Archive for category lifestyle

Managing Interruptions

Interruptions kill productivity in any work environment and it’s no different if you’re working from home or not. In this post I share some of the techniques I’ve been using for several years to help manage interruptions:

  • The Pomodoro Technique
  • Educate your environment
  • Replay what happened prior to the interruption

The Pomodoro Technique

Check out The Pomodoro Technique website in case you’ve never heard of it. Besides working in focused 25-minute blocks, the main thing I got out of this technique has been tracking interruptions and classifying them as:

  • Internal: have I stopped working on my task because I saw a social network or email notification? Or maybe because I opened the web browser to check one thing related to my task and ended up reading the news instead? Such interruptions are considered internal because I didn’t have self-control and focus to stay on target. That’s easily addressed by shutting off all notifications, at least during that focused time.
  • External: have I stopped working on my task because somebody walked up to my desk and started talking to me? Or maybe because I got pulled into some unplanned meeting? These are external interruptions brought to me. They can be addressed by educating your environment. More on it further down…

I can’t stress enough the importance of taking note of the interruptions, classifying them as internal or external, and finding ways to prevent them from happening again.

Educate the Environment

Let your environment (physical or virtual) know whether it’s ok to interrupt you or not.

  • Let people know that you’re in “do not disturb” mode: put up a flag, a post-it note, your headphones… whatever your token is, just let people know. Don’t forget to put it away when you are available (use the status feature if you’re working from home);
  • Let them know why, if necessary: Depending on the situation, when others know why you’re not available, they are likely to help to keep others from interrupting you;
  • Let them know what they should do if they need you: if they have an urgent situation, let them know to interrupt you by all means. If it’s not urgent, let them know to drop a note such as “I need 5 minutes of your time before 3pm today…”. They can leave a post-it note on your desk or a message in whatever communication channel has been clearly defined. Make sure to get back with them (this is essential for the system to work!).

This is what I have right outside my home-office…

Replay what happened prior to the interruption

A big problem with interruptions is that it takes us an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task. If my task is done on the computer, I’ve found ways to decrease the time it takes me to get back “in the zone”:

Take screenshots: I’ve been using TimeSnapper for a long time. I blogged about this 13 years ago! In nutshell, the tool takes screenshots every 5 seconds. If I get interrupted, I can use the tool to replay the screenshots and jumpstart my mind to put me back in the zone.

Git commits: I’ve also used my commits in Git to get back up to speed after an interruption. If I was heads-down working on a user story, implementing my tests, making them pass one by one, and committing after each step, I can then look at the commits to see the work I had done prior to the last interruption, which helps me get back in the right frame of mind.

Summing Up

If you take anything of this post, this should be it:

  1. Realize you’ve been interrupted;
  2. Determine whether it was an internal or external interruption;
  3. Isolate the source of the interruption;
  4. Put some system in place to prevent the same kind of interruption to happen again;
  5. Some interruptions can’t be prevented, so put a system in place to recover from it quickly.

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Slow Down, Mister!

Back in 2015, I used to have a morning routine that included working out at the gym. Since I get bored working out, I’d often be either listening to audiobooks and podcasts or watching TED talk videos on my iPad. Whenever there was something I wanted to either review or remember later, I’d take a quick note, such as this one: “Slow the #$@! down!

I wrote that note when watching Carl Honore’s “In Praise of Slowness” TED talk. I’ve been since saying that sentence in my mind, deliberately, at times when I realize I’m rushing through things.

Did Michael Jordan really say that?

I’ve either read or heard someplace that somebody asked Michael Jordan how he was able to read a game so well and react so fast to it, and his answer was something along the lines of having an ability to see everything going on around him as if it were in slow motion.

I haven’t been able to fact-check that, but I don’t care, since the idea makes a lot of sense to me: if anything is fast-paced, the best way to succeed at it is to see it in slow motion. But how do we do that without acquiring the powers that only fictional characters such The Flash possess?

How does he make his guitar sound like that?!

I still remember my thoughts when I first listened to Yngwie J. Malmsteen (Swedish Guitarist) when I was a teenager. At the time, I was happy I could play some of my favorite guitar solos found in the music of bands such as Iron Maiden and Metallica. I could learn their songs simply by listening to it.

Then, I start listening to an album by Yngwie and my face is melt; I simply could not understand how he could make his guitar sound like that. I mean, I couldn’t visualize how he was playing that. Certain passages sounded so fast, yet so smooth. I’d pick up my guitar and not have a clue where to start trying to learn one of his licks or solos. I had to see it to believe it. After seeing it, my brain could start processing what was happening.

At one point I got a copy of a VHS tape with his video lessons (holy grail!), and when he slowed down playing some of his licks, only then I believed I could actually learn how to play that (and I did, as we can see in some of my own music).

Practicing playing a guitar has to start slow, regardless of your level.

Motorcycle riding

Riding motorcycle at a race track can be daunting. Things come to you very fast when you’re going 150mph on a straight, or 100mph around a corner! When I started riding at the track in 2017, I did what most beginners do: looked down on the track, instead of further ahead. By the time I got to a corner, my brain didn’t have enough time to process the information and make quick decisions on all the things that I need to do in order to go through a corner properly.

Go slow to go fast”, they say. And that’s true. I needed to slow down to be able to learn fundamentals of track riding. Give time to the mind and body to internalize the actions. As time goes by, muscle memory is built, besides developing better visual skills; instead of looking where I’m going, I learn to look where I want to go next. The better I do that, the more time I give the brain to process everything, so it’s almost like things are coming at me in slow-motion.

Putting the mind and body through the process of slowing things down before trying to go fast makes me a better rider, so I do it as much as I can, which includes riding mini-bikes:

Fast-Thinkers and Improv

I’ve been blogging about my recent experiences in improv. At first, I thought improv would teach me how to think fast. As I focus on thinking fast, I end up stumbling into my own thoughts. That’s similar to blowing up corners at the race track because of not “seeing ahead”, or blowing up several notes in a guitar solo simply because I’m focusing on playing fast.

But then, I found this short video a few days ago, which changed my perspective on it:

“Backing up” in a scene seems equivalent to seeing things in slow-motion.

What did that driver just do?

I guess this has happened to you several times: you’re driving, minding your own business, when all of sudden, another driver pulls up right in front of you (driving out of a parking lot or something like that), startling you really bad.

That does happen to me at times, usually, when my mind has drifted away, as I’m thinking about a million things, except for the one impostant task at hand, which is to safely drive my car. In such situation, it is easy for other drivers to catch me off-guard.

That type of situation can be avoided by using “slow-motion” again. In this case, that means to be in the moment, aware of my surroundings. When fully-aware, predicting what other drivers are about to do becomes easier. We predict when a driver is ready to jump the gun and make a last-minute right-turn, or when a driver will cut you and others off, jumping lanes without using the blinkers, or when a driver will speed up to prevent you from merging into his or her lane. “Slow-motion” here doesn’t mean slowing down the speed of the car; instead, it means our mind can better assess the situation because we’re giving it space to process the information.

I’d like to point out that I believe I’m usually way more aware in traffic than other drivers because I also ride motorcycles (the lack of a “cage” makes one aware in the middle of crazy traffic and drivers).

Software Development: Productivity Tools

I’ve been using productivity tools such as ReSharper and Code Rush for a long time. At first, it was just cool to see how quickly I was able to navigate code, write it, change it. I now see it differently.

To the outside (other people), it looks like I can do those things really fast. Internally, though, doing those things fast allows me to think slowly. Because of the muscle memory built after practicing all those shortcuts, I spent less time figuring what and how I’ll do something, and spend more time thinking why I’m doing it.

In the same vein of giving the brain some room to think, I often take the time to do things the slow way; for example, I may go the command line and type a command character by character, instead of recalling and changing a previous command, or using an alias of some sort. I fall back to this approach when I feel I’m either rushing or unsure as to whether I’m going in the right direction (“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”).

Summing it up…

Slow Down!!

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Does your work define you?

Does your job title define you? Your role? Soon after I moved to the US many years ago, I’ve noticed this thing Americans do that seemed different to me: meeting people for the first time, even at a non-work related place or activity, people would ask me “what do you do?”.

I got used to it and never thought much about it again. Until I ran into this video:

That American youtubber loves Brazil, its culture and its people. In his point #9 on that video, “You’re not your work”, he made me think about the “what do you do?” question again. When asked, I used to think to myself: “well, I do a lot of things… what exactly does this person want to know?”.

What do you do for a living?” would be a more specific question. But that’s where the main difference lies: Brazilians, as pointed out by Tim, don’t define themselves by their job title.

I’m one of those fortunate people who do love their jobs, but I certainly don’t let my job title define myself. Doing so would be very limiting, I believe.

When people ask me that question nowadays, I tend to immediately break the ice by saying something like “well, it depends on the time of the day, or to whom you ask!”. Such response allows the conversation to go many different routes, opening up exploration paths that could lead to the creation of a better connection between the other person and me.

So, what defines you?

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One Full Year of Daily Meditation!

I’ve finally done it: a streak of 365 days of meditation!

Let me tell you why this is a big deal to me…

It’s NOT about the achievements!!

Over the last 4 years or so, I’ve blogged about (or mentioned) meditation. I’ve been consistently meditating daily for the last 365 days. However, it wasn’t always like this.

The app I use for guided meditation, Headspace, like many others, award you with badges based on your streak of days meditating: 1 day, 3 days, 10 days, 15 days, 30 days, etc. Getting up to 30 days was relatively easy for me: come on, 10 minutes a day shouldn’t be that hard! However, the next badge after that is for 90 days.

In order to hit that next mark, at some point I started cheating: there were days where I was too busy with everything else, so I’d start the guided meditation on the app, and proceed with doing whatever else I was doing. Yeah, just so I could earn my super badge. Really?!

Fortunately, my blog tagline’s got to me: “Why do we do this again…?”. Oh, the shame.

With that realization, I got back on track, now decided that I’d never cheat like that again; if I had to miss a day because I couldn’t honestly afford 10 minutes to meditate, I’d simply start over from day 1.

Guess what? I did find time to meditate!

I remember reading or hearing somewhere: “If you don’t have time to meditate 10 minutes, you should meditate 20 minutes”. There’s a lot of truth in that. Over time I started meditating 15 minutes, and then got to 20 minutes (I have pulled back to 15 minutes a few months ago after adding a couple minutes to the evening, too, but I’ll likely go up in my morning session again soon).

But the streak was broken again… and again…

I got my for the 90-day streak. And then for 180 days. But then, one weekend in mid 2017, I camped at a racing track and thought: “yikes, how am I going to meditate here?”. And I skipped two days of meditation. I then convinced myself there’s absolutely no reason to meditate wherever I am, and ever since, I have meditated inside of my camping tent, inside of my car, at hotels, at work… I don’t care.

After that, how would I get to the next (and last) badge, for 365 days? Well, that one couldn’t be easy.

At one moment, I passed 200+ days, but then I had one bad day when the sun didn’t want to smile at me and the streak was broken. I started over.

Then, I passed 300+ days. And then again, a mix of a bad day and a timezone change for a trip to Europe have caused that streak to be broken again. Man, so close…

…and finally, 365!!

I’ve really earned this badge:

If there’s a day that’s, let’s say, complicated, I will NOT skip meditation. I may have a short session (the minimum I did was 3 minutes), but I’ll still sit down, put myself together, meditate, and then carry on.

Now I just have to keep doing what I’m doing, collecting the benefits of living a mindful life, and eventually, I’ll get to 2 thousand meditation sessions completed. 🙂

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Inspiring Others

My “Testing in Agile: From an Afterthought to an Integral Part” is becoming a hit: I’ve been receiving great feedback and compliments from attendees and many requests to deliver it as a Lunch and Learn at their companies (drop me a note if you’re in the Houston or surrounding area, and I’ll come to your company, too!). I’m so pleased with the response I’ve been getting that I really feel like working on polishing the presentation further (better title, better description, etc.).

One of the points I bring up on this presentation is my “No GWT, no code!” movement. 🙂
As it turns out, people are responding well to that! At some conferences and user groups, when I mention the movement (which initially just came out as a funny remark), I hear attendees saying out loud “YES!!!”. But now, the coolest thing happened… check this out:

I just got to the Improving Houston office and had an envelope that came in the mail for me. What is it?

Yes, “No GWT, no code.” stickers!!

An attendee to my talk at one of the conferences felt inspired, got these made, and mailed it to me. How awesome is that?!

The realization that you’re inspiring others with your work and attitude brings so much joy, while it also keeps the flame burning, providing energy to keep pushing forward. You should try it, too!

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My thoughts on “Fake until you make/become it”

A couple of years ago I bumped into this TED talk: “Your body language shapes who you are”, by Amy Cuddy. I enjoyed the whole bit in regards to one’s body language. However, at one point she puts out the thought “fake until you make it”, or “fake until you become it”. That’s all good, except that a number of people takes the concept in a direction that doesn’t appeal to me.

A couple of months ago, that same video/mantra came up at a meeting, and it seems like a lot of emphasis was put on the “fake” part.

Earlier this week, during another meeting, we were discussing “trust behaviors”, more specifically, integrity. The “fake until you make it” mantra came to my mind again. And a day later, a Facebook friend posted about it as well, also expressing concern about the subject. I figured it was about time to put my thoughts out.

To me, the word “fake” carries a bad vibe with it. I don’t personally want to be associated with it. Here’s the definition found at a dictionary:

Fake: a thing that is not genuine; a forgery or sham: the painting was a fake. A person who appears or claims to be something that they are not.

I don’t like the idea of somebody “faking” about knowing or being able to do a certain thing just in order to get a job or a customer. Besides misleading others, that person also has to live with that notion: “I told others I am this or I can do that, but I know I’m not or I can’t”. And maybe even worst, such person is closing the doors to be helped by others.

Let me explain. Let’s say a person is NOT a software developer, but has taken interest after reading a book about it and writing some code here and there. If that person lets others know “hey, here’s my experience so far. I’m currently NOT a software developer, but I REALLY want to become one. I don’t know how to get there, so I’m looking for opportunities, to get help from anyone who could offer some guidance.”. Or maybe the person already knows what she needs to do to get there: “I’ve read book X, built a simple application to practice the concepts, reached out to a group of folks who are actively working on something similar…”, and so on. That’s very transparent and sets expectations properly. I believe that, by acting this way, one tends to attract people who value that kind of attitude and doesn’t think twice about offering a hand.

But wait: there’s another side to this approach!

There is the aspect of changing your attitude towards someone you’d like to be, but you aren’t yet. Maybe you want to be a rockstar, so you crank up some music really loud and start playing hard your air guitar! Nothing wrong with that (unless, of course, you’re auditioning for a band).

Projecting an image in the mind is a great way to tell the brain “hey, that’s what I want to be… you’re smart; figure it out for me!”.

I’m all up for conditioning the mind and body. For example, I ride fast motorcycles at race tracks. Say I’m going to be riding at a track I’ve never been to. When I am preparing for it, I pick up my iPad, load videos from riders riding the track, go to the garage, put my bike on the stand, and watch the videos while seated on the bike. As I do so, I tuck in behind the windscreen when the rider is accelerating on a straight, then I sit up right when the rider enters the brake zone, and I also slide my butt off the seat, in preparation to lean into the corner.

Is that “fake riding”? I don’t think so. I’m not trying to full anyone; I’m only conditioning my mind and body, creating some muscle memory, giving my brain time to process little bits of information in a safe environment, before I’m doing the real thing.

A very valid similar approach is great for people who want to either start or get better at public speaking: see Toast Masters.

Summing up: instead of being a “fake”, I rather make it clear where I want to get to, get help, and give help on my way there!

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My Successful 30-day Ever Better Challenge

On my 2018: Annual Review post, I’ve mentioned I was going to try a 30-day Ever Better Challenge in order to address one of the items I didn’t do so well last year: exercising more!

My challenge was to do at least 20 minutes of any sort of physical activities every day. How did I do? Nailed it!

I have not skipped any day.

The physical activity (that is, related to exercising) I enjoy the most is rollerblading. I’ve done it three times during this challenge. Each time lasted a full hour, non-stop, in which I cover about 8 miles. Two out of those three times actually happened back-to-back on consecutive days; at first, I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, but I actually did! That’s an option I like because it is a good workout for my legs and lower back, good balance, and I use that time to listen to podcasts, audiobooks, music, etc. All of that, surrounded by a nice scenery.

Unfortunately, I can only go rollerblading on a more frequent basis when Daylight Saving Time starts, so I have time going to the park when I’m back from work.

The majority of the days (21 days), I did roughly 20-minute sessions as soon as I got back home from work. The ritual is:

  • say hi to the family,
  • make sure everyone’s well and nothing is required from me immediatly,
  • change into workout clothes,
  • exercise!

I now go through that flow without thinking about it, so I believe the habit is being formed.

I perform activities that can be done inside of the house: pull-ups, jumping on a mini trampoline, weightlifting.

In this period, I was out of town for 4 days. During those days, I walked an average of 4 miles each day, and I considered that my physical activity for the day, as I was out and about most of the time and there wasn’t much else I could do.

Another benefit I get from this is that I get to watch some good videos (TED and the like) while I’m exercising.

Moving forward, I’ll continue following the same rituals, and will add a couple more reps to what I do when exercising at home.

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