Tech Sandwich, Episode 1

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False Averages and Consensus

Photo credit: Curtis Gregory Perry via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA
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I know, I know – if you wanted to read Seth Godin all the time, you’d just visit his blog.

I can’t think of many writers who I turn to every single day for inspiration, new perspectives, or to refresh my commitment than Seth.

His post today was on point, as always:

Yes, there are true averages (like how high to mount a doorknob). But more often than not, trying to please everyone a little is a great way to please most people not at all.

And it’s true! I worked with someone once who always talked about consensus within the organization. Like averages, a consensus isn’t always a bad thing. But a consensus can be downright fatal as well! In the same way that using a middle-ground product or service to please two groups of people with opposite preferences leaves none satisfied, forcing a consensus between two groups of people with opposing viewpoints can produce an action plan that nobody cares to undertake. You’ll leave the meeting feeling good because perhaps you avoided conflict or appeased the centrist minority, but guess what – your project is dead on arrival.

Sometimes you need to accept that your one group might need to pursue more than one course of action, or perhaps the group simply needs to split into two.

Trello for Desktop is here!

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It was supposed to be available on 9/14.

I checked all day…refresh, refresh, refresh…and nothing.

Then, I thought maybe it would become available on my birthday.

Still…nothing.

So this morning I saw that Trello for Desktop (for Windows) was finally available!

Rejoice!

I’ll spend some time playing around with it some more, but I really like the idea of having the application open and being able to work in my boards locally with changes being synced to the web.

I also like one of their newest features, which is embedding cards. I’m going to give it a test run right now.

Video production card template

Do you use Trello? What are your favorite features? What power-ups do you use on a daily basis?

100 Days

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I’ve been running WaltersWorks in various forms since 2012, but I’ve only been full-time for the last 100 days.

What have I learned in that time?

A bunch, that’s what. I’ll try to break it down in this blog post.

Be patient.

When you’re working a 9-5 job and your business is just a side hustle, you’ve got plenty on your plate to keep you busy. But when you step out on your own…

…it’s often a waiting game.

I’m a pretty level-headed guy, but when your income is project-based and you’re waiting for feedback, approval, payment, etc. I do find myself starting to panic when things are moving slowly.

It’s the nature of the game, though. Several of my projects have pushed well past six months because I’m never going to tell my clients to hurry up. Even when I need that money to come in.

I never let projects fall off track, though. Even if it’s just a reminder email, a quick phone call, or a text to say “hi”, I make sure to give my clients subtle prods. And they seem to appreciate it!

Doug. Your constant reminders keep me on track.

That’s what I’m here for.

Be flexible…

I started out just designing web sites. But over time, I’ve generalized my services – a lot. Once I went full-time I found myself doing work that I never thought I would do. I was transcribing audio files, taking photographs and shooting video, narrating videos, managing social media accounts…even basic computer troubleshooting. I wasn’t going to turn down any work that landed in front of me.

Generalizing like that has helped me to extend my network. I’ve connected with individuals and business owners who have passed along my name to their friends and professional contacts. Doing good work – any kind of work – will get you further ahead than simply waiting for the kind of work you’d rather be doing to show up.

…but know when to specialize.

A month or two ago, I sat down with a mentor from SCORE. One of the things he told me that really stuck with me was not to diversify too much. And he’s right – eventually, every generalist has to specialize. All of the odd jobs I was doing came with a wide variety of hourly rates. I was making anywhere from $5 to $60 an hour depending on the source of the work. I reached a point where I had to cut something out…so I ditched the low-paying transcription work in favor of more specialized web projects.

I still think it was valuable for me to take a wide range of gigs at the onset. Bills to pay, you know? But you have to be ready to transition as opportunities to specialize become available. At some point, you’re going to have to say no to the gigs that aren’t getting you ahead.

Maximization vs. optimization

This idea came to me courtesy of Seth Godin’s blog.

Capitalism sometimes seeks competitive maximization instead. Who cares if you burn out, I’ll just replace the part…

That’s not a good way to treat people we care about, or systems that we rely on.

Reflecting on my various careers, it’s true that we often find ourselves pressured – internally and externally – to maximize. Put the pedal to the metal and churn out as much work as you can, work those nights, work those weekends, churn, churn, churn!

What I found is that burnout is real, and when you reach a point where you can optimize, do it.

Identify your strengths and weaknesses. Are you an early riser or a night owl? Figure it out, and then set up your schedule so that you’re working at the optimum time for you, not based on somebody else’s schedule. Find balance. Make time for you – time to prepare, time to relax, and time to reflect. They say when it comes to finances, you should always pay yourself first. The wise man budgets his time in the same way.

Keep learning.

You never know when the industry you work in will be disrupted. Working in a tech field, I’m sure that the work I do will be automated more and more to the point where web design is literally as easy as making toast. Younger generations are going to enter the working world and they won’t need me to publish across their social channels. Taking photos and videos won’t require a trained eye (heck – they already don’t).

During these first 100 days, I’ve made it a priority to keep learning. I’ve also made a point to keep teaching. Nothing ignites my passion more than learning something new and then sharing it with others. Who knows what the next 5, 10, or 50 years will look like – but as long as I have an open mind and my eyes fixed on the road ahead rather than the road behind, I’ll be okay.

Some Updates, and Goals vs. Systems

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The last month…well, even just the last few weeks…have been an absolute whirlwind.

Let me start with a history lesson.

WaltersWorks has been a long time in the making…I first got the entrepreneurial bug back in 2006, but I was tinkering with web design as early as 2000 or 2001. Back in the days of Tripod and Trellix. I never put a lot of effort into it, however, and even through 2010, I wasn’t working on any big projects or anything, just goofing around. But by 2012 I picked up my first real client (a client I still have, by the way!) and then a second, and a third, and on average I’d be maintaining three or four websites. All this while I worked a full-time job, so my web design was always done off-hours.

But by 2012 I picked up my first real client (a client I still have, by the way!) and then a second, and a third, and on average I’d be maintaining three or four websites. All this while I worked a full-time job, so my web design was always done off-hours.

2015 and 2016 were hard years for me professionally. I wasn’t happy with my day job and so every now and then I’d get the urge to take on more web design clients. Then I’d take one or two on and realize just how little time I had for anything else, and I’d panic. Those were herky-jerky years. I’d get really busy, freak out, and then take some time to get things back under control before pushing again. It was stressful – having one foot in and one foot out at two different jobs. To be honest, I hated it.

2017 rolled around and I went all in. Really, I started in late 2016 but by 2017 I was adding multiple clients every month and my income from the first couple months of ’17 surpassed my entire annual side income from ’16. Of course, this meant less time for everything else – including my growing family. And I struggled to keep my work worlds separate.

SO

My reason for sharing all of that is to say that I have officially left my day job and I’m now devoting 100% of my work time to WaltersWorks. It feels awesome and scary, and ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. I’m picking up work via word-of-mouth and freelancing sites like Upwork. So far it has been good, but as with any self-employment, there is always the reality that there will be good times and slow times. It’s a big change in how we think, how we budget, and how we live.

ADD TO THAT the fact that we just bought a new house! My “office” in our old rental was the corner of an attic that had been converted into a bedroom. I sat on a backless stool, hunched over, peeking around my mic to see my laptop and my notes which were often stacked on top of one another. In our new home, I have a dedicated office/library room and it is wonderful to be able to spread out and work in semi-comfort. I still need to get some new furniture but for now, a fold-up table and a folding chair are better than the old stool. I’ve also got the room for a 32″ monitor on my desk which is amazing.

I’m excited about the new possibilities.

So enough about all of that life-changing stuff. As I consider the new possibilities that self-employment offers, I also do a lot of thinking about the new challenges. In particular, losing my steady income and trying to replace it with irregular income has led me to reach out for financial advice. I just started reading Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and I’m hoping I can get my wife on board. We’re liquidating my pension to pay off most of our debts and eliminate revolving credit, but as Dave alludes to on his show and in his writing, that’s often a temporary solution. Changing attitudes and habits is the key to long-term success.

I think that is true for many things.

Dilbert author Scott Adams wrote something a while back about the difference between goals and systems. I was struck by the idea that systems are more valuable that goals because they speak to action, not to an end result. Coming from a corporate background, “goal” was a buzzword we used often. Goals, however, are elusive – for example, I can say it is my goal to lose 20 pounds but unless I provide the “how” it’s a pointless statement. Systems, however, are based on habits and lifestyle changes…I’ll let Mr. Adams do the talking:

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it – no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That’s a system.

Source: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/102964992706/goals-vs-systems

Brilliant. True story – I lost almost 50 pounds from 2013 to 2015. NOT ONCE did I “set a goal” or pick a number that I wanted to get down to. I did it by finding exercise activities that felt good and then doing them many times. I also came to peace with being hungry and eventually I trained myself to avoid most of the really bad foods and drinks. It worked wonderfully.

So consider how the difference between goals and systems unfolds when you get outside of weight loss. Say you want to build wealth – you can say “I want to save $1,000 for a rainy day,” or you can create a system that you *enjoy* and change your spending and saving habits accordingly. The guy who sets the goal…he might save that $1,000. Or he might not. If doesn’t have a plan for *how* he’s going to do it, chances are he’ll never take the first step toward accomplishing the goal. But if the guy creates a system and puts his spare coins and change in a big ol’ jar and enjoys watching it accumulate over time, he’ll eventually get that money saved up, and then maybe he’ll even go on to save more because WHY STOP THERE?

That’s one of the big differences I found – a goal is the end of the road for a lot of people. Even those who attain their goals probably wind up feeling aimless once they’ve reached them. Who likes the idea of goals leading to more goals, leading to more goals, on and on forever? This is where systems win again. In a system, you’re changing habits and lifestyles to create long-term success. And you can *have* a goal too – let’s just call it something else. Perhaps we’ll call it a “milestone”. So your system’s end result is to “be active every day by running at 6 a.m.” The idea is that you’ll enjoy this, so if you don’t like the idea of running early in the morning then use your imagination and come up with an example you like. You can add a milestone to your system – say, if you do this activity for six months you’re going to adjust your mileage from 2 miles a day to 3 miles a day. At that point it’s more of a good thing, right? Or perhaps you find that you’re losing weight and you hit a point where you don’t really want to lose more – time for a new milestone. Adjust the system.

I’ve got a lot of areas in my life that I need systems for – physical wellness, emotional wellness, spiritual wellness, financial peace, better parenting, satisfaction with self-employment…so I’m going to try to create systems rather than goals, and we’ll see how that goes. Heck, writing on this blog can be a system too.

Have thoughts about anything you read here? Leave ’em in the comments!