Category Archives: life

Reducing my consulting

I’ve been gradually scaling down my consulting. I started with a plan for consulting 3-4 days a week. Then I shifted to 2-3 days. Now I’m planning to target a regular schedule of one day per week, with extra for when there are important projects. I’ve been helping other team members pick up my skills, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with that. I think consulting one day a week will be a good next step in terms of giving me a deeper experience of self-directed time while still building on excellent client relationships.

What would be different if I work one day a week? I think this might be a new tipping point, since I’ll have a larger block of focused time – up to four days, compared to the bursts of single discretionary days of a Tue/Thu schedule. I’ll find out whether I can keep enough context in my head to make the most of spread-apart days, and if the mental leakage is worth it. Alternatively, I might experiment with working two afternoons a week, which still breaks up the week but allows for more responsiveness and momentum.

At the moment, I find it easier and more fun to work on specific people’s ideas and challenges rather than come up with my own solutions for the gaps I see. That said, I’m starting to branch out and make things that I think people will like, and these have turned out to be surprisingly helpful. Still, I’ve got a fair bit more to learn before I can be one of those idea-slinging entrepreneurs.

What do I gain from consulting?

  • The impetus to solve specific problems (learning a lot along the way)
  • The fulfillment of working on larger achievements
  • Taking advantage of other people’s skills without having to do the coordination myself
  • Feedback and ideas from other people
  • Interaction with a good team
  • A bigger safety net (financial and professional)

What other experiment modes do I want to try?

  • Active leisure: learning, writing, drawing, cooking, exercising, etc.
  • Product development: using writing, drawing, and coding to practise creating things outside the time=money equation
  • Open source contribution/maintainership: learning boost from commitments?

I suppose I could toss myself in the deep end and try a 0% schedule earlier rather than later. I’m planning to take a few months to look into this add-on development thing, and that should give me some more information on what I need to learn and whether I can get the hang of it. =)

Much to try…

Avoiding spoilage with bulk cooking

We’d been letting some vegetables and cooked food go to waste, so I’ve been tinkering with how we prepare our meals in order to reduce spoilage. Here’s how we now cook in bulk.

During the weekend, we review the past week’s leftovers and freeze them as individual meals. We packaging food in individual lunch-sized containers (~500g, including rice) until the freezer is full or the fridge leftovers are done. I label the containers using painter’s tape and a marker, writing down the initials of the recipe and a number for the month. For example, chicken curry prepared in July is labeled CC7.

I prepare one or two types of dinners. I usually pick bulk recipes based on what’s on sale at the supermarket. If there are unused groceries from the previous week (sometimes I end up not cooking things), I prepare a recipe that can use those up: curry, soup, etc. I start a large pot of rice, too, since I’m likely to use that up when packing individual meals and we go through a lot of rice during the week. We’re more likely to enjoy the variety if it’s spread out over the coming weeks. Freezing the leftovers means we can avoid spoiling food out of procrastination.

After the food is cooked, I put portions into our large glass containers. That way, we have a little room to cook fresh dinners during the week (which W- likes to do), but we also have some backups in case things get busy. We alternate the prepared dinners for variety. For some meals that are inefficient to portion out, I just keep the entire pot in the fridge. If there’s more, I’ll freeze the rest as individual portions. If the freezer is full, I’ll keep the extras in the fridge.

When it comes to the freezer, individual portions are much more convenient than larger portions. You can take one to work and microwave it for lunch. Sometimes I pack larger portions (ex: pizza, pasta sauce), so we need to plan for that when defrosting them. If a dinner portion is thawed in the fridge, it has to get eaten since it can’t be refrozen (unless we re-cook it, which we rarely do).

Our costs tend to be between $1.50 and $3 per portion. For example, the Thai curry I made last time resulted in 20 portions out of $22.39 of groceries. Even if you account for the spices and rice in our pantry, it still comes to a pretty frugal (and yummy!) meal. Sure, there’s labour and electricity, but I enjoy cooking and we schedule it for the lower electricity rates of the weekend. Well worth it for us, and we’re working on getting even better at it.

Aside from reducing spoilage, I’m also working on increasing variety, maybe cooking smaller batches and cooking more often during the week. I’d still like to use the freezer to spread out meals over an even longer period of time so that we can enjoy different tastes. Getting the hang of spices, ingredient combinations, and cooking techniques will help me with variety, too. So much to learn! =)

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!