations are, clear on how things are prioritized, and generally speaking, the prioritization remains stable. Things are progressing extremely well.

I think another thing that goes along with prioritization is the point I brought up yesterday about being honest with yourself. Part of that "honesty" is recognizing your limitations as well as those of the members in your team. Prioritizing your team to do a task they are clearly not qualified to do is not a good use of time, unless of course, it is training within that area. Time is another limitation you must work with. Asking your team members to work 16 hours a day 7 days a week is quite simply unrealistic. However, having clear, consistent, stable priorities allows you to get the things you need to get done right now and not worry so much about the stuff that doesn't get done.

Being Honest With Myself

One of the guys who moderate my FireWall-1 Gurus Mailing List wrote these couple of paragraphs in a private mail exchange. I felt the advice given herein was good enough to share with the rest of the class:

I have been through some rough times and have learned the hard way (enough to risk my job) that it is better to make a clear decision and do what ever you choose to do to do well and let others do the rest. Trying to commit yourself to something which you can not find the time for is not good for those who think they can count on you and not good for yourself either.

Ever since I have been more clearer on this, I feel better about myself and others do feel better about me as well because they can rely on me without second guessing. But I have to admit this was not an easy fight. Me being my toughest opponent to overcome.

What I am finding interesting is that the various advice I am starting to read lately involves the simple, yet very difficult task of being honest with yourself and being honest with yourself regularly. The techniques at 43 Folders for bringing your inbox down to zero, for instance, are all about being honest with yourself when looking at email. Are you going to act on it? Is there some action that this email represents? Well get it done and get that inbox empty! While my inbox isn't exactly zero--it does get there sometimes--but it is definitely a lot more manageable now that I ensure that I manage it daily and keep the message count down into the single digits. While it hasn't made me completely ecstatic, it has made my life seem a little less hectic.

Being honest with myself is tough, as this post I wrote about moving the FireWall-1 content on my site to shows. It took me a long time to make the realization that post represents. Of course, some people lie to themselves for a lifetime.

There are plenty of areas in my life where I need to be a bit more honest with myself, I will admit. However, at least I am seeing the need to do it, which is a step up from before. :)

The Ten Commandments

For the past several years, ABC in the US has shown the legendary Charlton Heston / Yul Brynner flick The Ten Commandments. Even 50 years later, this movie is still quite a cinematic feat. The special effects definitely show their age, but I'm sure they were great for their time. The acting is top-notch and the story is, of course, as timeless as The Bible.

Another Day-Before Easter in Seattle

When I lived in California, rain pretty much caused activities to grind to a halt. Here in the Seattle area, things generally happen rain or shine. Today was no exception as our neighborhood had our annual Easter Egg hunt in the rain and had a fairly good turnout. Even the Easter Bunny sat out in the rain and took pictures. My daughter didn't go because she's a little bit too young to be out in the rain for that long.

And of course the rain continued for my son's tee-ball pictures, which had individual pictures done under tarps and the team pictures done out in the rain. I feel sorry for the kids who had to get on both knees in the mud. I also feel sorry for the parents who have to wash the white pants the kids some teams had. Fortunately, Jaden's team wears black pants and he didn't have to kneel.

Tee-ball is a hard sport to do in the rain, though, so we didn't have our Saturday afternoon game today. That and, after dealing with pictures in the rain and the Easter Egg hunt, we weren't particularly interested in being in the rain anymore. My son and I went home and played Monopoly where he once again managed to beat me.

A Long Week

This has been one of the more difficult weeks I've had in a while. I've been sleeping far more than I usually do this week just due to the exhaustion I have been feeling at the end of the day. Part of it is the amount of work that I've been doing, part of it is some of the emotional turmoil going on with a friend of mine.

This weekend, my wife is out of town attempting to enjoy herself with a couple of friends. That leaves me taking care of the kids, which isn't so bad, but between the lousy weather and being the end of Spring Break, not all of our usual weekend activities are available. It is a bit of a challenge to keep them entertained and get everything else done too.

Last night was a bit of a challenge as I ended up having to strip and remake my daughter's bed while holding her. Nothing like a bit of barf to make things interesting. Today was a bit of a challenge because my son and I were butting heads more often than usual--it is sometimes so painfully obvious that Jaden is my kid it's scary.

On the plus side, Jaden and I played Monopoly and I got soundly beaten by him. I just wasn't getting good dice rolls. He managed to build up just enough so that a fatal visit to Pennsylvania Avenue was enough to bankrupt me. Since he's still learning the ropes--after all, he's not even 6 yet--I aml ooking forward to the day where he can beat me totally unassisted and I can actually unhandicap myself. My wife thinks I play "too hard" with him, though, but she obviously doesn't know how I play when I play for real. What's scary is how much of the strategy I am "teaching" him is already starting to sink in.

A Positive Week

Overall, I have to say this has been a productive week in the office. I managed to get a lot done, make some positive "first impressions" on a person that has the potential to be a future boss, and received encouraging news about my future. Considering I've heard and seen a lot of bad news over the past few months, it's nice to know my employer still values my services. The news I received undeniably confirms that.

It was not all positive this week, though. A co-worker in a different group passed on this week, losing his long and drawn-out battle with cancer. Given everything this person went through during the end of his life on this world, he was truly an inspiration. Even has his health deteriorated and he experienced what can be best described as bad luck, he was always positive and didn't complain about his situation. I am happy to have known him and hope that he finds peace in the afterlife.

Nothing Like a New Challenge

Today a co-worker and I had lunch with someone that offered me anopportunity that I haven't had in quite a while: basically a new job.My day job acquired another company recently and this new group hassome support positions open. The products this division supports is abit different than my current area of expertise. No big deal, I canalways learn new products. What they need is someone who has a generalunderstanding of networking, which I definitely have. A co-worker ofmine also has this expertise and is in the process of transitioninginto this group.

Transitioning within a large company givesyou a lot of the benefits of getting a new job without a lot of thedownsides, namely the loss of seniority and redoing your entier benefitpackage. It's also good for the new group because you are basically aknown quantity and they don't have to go through as much red tape toget you. It's a win-win.

This manager I had lunch with wasparticularly gung-ho. "When can you start?" he asks us. This co-workerof mine will probably transition in a month or so. The project I amcurrently on is winding down, but probably won't wind down until theend of June at the earliest. There is no way I could transition beforethat. I have to get some people in a different office up to speed totransition my work to them--something that already in the pipelineanyway, but it takes time.

I was feeling a bit rushed intomaking a decision about this. I could totally sense the urgency in thismanager. I have to say, he was extremely high energy, clearly knew themarket, and would be a great person to work for. I know that I have alittle bit of time to think about it, so I'm not going to make any rashdecisions. But it looks like a great opportunity that, unlike mycurrent project, appears to have some life to it. And I got scared fora little bit and even a little excited.

I think I nowunderstand what it is that I've been missing for a while: a newchallenge to conquer. A new product. A new situation. New people towork with. New customers. New situations. For too long now I haveexperienced "too much" of the same. The same customers. The sameproblems. I'm just bored. I think it's the reason I lost my desire towork with Check Point FireWall-1 (though, ironically, I installed ittoday for the first time in two years).

I suddenly understandwhy a friend of mine is big into working in small startups and thenleaving after they reach a certain point in their evolution. Iunderstand why people change job every few years. I understand whypeople are serial entrepreneurs. The thought of a new challenge mustenergize them.

I remember some of my "new challenges" and how itgave me some extra energy. I remember when I first started at my dayjob in 1999. I knew I had a bit to learn, but I was also good at what Idid and I had something to prove--that I could be effective workingseveral hundred miles away. I remember in 2003 when I was given anopportunity to try something new with Knowledge Management. I didn'tknow how over my head I was going to get when I started, but I embracedit and took it on as a new challenge. I ultimately ended up backsupporting products again a little over a year later, which itself wasa new challenge due to the fact it was a different product. Each one ofthose changes was an infusion of energy.

I think I understandwhy I like new gadgets: they too can be a new challenge. Unfortunatelytheir challenge is short-lived since they tend not to be too hard tofigure out and decide if I want to integrate it into my daily life ornot.

Bottom line: my day job needs a new challenge. Fortunately, I see it on the horizon.

The Ever-Evolving Job

As many of you know, my day job is with a large, multinationalcompany. I didn't know how things would progress whe I started in early1999, but it has been quite an adventure that has stretched mycapabilities and even my endurance. Having a family to support(hopefully) increases your constitution for dealing with job adversity.At least you have some reason for enduring it all.

Meanwhile,some changes are afoot for my job. It's fairly clear what I will bedoing for the next few months. It is unclear what the future beyondthat holds. It is quite likely I will be repurposed as I have been inthe past. Some possibilities have been thrown out, but I clearly needto flesh those out in detail. That is something I hope to accomplishthis week in the office.

Meanwhile, some projects I am involvedwith at Voxilla are coming along quite nicely. I am looking forward tothose projects seeing the light of day. Can't say much about them, ofcourse, but it is nice to see the progression.

Walk The Line

I finally got a chance to watch the movie about the life of Johnny Cash. I personally liked the movie. Maybe I enjoy seeing a bit of the "reality" of a famous person, which isn't always pretty. I also didn't mind the music either, which this movie had a lot of. I don't usually listen to Johnny Cash-style music, but I enjoy many of Johnny Cash's songs.

My wife, on the other hand, doesn't understand why this movie is popular. The thought it was too long and a bit strange, but at least the strangeness was based on a person's actual life rather than something completely made up. But then again, most of the "popular" movies we've watched together she didn't get either.