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Thinking about rewards and recognition since I’m on my own

One of the things a good manager does is to recognize and reward people’s achievements, especially if people exceeded expectations. A large corporation might have some standard ways to reward good work: a team lunch, movie tickets, gift certificates, days off, reward points, events, and so on. Startups and small businesses might be able to come up with even more creative ways of celebrating success.

In tech, I think good managers take extra care to recognize when people have gone beyond the normal call of duty. It makes sense. Many people earn salaries without overtime pay, might not get a bonus even if they’ve sacrificed time with family or other discretionary activities, and might not be able to take vacation time easily.

It got me thinking: Now that I’m on my own, how do I want to celebrate achievements–especially when they are a result of tilting the balance towards work?

When I’m freelancing, extra time is paid for, so some reward is there already. I like carving out part of those earnings for my opportunity fund, rewarding my decision-making by giving myself more room to explore.

During a sprint, the extra focus time sometimes comes from reducing my housework. When things relax, then, I like celebrating by cooking good meals, investing in our workflows at home, and picking up the slack.

I also like taking notes so that I can build on those successes. I might not be able to include a lot of details, but having a few memory-hooks is better than not having any.

Sometimes people are really happy with the team’s performance, so there’s extra good karma. Of the different non-monetary ways that people can show their appreciation within a corporate framework, which ones would I lean towards?

I definitely appreciate slowing down the pace after big deliverables. Sustained concentration is difficult, so it helps to be able to push back if there are too many things on the go.

At work, I like taking time to document lessons learned in more detail. I’d get even more of a kick out of it if other people picked up those notes and did something even cooler with the ideas. That ranks high on my warm-and-fuzzy feeling scale. It can take time for people to have the opportunity to do something similar, but that’s okay. Sometimes I hear from people years later, and that’s even awesomer.

A testimonial could come in handy, especially if it’s on an attributed site like LinkedIn.

But really, it’s more about long-term relationships and helping out good people, good teams, and good causes. Since I can choose how much to work and I know that my non-work activities are also valuable, the main reasons I would choose to work more instead of exploring those other interests are:

  • I like the people I work with and what they’re working on, and I want to support them,
  • I’ll learn interesting things along the way, and
  • It’s good to honour commitments and not disrupt plans unnecessarily.

So, theoretically, if we plunged right back into the thick of another project, I didn’t get the time to write about stuff, I didn’t feel right keeping personal notes (and thus I’ll end up forgetting the important parts of the previous project), and no one’s allowed to write testimonials, I’d still be okay with good karma – not the quid-pro-quo of transactional favour-swapping, but a general good feeling that might come in handy thirty years from now.

Hmm, this is somewhat related to my reflection on Fit for You – which I thought I’d updated within the last three years, but I guess I hadn’t posted that to my blog. Should reflect on that again sometime… Anyway, it’s good to put together a “care and feeding” guide for yourself! =)

Recovering from a sprint

Still a little tired from my work sprint, but I’m starting to feel the fog receding. I spent yesterday evening helping at Hacklab, holding up cabinets and assembling Ikea shelves. It was a little bit more work when I could be relaxing or helping out at home, but it will pay off, I think.

My client is a little apologetic since there are some more projects I need to work on instead of relaxing after the hustle of the last project. I can do it, but maybe a little more slowly. (I realized at 5pm that I’d spent the whole day with my buttons misaligned, but no one seemed to notice.) The perils of working on things I like because I want to: I want to leave them poised for success and I want to learn as much as I can, so requests are difficult to resist. But keeping my life in a certain balance helps me have more of those brilliant moments, so there’s something to that too.

I want to pay close attention to this transition. It might be my last sprint for a while, since I’m planning to change my pace to a leisurely stroll, dawdling among the fall leaves. So if this experience of coming down from a peak of concentration – like those programming competitions and website launches in my past – won’t be as common in the future, what do I want to remember about this now?

The preparation can be fun: building a temporary bridge and hoping it can hold up to the weight; planning for contingencies; working long days with good people. When the sprint is on, there’s something thrilling about being able to deal with the little challenges life throws at you. Maybe this is like tennis players getting in the zone. Afterwards, the high of celebration and of plans that worked. The signal to slow down is that light mental fatigue: small mistakes, reduced creativity and energy. I can do two weeks of 50-60 hour work, staying cheerful in the mornings and getting enough sleep, before I slow down; around that time is also when I strongly miss the discretionary time and the time spent at home.
On my own, I probably wouldn’t do any sprints. I’m not a big fan of deadlines and other fixed commitments. I’d probably focus more on steady progress, even if it’s slow. But it is nice to be able to point to something and say, yes, there, that was awesome.

Things to tweak or try this winter

Single digit temperatures have returned to the weather forecasts for Toronto, and people are starting to suit up in scarves. I even saw people wearing gloves. Winter is coming. Eventually. It’s not here yet, but I might as well get ready for it!

I’ve been accumulating quite a collection of winter tips and experiences. Last winter worked out pretty well. What will I try this year?

2014-09-12 Things to tweak or try this winter

2014-09-12 Things to tweak or try this winter

  • More consistent exercise
  • Growing plants indoors: the new Hacklab has a skylight, and I might be able to use the tiny window ledge in our bedroom too
  • Less consulting and more writing
  • Proper sewing: I’m going to get the hang of this eventually! It’s a good skill to have. I can work on finally finishing those box cushion covers.
  • Flashcards, learning: Japanese, Cantonese, Latin; development (maybe build Android apps?)
  • Lots of cooking and fresh meals
  • More vacuuming and tidying up, since I’ll be home
  • Hacklab, maybe twice or thrice a week?
  • More organized reading: book notes, sketches, blog posts
  • Regular sleep
  • New drawing workflow: index cards, sketchbook?

I think it’s time to get a new coat and a pair of winter boots. Oh well! I didn’t find anything I liked in last year’s end-of-season sales, so I guess I should probably reconcile myself to paying full price or close to it.

I liked last year’s idea of thinking in terms of longer nights, since I do tend to divide my activities into day (work, writing) and night (relaxing, drawing). Maybe I’ll play with that some more.

Hey, maybe the Canadian citizenship grant includes cold tolerance. Always wondered why W- and J- think ice cream season is all year long!

Dealing with feeling under the weather

I don’t get sick a lot. When I do, it’s such a relief to be able to take the time to sleep and recover, knowing that I don’t have to rush anywhere. I have a few firm commitments coming up in the next few weeks, so I want to make sure I’m at the top of my game then. It makes sense to take it easy now so that I can reduce the risk of missing out on important things. Besides, W- has my back, and we have a safety net. Even if we don’t get a lot of cooking done during the weekend, we can grab pizza or sushi for J- (since she prefers fresh meals) or dig into the meals we stashed in our freezer.

2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather

2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather

When you’re fuzzy-brained, thinking of options can be difficult. It can be good to think about the trade-offs, backup plans, and workarounds in advance. Knowing what I can swap out and what I need to do can help me get through these fuzzy times a little bit better.

Writing and drawing are a little more difficult during fuzzy times. I don’t feel like I’m writing anything particularly useful or interesting, and I catch myself repeating similar thoughts. Fortunately, I’ve given myself permission to be boring too. I think of these more as notes and raw material that I can collect for a future Sacha who might be able to make sense of things.

A time for all things!

Becoming Filipino-Canadian

Last week, I took the Canadian citizenship oath. Yay! So now I’m Filipino and Canadian, and will probably not have to be so anxious about travel. (Or I’ll end up find new and different excuses why I’d rather stay home, now that I can worry less about being stuck on the wrong side of an immigration counter.)

2014-09-05 Becoming Filipino-Canadian

2014-09-05 Becoming Filipino-Canadian

Excellent timing, since we have elections coming up.

The process was faster than I expected. I lost my passport (well, technically, Canada Post lost it, harrumph) and had resigned myself to the prospect of a delay of year or two. Happy to get this all sorted out earlier!

Crunch mode

I’m working more intensely than I expected to do at this point in time, roughly halfway through my 5-year experiment. I had planned to wind down to two days a week of consulting, or even one or zero. Instead, I’m working on a potentially high-profile project with shifting requirements and technology risk. I can definitely tell the difference between this time, my more relaxed consulting, and the longer spans of time I sometimes spend on personal projects. I feel it in the fuzziness of my mind at the end of the day, the shifts in the rhythms at home, the ebbs of my writing.

It’s good to reflect on the trade-offs I’m making, and to learn from the preferences they reveal. I agree with past-Sacha’s decision: the downside of temporary crunch time for the upside of an intense learning experience and the ability to help a good team at a moment when it matters a lot. I like the team and the work we do. It’s also fun to come up with a neat technical solution that creatively pulls together several pieces and saves the day.

But I can’t let myself get addicted to that feeling. =) It’s too easy to get used to this rhythm, to forget what other days are like. I think I’m about ready to focus on my own stuff for a while, after I get past the milestones I’ve committed to in the next month and a half.

Part of the reason for this experiment is to force myself to explore. There will always be more challenges and opportunities in the consulting world. I like the leisurely pace of unscheduled days and mornings without meetings, and the odd and interesting things you can learn when you meander.

Besides, my current crunch time happens to coincide with W-‘s crunch time at work. I miss the flexibility of being able to take care of all of the house things when W- needs to focus on work. While we’re happy to eat leftovers or reheat things from the freezer, J- prefers freshly-cooked food. I was helping out at Hacklab most of the weekend, and neither W- nor I got much cooking or planning done. Tonight we’re resorting to pizza delivery. (Hmm, maybe I should just scale back Hacklab, socializing, and other optional things for now.) It’s good that we have these options, and what I’m doing is worth it too. Still, observing this gap now will help me make better use of my time later on, when I’ve tilted the slider more towards retirement. Will I actually cook lots of fresh, yummy dinner? I hope so.

I like what I’m doing, and I think it’s worth it for now. And yet I also like the self that the gaps reveal, and the constraints help me have a clearer idea of what I want from different situations. From work, I want learning, tool-building, and generally more upsides than downsides. From recreation, I want that feeling of abundance and play, and the ability to make our home life smoother. There’ll be time enough to explore that, so I’m not worried. I just have to make the most of where and when I am. =)