Working remotely

Many people have experienced working from home for the first time in the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many want to continue doing it. I don’t blame them. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to work from home (or remotely) full-time since 2014. Before that, I worked from home a few days a week as a software engineer for HomeAway (acquired by Expedia.com) in Austin, TX.

Working from home has enabled me to save time by not having a commute and having fewer meetings to do more things that I enjoy, for example, writing posts like this and many more that I never published—going for long walks, taking road trips with the family, and even traveling abroad for more extended periods. However, not everything has been perfect. I do miss the in-person interactions with colleagues and even strangers. Going out to lunch with co-workers, having to wear more than shorts and flip-flops every morning, and having a clear separation between home and work.

Having a clear separation between home and work was probably the hardest thing to do initially, but it is under control now. It is too easy to end up working endless hours with the excuse of how important work is, and continue doing it all of the time when you are home. The truth is, your personal life will always be more important than any job, but understanding this and separating your work from your personal life requires a lot of discipline when working from home.

Some people are not qualified to work from home, and I am not talking about the people who are needed to be in a place physically to do their job; instead, I am referring to the people who are easily distracted and can’t focus on their work and end up slacking off instead. Working from home and doing it successfully requires discipline and effort.

Working from home is feasible and probably the best way for some people to work nowadays. If you can do your job from a computer, then I don’t see why a company wouldn’t let you work remotely if that is what you desire. At the same time, some people enjoy going to an office, working with others, having in-person meetings, etc. The ideal situation is to have a balance, but it is essential also to be part of a team where there is general agreement about the work location and hours.

I am unsure if I will continue to work from home forever, but I know that it has been a positive change in my life for many years. It has made me more productive as I can focus on my work better, and it has also helped me financially as I don’t require a second car, and I save some money in gas and food by not going out to lunch as often as I did when I worked at an office.

In addition, I am trying the four-day workweek, and so far, it’s been positive for me, my team, and my company. I feel more energetic when I am working, I feel happier, and my work-life balance actually exists. When I am not working, I use the time to pursue my hobbies, which also benefit my job. I like keeping up with technology and changes in programming languages, architecture, etc. And more importantly, I feel that I am no longer in this rat race.

Even when I still have a work routine, it is well-balanced, and I have enough time to decide what I want to do with it.

My ultimate goal is to wake up every day and do what I want, where I want, in the terms I want. That is happiness for me.

Adopting a three-day weekend

For over six months, I have worked four days a week, Monday through Friday, and enjoy a 3-day weekend. I am very fortunate that my current employer, and my team, enable me to do this. A flex schedule is something available to many, but few take advantage of this.

I also work from home and have been doing that full-time since 2014. It took a lot of effort to get used to working from home, especially when you have children and your spouse also works from home. But after some struggle and adjustment, it works. The current flex schedule makes working from home even better. It opens up many opportunities to travel with the family, practice more hobbies, or maybe spend more time on existing hobbies.

Working four days a week instead of five took a while to adjust as well. I still have to fight the need to check my work email, Slack, etc. I still feel guilty for doing this, and while my output and quality haven’t been affected negatively, it is still hard to fully enjoy having Fridays off. But why? I think it has been engraved into my mind that to be productive and fair with your employer and co-workers, you need to work at least five days a week.

Working only four days a week instead of five has opened many opportunities for my family and me. For example, we’ve been able to travel to visit our older kids who live in New York City more often than before. We can take long weekend trips to places like Vancouver, Portland, and even California (we live in Seattle). Having Fridays off has given me the additional time to pursue other interests, such as writing and photography.

Working four days a week instead of five also gives me more time to relax and do nothing. It makes me start the week with more energy, a fresher mind, and enthusiasm every week. In other words, the burnout might still be there, but it is much less than before.

The future of work might be people working at any time and any day as they seem necessary. But while we get there, I think adopting a three-day weekend is feasible for most companies and jobs. Maybe we are on the brink of changing the workweek standard from five days to four weeks. In my experience, it will be better for everyone. It will give families more time to spend with each other, more time for people to pursue hobbies and other activities not related to their jobs, an opportunity to travel more, etc.

A little bit of history… In 1908, a New England cotton mill instituted the first five-day workweek in the United States so that Jewish workers would not have to work on the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In 1926, Henry Ford began shutting down his automotive factories all Saturday and Sunday due to pressures stemming from the October Revolution, which witnessed the ruling class persecuted for not giving the laborers dignifying conditions. In 1929, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was the first union to demand and receive a five-day workweek. The rest of the United States slowly followed. Still, it was not until 1940, when a provision of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act mandating a maximum 40-hour workweek went into effect, that the two-day weekend was adopted nationwide.

Maybe it will be in this decade when more people and more companies adopt the three-day weekend as the new standard. It will be a step towards having a more flexible work schedule overall. It is what the future of work will require. Then, finally, people have more flexibility and more time to do more than just one job to earn an income. But only time will tell. I am excited about this.

Have a nice Saturday!

Meetings are still difficult

This year the number of meetings at work exploded, and I am not exaggerating. I have worked for the same team for over 7 years, until earlier this year when I was transferred to a newly formed team. My responsibilities haven’t changed much, but the number of meetings increased substantially, mostly due to the re-org.

An increase in meetings is expected during this type of transition, there is a newly formed team, new projects, and new ideas, and since everyone works remotely, an increase in the number of meetings makes sense. We all need to be “on the same page.”

I have shared my feelings about meetings in the past, and my opinion is that meetings are essential, but they can be a total waste of time if we are not careful about how to spend our time in these meetings. Having a good meeting is not easy.

The new team at work is great, but it will take time to adjust to the new way of working, thinking, etc. It’s fine. Change is almost always good.

Meetings are needed, but they can be easily abused, and if this happens, everyone’s productivity is affected. Having all meetings online hasn’t helped the issue. If anything, it has made things much worse. People get distracted by other participants’ videos, sound issues, screen-sharing issues, and just now knowing the video tool enough to be proficient with it. All that, in addition to the issues of meetings in general.

I am trying different things, staying quiet until my input is needed, not sharing my video, sharing it, acting as a moderator, and avoiding meetings when I believe my presence isn’t needed. Every time I am in a meeting, I try to stay focused and aware of the goal of the meeting – but this isn’t always easy!

Hackathon in San Francisco

Work-Life Balance

My 14-year-old son asked me today about work-life balance. He wanted to know how to achieve it and get better at it. I think he believes I got this figured out, but the truth is that for me, this is an ongoing process. If you don’t balance your job or school priorities and your personal priorities, one of them will be negatively affected, resulting in frustration and possibly burnout.

I told my son that the goal is to learn to prioritize his personal and school tasks. Prioritization and focus are key. Here are a couple of things that have worked for me:

  • Focus on doing the challenging tasks first, even if you don’t want to or enjoy them. Completing the challenging tasks first will give you a sense of accomplishment and will reduce stress.
  • Split larger tasks into smaller, digestible tasks.
  • Focus on one task as much as possible. Avoid multitasking.
  • Allocate a fixed amount of time to an activity (Timeboxing), and don’t cheat. You can use the Pomodoro technique or similar to help you accomplish this.
  • Separate your work and personal environment. You can do this by working in a different place in your home, going to a coffee shop for work, etc.
  • Assess how you spent your day, week, month. This will help you determine how much time you spent doing tasks unrelated to work, school, or personal life. For example, most people spend a lot of time streaming tv shows, movies, social media, etc. And then question why they don’t have enough time to accomplish their goals, large and small.

Work-life balance is not easy. This is why there are so many books and techniques to help you accomplish this. It’s all about time management and self-awareness. It’s easy to spend time on things that are not our priorities, but we do it because it’s easy or entertaining.

Make sure to always leave enough time in your day to talk to friends, family, practice music, read, exercise, or whatever else fulfills you and helps you grow – no matter how busy you think you are.

Remember this: work and school are important, but we do both of those things to have a better life. Prioritize your personal life, always.

photo of night sky

Your North Star

It’s a metaphor. Your North Star is your personal mission statement.

In my last post, I mention having a North Star a couple of times, and for me, it’s an excellent way to describe my single long-term goal. There are many goals on my list, but most of them align to the one single long-term goal, my North Star. It gives me something to look forward to and be motivated about; I might feel lost without it.

Having lists and agendas, it’s not something I do, not consistently. I collect notes and a logbook, but having an open schedule and plan is essential. It allows me to adapt and tweak my days, weeks, and months to ensure that the things I do help me progress towards my North Star. My North Star is described in a single sentence, and then I write things down that I might need to do to get closer to that long-term goal. That’s how I keep track of my North Star goal.

Divide and Conquer

Have you heard of the term divide and conquer? in computer science, divide and conquer is an algorithm design paradigm. The idea is to break down a problem into two or smaller problems until these are simple enough to be easily solved.

This is how I think of my personal goals. They aren’t problems, but I like having a significant, long-term goal or plan, my North Star, and then break that into smaller goals, maybe even daily goals that can help me achieve my North Star.

Why do this? It helps by making it easier to accomplish smaller goals, and doing so gives you the motivation to continue doing it. In the past, I had long-term goals that I didn’t achieve because they were too ambitious, and I just never knew where to start. The divide and conquer method, applied to objectives, is an excellent way to get things done.

Why a North Star Goal?

Because it motivates me. Without it, it doesn’t take long before I feel bored or unmotivated. My North Star goal is split into smaller goals, I do this so it’s not overwhelming either. So that’s how I keep things balanced. It works for me.

As time goes by, seeing the progress towards your North Star can give you a reason to keep trying, keep learning, and keep doing. This is very important, at least for me. Otherwise, it’s too easy to become complacent.

You can have more than one North Star, but for me, I can only handle one at a time. Otherwise, I end up distracted and making plodding progress to any of my goals. Therefore, I believe in avoiding multitasking, and instead, I shot to focus on one thing at a time.

One of my North Star goals in the past was to learn English, I tried different methods, and while it wasn’t easy, I made it a reality by focusing on that one big goal first. Another North Star of mine was to find a job as a web developer. Again, I started small, working on small projects on my own, reading books, then learning how computers and the internet works. And finally, getting my first job as a LAN engineer. This job was mostly about computer networking, but it allowed me to work with computers and software, from which I then transitioned into a web developer.

The tried and true suggestions such as keeping it simple, avoiding multitasking, focusing on smaller tasks and goals will continue to be solid advice, in my opinion. But having a North Star goal will give you purpose and direction.

What is your North Star?