Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finding Clarity When You Can’t Focus

I have found myself immersed in change over the past two months at work.  In the last 60 days, the following items have changed in my work life:

  • My job
  • My boss
  • My work subject matter
  • My office location
  • My direct reports

These are just the high level items, and each of them has a cascading effect on down-stream items.  Maintaining clarity on what my strategic goals are has been a challenge.  I have had a lot of support from Barbie as well as my new team at work while I complete the transition into my new environment.

I have also been looking for some outside resources to help me during this time, and one of the best is a blog maintained by Dave Cheong.  Dave tends to think and blog in lists (which I totally love).  I tend to think in terms of sequence, so I can easily apply his lists to my own methodologies.  Below is one of the lists that I really like and have shared with several co-workers and friends:

18 Ways to Stay Focused at Work

  1. Write out a daily task list and plan your day. There’s nothing like a task list sitting next to you to keep you focused. When you have a list of the things you need to accomplish in a day, having that close to you constantly reminding you of what needs to be done is a great way of keeping on track.
  2. Allocate time slots colleagues can interrupt you. In a busy work place, people are moving and talking all the time. If you play a role in a team where others need to interact with you, try allocating a time slot they can interrupt you. Instead of having people stop by your desk every 10 minutes and asking you questions, let them know of a time in the day, say between 2-4pm you can be interrupted. At all other times, you can really get some work done.
  3. Apply time boxing.  Instead of working at something till it is done, try working on it for a limited period, say 30 minutes. By that time, the task is either completed or you allocate another time slot, perhaps in another day, to pick it up again. This way, you keep your work fresh and engaging throughout the entire working day.
  4. Setup filters in your email. If you spend a lot of your time communicating and planning in front of your computer, chances are you deal with emails on a frequent basis. Setting up filters in your email client can be a great way of sorting out what’s important and urgent from personal stuff which can wait. Instead of dealing with a single Inbox with hundreds of unread email, you only need to deal with smaller folders categorized by project, priority and context.
  5. Do not check personal email in the morning. Checking personal emails can be very distracting even with filters setup. This is especially true when your friends send you links to interesting articles, jokes or videos on YouTube. If you’re not careful, you can get side tracked for hours. Instead of checking your personal email as soon as you get in, try starting work straight away. This will build up some momentum as you ease into your work day. You should check your personal email only after you have a few tasks completed or underway. Also, if you don’t want to perpetuate a particular distracting email thread, just don’t reply to it until after work.
  6. Set your IM status. If you use Instant Messenger, when you don’t want to be disturbed, make use of the status and set yourself as being away or busy. Your friends and colleagues will honor that. They can either send you an email or look you up later when you aren’t as busy.
  7. Listen to the right types of music. Music is a great way of settling into the working routine. In addition, having music can drown out office noises like printers and background chattering. Be careful though, depending on personal preference, some types of music are not particularly conducive to productive work. For me, I can’t work when listening to songs with lots of lyrics because the words interrupt my thinking process.
  8. Use the headphones but leave the music off. Some people prefer to have absolute silence when working. I think that also depends on what kind of work you are doing. If you’re doing some serious planning or something computational, having music blasting in your ears may not be the best thing for keeping focused. Try using headphones or ear plugs to block out the background noise but leave the music off.
  9. Fill up a water bottle. Keeping yourself hydrated is pretty important for all sorts of health reasons. Instead of going to the water cooler with your glass every hour, try filling up a water bottle at the start of the day. This does a couple of things - firstly, it limits the starts/stops associated every time you get up for water and secondly, it avoids being sucked into lengthy discussions around the water cooler.
  10. Find the best time to do repetitive and boring tasks. No matter how much you try to avoid it, you’re going to have to face doing things which are either repetitive or boring. For these tasks, I find it is best to choose a time in the day to work on them. For example, I’m more alert at the start of the day, so it’s better to work on things which require brain power early. Working on boring tasks that can be done via auto-pilot are better left towards the end of the day when I’m usually tired.
  11. Bring your lunch and have it at your desk. I’m not suggesting you do this every day, but if you really have to focus and are trying to meet a deadline, having your lunch at your desk really helps. The normal one hour lunch break can really interrupt any momentum you might have built up during the morning. I find when I’m eating lunch at my desk, my lunch breaks are shorter and I can get through a few emails while I’m eating. After I’m done, I’m straight back working on the next task.
  12. Don’t make long personal calls. Most of us have a good separation between our working and personal lives (or a least try to). I think we can all agree we should avoid having work intrude on our personal time as much as possible. The reverse of this also applies. Try limiting the time you spend doing personal things during work as they can be distracting and draining on your motivation. For example, you do not really want to be thinking about your weekend away with your spouse when you really need to get things done.
  13. Clean up your desk. Some of you may have desks which can only be described as ordered chaos. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as you can find what you need without too much digging around. However, if you can’t, I suggest cleaning up your desk. That doesn’t mean having an empty desk, it just means having neat stacks of paper, all filed in the correct location. It also helps tremendously having all the things you need easily within arms reach. For example, if you need a place to write, having your pen and notepad close by and easily accessible is incredibly useful.
  14. Get a good chair. If you sit for long hours at your desk and I’m sure some of you do, you might find it helpful to get a good chair. I find it’s pretty hard to stay focused when my neck and back are sore because I have a bad setup at my desk. A good chair can eliminate this, allowing you to work for long stretches without breaks and physical distractions.
  15. Use shortcuts on your computer. If you find you do the same thing with your computer more than once throughout the day, you might find it helpful to look for ways in which you can do them without too much manual repetition. For example, if there’s a project folder you access all the time, try adding a shortcut to your Explorer or Finder so you can get access to it with a single click, instead of expanding folder after folder in the tree panel.
  16. Close programs you’re not using. As a software engineer, I use a lot of programs important to my work. However, in most cases, I only need a few applications open at the same time. Instead of Alt-Tabbing constantly and fighting the computer to locate the program you need, try only having the applications you need open. Close everything else. For example, if you have already located a file and no longer need a particular Explorer or Finder instance open, close it. There’s no reason to leave it around at all.
  17. Limit time on news sites and blogs. I don’t think I need to say too much about this. There are so many sites on the Internet worth looking at. News sites and blogs are great from an interest perspective, but they can really take you away from the work you should be working on. Try to limit going to these sites during the working day. If you really have to, try doing it during your lunch time. No, you don’t need to have your finger on the pulse every single minute of the day…
  18. Change your mindset and make work fun. For me, I find it difficult to stay focused on doing things I’m not by nature interested in doing. In most cases, there’s probably nothing I can do about it. However, be mindful of the fact that your perception of work is something you can control. For my last tip here, I suggest you try changing your mindset or turning work into a game. An unfocused mind, is an unchallenged mind. So make things fun!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Love, BBQ, and noticing the details

So, the title of this post can lead to quite a few predictable stories.  I guess that’s the point.  One of the things I really miss about Albuquerque is a chain of restaurants called Rudy’s BBQ.  Rudy’s is a Texas BBQ joint, that takes pride in being all about the basics.  From picking up your drink from a troff full of ice, to ordering the meat of your choice by the pound, it’s all about cutting to the chase and getting to the good food.


Now living in the south, I am well aware of more than 8 different kinds of queue and all of them are very distinctive.  With that little disclaimer, I must say that Texas BBQ is one of my absolute favorites and Rudy’s is the best in that category.


For my birthday this year, my loving wife treated me to a nice surprise with some good Rudy’s BBQ sauce and rub.  Not only that, but she actually made a nice BBQ dinner with pulled pork sandwiches.  I was literally in HOG HEAVEN!


To be honest, I was in heaven for a few days as I had BBQ leftovers for a couple days, and decided that everything was better with Rudy’s BBQ Sauce.  However, I have since put myself through a quick self-administered 12 step program to wean myself away from the rest of the bottle.


Yesterday we were relaxing at home and I was flipping channels on TV.  Still basking in the afterglow of my Rudy’s experience, I thought my eyes were deceiving me as I came to the Nascar Nationwide Series broadcast from Milwaukee.  The race was already in progress, and I really wasn’t planning on watching it for more than a few minutes.  That is until I saw the car below on the screen!

I was shocked that I had not only not seen this car with my favorite BBQ Restaurant and sauce before, but was flabbergasted that the ream that owned the car is one of Barbie and my favorites.  This car is driven by Brad Coleman for Joe Gibbs Racing!  Incredible.   I think I have a new driver to cheer for.  :-)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Green Thumbs…

After a month and a half of tending to it, our patio garden has come to life and is beginning to bear fruit! The most significant growth has been on our tomato plant. So far we have six tomatoes that are growing on the vine.

As we expected, the tomato plant has been consuming water almost as fast as a person. Even with rain almost every other day, the soil under the plant is always absorbing more water.

Our rosemary plants are also growing very well. Last year we successfully grew rosemary, but we found out the hard way that it doesn’t need as much water as anything else. Because if that, the heavy rains last month were a little concerning. But, even with that rain, our rosemary is still growing healthily.

We haven’t harvested any of the rosemary yet to cook with, but at this point it may be a race between it and one of the peppers to be used first. We had a slight problem with aphids on all of our pepper plants, but after a few treatments of organic solutions it looks like we are close to being in the clear.

We have both been surprised that the jalapeño peppers weren’t the first to bear any fruit. The habañero was the first to flower by nearly two weeks which was then followed by the serrano and finally the jalapeño.

After looking at these pictures, take a look at the ones we took as everything was being planted in late April. There has been a lot of progress since then.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Looking Up!

We picked up a new ultra-wide angle lens this afternoon and I have been having a lot of fun with it.  Below is one of the first images I captured with it.  The hue & saturation has been doctored with Photoshop, but nothing has been done to alter the dimensions or clarity of the image.  I am very pleased so far.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Arlington: The Rap!

Big ups to Megan for sending this to us.  This had us rolling when we saw it…and a little jealous that we didn’t see Remy filming it so that we could be extras!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fifteen Funny Sports Quotes

1. “Left hand, right hand, it doesn’t matter. I’m amphibious.” – Charles Shackleford

To be fair… He can actually breathe underwater too.

2. “Any time Detroit scores more than 100 points and holds the other team below 100 points, they almost always win.” – Doug Collins

… Almost? What happens the other times?

3. “I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother and father” –Greg Norman

And all of his other parents he failed to mention.

4. “Rich Folkers is throwing up in the bullpen.” –Jerry Coleman

He’s sick? I hope he can still pitch today.

5. “The drivers have one foot on the brake, one on the clutch, and one on the throttle.” –Bob Varsha

6. “You can sum up this sport [boxing] in two words: ‘You never know.’” -Lou Duva

Only two? Ok, can’t argue with that.

7. “When you get that nice celebration coming into the dugout and you’re getting your ass hammered by guys—there’s no better feeling than to have that done.” -Matt Stairs

Umm… what?

8. “The NFL, like life, is full of idiots.” –Randy Cross

Truer words were never spoken.

8. “He’s a guy who gets up at six o’clock in the morning regardless of what time it is.” –Lou Deva… again.

….Ok Lou, ok.

10. “You don’t like to see hookers going down on players like that.” –Murry Mexted

11. “I dunno. I never smoked any Astroturf.” –Tug Mcgraw

After being asked if he preferred grass or Astroturf, the Tugger responded with this gem.

12. “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.” –Yogi Berra

And just because Yogi gave us so many, a bonus: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

13. “We’re going to turn this team around 360 degrees.” –Jason Kidd

So, you’re going to turn it all the way around and continue in the direction it was originally going? On second thought, maybe you should have stayed in college Jason.

14. “He treats us like men. He lets us wear earrings.” –Torrin Polk

That’s the most important thing a college football coach can offer his team. Earrings.

15. Reporter: “Did you visit the Parthenon while in Greece?”
Shaquille O’Neill: “I can’t really remember the names of all the clubs we went to.”