Category Archives: Work

A work from home morning.

Gibson graduated out of her crate a couple weekends ago – we worked up to leaving her alone for a few hours in the living room, tucked happily on the sofa, instead of in her puppy crate while we were out of the house.  Everything was going well – happy dog, happy people – until Monday, when we tucked her in as usual, and the mid-day received the text message you never want to get from your dogwalker:  “Hi, Sara – it looks like Gibs chewed up one of your couch pillows.”

Downside:  it was one of the sofa pillows.

Upside:  it was not the sofa, itself.

She’s been destructive before: she likes to shred things.  That behavior, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily separation anxiety … she tries it when we’re around, and we correct her; she’s also taken to destructive behavior when we leave her in the car, which wasn’t definitive:  boredom?  Separation anxiety?  Some kind of poor conditioning timing on our part?  Did she, one day, finally decide to be mischievous and dig in to tearing up a paper bag right before Ryan arrived back to the car, forever clinching in her mind the power of tearing up a paper bag to make her Ryan reappear?  Who knows.

So on Tuesday, she went back into her crate, and mid-day my phone did its buzz-buzz with another note from the dogwalker.  “Sad to report that Gibs has chewed up her crate bedding.”


So no mistake.  It wasn’t a fluke.  It looks like we’ve got a case of separation anxiety to learn how to manage, and hopefully counter condition.  Thank goodness I’ve got a little bit of time off here and there during the holidays, to try to make some progress on rebuilding her confidence and trust.  And thank goodness I’m scheduled to work from home on Friday, and was able to this morning, to help break the pattern of up in the morning, shower and get dressed, put on my jacket, pick up my keys and her moping because she knows from that routine that it’s another day she’s going to be left at home.

It’s strange… working from home used to be a requirement for me.  I nearly quit a job when my boss told me that my schedule would be changing from two or three days a week in the office to five days a week in the office (and ultimately, did quit that job).  I loved working from home full time when I was contracting – there’s the inevitable challenges with staying connected to colleagues, and fewer external pressures to maintain one’s personal hygiene, and the challenges that come with being not physically present in an organization that relies on drop-bys and water cooler conversation to keep the system operating.  But with an organization that’s built for remote staff, many of those challenges are mitigated (except the personal hygiene one, which is solely my personal responsibility after all).  And personally, I really thrive in those types of environments, where I have more control over my schedule, to be able to match my activity to my energy level rather than have my schedule dictated by the needs of a nine to five office and colleagues.

So it was a strange decision for me to go back to work in an office, with an organization where aside from a few long-term long-distance telework staffers, telework is not part of our culture.  The decision was easy – the dominant culture in the office was relatively quiet and introverted; even at my desk in the open floor plan, I could put my “I’m sprinting” flag up, put my headphones on, and really, truly get work done.  I love the building we’re located in (despite its no-dog policy); I love my bus ride to and from work, which gives me the time to knit, or read, or write (like now – I typed out this blog post on the bus). From the beginning, here, I enjoyed being able to arrive in the morning, crank my way through my work, then leave it at my desk when I left in the evening (at least, relative to other work I’ve done).  And in my first half year with this job, I could count on less than one hand the number of work from home days I’ve taken, and haven’t really missed them at all until this week, when Gibson’s separation anxiety flared up.

I guess it’s a reminder that we have to make the best of where we are.  Our work culture has changed – the office is noisier, the dominant culture shifting to a more even balance between extroversion and introversion, and it’s harder for me to get work done there, even with a door to close now.  And that is what it is, and I’ll adapt.  And I can only work from home on occasion, so we’ll make the most of our holiday time to help rebuild Gibson’s confidence about being home alone, and then dole out my work from home days judiciously, both so that she has a little extra company and a shaking up of her routine, and so that I can have the bursts of getting-stuff-crossed-off-the-list that happen when I work from home, that help me stay motivated and dig out of my buried-ness a tiny bit.  On an average Wednesday morning, I’d probably have crossed nothing off my list by 11am, and instead only added numerous items to what needed doing; this morning, I crossed several items off the list and only added one or two things to the list.  Net positive.  I need to figure out how to make my in-office days net positive, more often than not.

So wish us all luck.  Leaving Gibs and my hella productive zone to come in to the office for an afternoon full of meetings was not easy, but I made it.  Cross your paws that Gibs does okay today and tomorrow, and that we can make some progress on her separation anxiety over the holiday.  Any tips in that regard, we’re all ears.

Make my smartphone a dumbphone, please.

A few days ago I did my semi-annual search for the words “make my smartphone a dumb phone” and found the same few  links as the last time I did that search.

A friend of mine discovered AppCertain, an “app nanny” that allows parents to turn off app access for their children (or, if you’re like me, allows my outer grown-up to turn off app access for my inner child).  It lets me put my phone into “curfew mode,” disabling access to all of the phone’s apps, leaving only the SMS text capability and the actual phone itself intact. Upside: unplugged. Downside: no camera and Google Maps. So after a little poking around and thinking about the behavior of mine that I was trying to get a better handle on, I took a pared down approach.

Goodbye, Facebook. Sayonara email. See you later, Twitter. After awhile, web browser.

I still have access to my camera and Instagram, and to Google Maps and my diary app and such, and I still have Flipboard and Feedly. So technically I might see some Facebook and Twitter content when flipping through my news readers.  But there’s still a big difference between flipping through Facebook and flipping through Flipboard:  because of the design of Flipboard, the Internet, at some not too distant point in my flipping, comes to an end.  When that happens, I stow my phone back in my pocket and look out the bus window instead of scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, ad infinitum, my entire way to work.

This little change has freed up enough time for me to notice that I’m neither writing nor exercising anymore. And once you notice a thing like that, and you don’t have a magical infinitely time-sucking device in your pocket anymore, that leads to thinking about the thing you’ve noticed, and then your thoughts turn to wonderings about what your favorite yoga teacher’s schedule is, and you make a mental note to check later on during a quick bit of computer time at home.

Yup.  Still shooting film.  Still loving it.
Yup. Still shooting film. Still loving it.

And then, instead of looking right then and there at the yoga schedule and getting sucked into your deviceworld habits, you think about how little time there is for writing. Alarm clock. Dog walk. Shower. Breakfast. Work. Dinner. Exhaustion. Sleep. A few of those things are mildly negotiable, but somehow it never feels like enough time. So you think about your friend Brendan who just published a book based on scribbled notes on scraps of paper that he scrawled out WHILE DRIVING his car (or van) up and down and around the western United States. And the book made you laugh, and made your eyes well over with tears, and not just because it was written by one of your people.

So this morning, inspired by a writer whose blog was shared with me this week by another writing friend, I packed my off-the-grid iPad so that I could sit on the bus and write a journal entry. Why not? I might not write the next great American novel this way, but I will exercise my writing muscles, at the very least. And this is more words than I would have written scrolling evermore downward through the Facebook app.

So I’ll miss a few baby pictures and cat memes. I’ll still catch most of what’s really important (at least the parts delivered via Facebook) through a daily peek at my “Close Friends” list and during the times I have to get on there for work. I do, after all, still work in social media. But what I gain is more time–that precious resource that, when working a 9 to 5, I never seem to have enough of. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have traded mindless hours in front of the television for only slightly more mindful hours in front of other types of screens, so like many years ago when I left my TV behind, the white space that’s come with being less connected has felt really nice.

How do you keep yourself mindful of your device time?

Ten minutes: July 10, 2013

So, one of these days I’ll write more about my transition back to nine-to-five and putting on pants to go to an office every day, but the very short version is that it’s going far better than I could have imagined.  There are ups and downs, there are challenges, there will be hard days.  And in all of it, there’s lots to learn and teach, and change to adapt to.  And the biggest measure, in my world, is that when Sunday afternoon rolls around, I spend my time immersed in the present of whatever that Sunday afternoon holds:  I don’t dread going to work on Monday morning.  I’ve been keeping a pulse on what it is that’s helping me feel so happy and engaged:  compatible leadership; colleagues who respect my work and what I bring to the team; work that I’m uniquely qualified and suited to doing; but there’s more to it than all that.

And today, I realized what one of those “more to it” things is.

Portent, Inc. sits on the 17th floor of the Smith Tower. On clear days, I gaze out the window at Mount Rainier.

Every Wednesday afternoon the entire company gets together in a training room for a training session called #PortentU. The responsibility for teaching rotates, and volunteers present on a topic — any topic — each week.  The topic today was systems theory, an interest and area of study and learning of mine… in fact, I’m pretty sure that if you put systems theory and Buddhism in a blender and hit puree, you’d come up with the thing that is, to me, the way religion is for some other people.

At one point, Marianne, the speaker, drew attention to an area that we, as a company and team, don’t have as a strong suit.  Confidently.  Just matter-of-factly.  No softening language.  No couching the self-criticism.  No disclaimers or walking on eggshells in order to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.  I anticipated a response of defensiveness — that’s the response that I’d expect in many of the other work settings I’ve been a part of, if someone dared to actually speak up so boldly about one of our own “opportunities for improvement.”  But that’s not what happened.  The audience listened, thoughtfully, as Marianne concluded her presentation.  And then, afterward, during Q&A, our founder and CEO raised his hand, disclaimed that he didn’t want to put Marianne on the spot, and then asked what one thing we need to change.  Marianne gave her one-word answer, followed by a thoughtful explanation, clearly and without hesitation or fear.

Now, this might sound crazy to folks who’ve spend their careers in functional work environments — but, still new here, I marveled that it was perfectly natural for a member of the team to, in front of the entire company, say, “Hey, this is something we’re not awesome at.” And I marveled even harder at a leader not only asking that kind of question, but also, honestly wanting to know the answer.  And I realized, that’s one of those “more to it” things, for me:  the safety, and space, to speak up for what I think and believe.

Oh, and by the way, we’re hiring.

What was your last “more to it” moment?  I’d love to hear your story: post a comment, below.



The in between time

Technically, I did know yesterday — but still.

Last week I found myself walking through downtown Seattle in the pouring rain.  I had an unexpected errand to run, and I wasn’t quite sure how to get where I was headed, since I hadn’t been there before.  I wasn’t in any particular hurry, since I’d planned to be away from my desk for awhile, so I took in the rain, listening to the splash pelt my jacket’s hood.  I took a hopeful turn, then looked down at a glistening patch of gold on the sidewalk, wet with the rain just like I was.  The words in the placard stopped me in my tracks on the busy sidewalk.

There are people who know when they’re nine years old that they want to be a lawyer when they grow up, and others who know they want to be a mom, or a teacher, or a firefighter or a banker.  And those people grow up, and some do those things, and some change plans. And some of us don’t have any idea what we want to be, and we do some things, and we change plans.  When I was nine years old, I think I wanted to be a teacher, or a writer, but I’m not sure — I’ve had long periods of time where I couldn’t remember those things, so I don’t know how accurate that memory is now.

And for a variety of reasons, I’ve spent my career so far not doing those things that I wanted to be.  And it’s been amazing.  I followed the little voice in me that said “I want to do some good in this world” to law school, and then into law practice.  I followed the little voice in me that said “I want to do more good in this world” into public policy work,  and then followed the little voice in me that said “There’s a big world out there that I want to explore” into my one-month stint as a sponsored climber, and into my early roles in the outdoor industry.

And then, somewhere along the line, the little voices got so little, I couldn’t even hear them anymore — or maybe I wasn’t listening, or maybe they just gave up for awhile, or maybe I was exactly where I was supposed to be, so they just kept their little mouths shut and just let me be, for a time.  One opportunity lead to another, and each of my jobs was a blessing in a long list of ways:  I met people and built relationships that I treasure, and that have changed the course of my life.  And I love the work I’ve done, and the people I’ve done it with, and I’ve learned so so much, and grown so much, and have no regrets, whatsoever.

And in the last few months, the “I want to do more good in this world” voice started her drumbeat again, and on Friday of last week I exited my job as gracefully as possible, leaving the work there in very able hands, to shift my focus to figuring out what comes next for me.

This morning I woke up to an alarm clock, but not because I was headed to work.  Instead, I dropped Ryan at work, and then parked the car back at home to take the bus downtown for a doctor’s appointment.  And then, I walked out of my doctor’s appointment into a day that had a long “to do list,” but no other appointments — nowhere I was supposed to be, and nothing I was supposed to be doing for anyone else.  It was getting close to lunchtime, and I had a craving for French Toast, so I grabbed the next C-line to Chaco Canyon in West Seattle, and then started in on my own “to do list,” an album I’ve been wanting to hear playing in my earbuds, checking off things as I go.

Write a blog post.  Check.

It’s difficult to maintain a feeling of abundance when you’re job-hunting, since so many parts of the effort trigger the “scarcity” parts of our brains.  I have moments of anxiety about being between jobs for a time, but the reality is that I will be just fine, and I’m lucky to have my partner, my friends, my family, and myself — complete with a shiny newly updated resume and somewhere around eighteen years of really incredible work experience — to rely on.  When I take inventory of the present, and don’t let myself spin myself up about what might or might not happen in the future, life is so thoroughly good.

And when anxiety does strike, the surest way for me to feel better is to either sit down and write, or pull out my lesson planning for the class I’m co-instructing with the University of Washington starting in January.  Maybe nine-year-old Sara was on to something, after all.

How do you maintain a feeling of abundance?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!