The 4 E’s of Meaningful Work

Time and attention are extremely valuable assets and I try to avoid wasting them when selecting projects. By looking at what I like to call The 4 E’s of Meaningful Work, I can maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome. 

I’ve been recently learning  a new approach to mobile app development: using declarative UI instead of the imperative approach that I’ve known and used for years. If you’re not a technical person, don’t worry. Knowing the details of the differences in these two approaches is far less important than how the areas or meaningful work

In talking about the each area, I’ll discuss the benefits, the impact of missing it and how I try to make up the difference. Hopefully, you can use this approach in evaluating the work that you do and improve your decisions about what is worthy your time and attention

Education

This is the most important area for me so it’s where I tend to start. I am far more likely to do something that provides an educational benefit, even if it’s lacking in the other three areas. In learning Declarative UI, I saw the educational benefits  coming in four ways:

Increase of Competence and Confidence

Learning by doing is a great way to improve efficiency and efficacy.  The process may been slow at the beginning but with each new coding challenge and sample project, I get faster and I find my confidence growing as I integrate the new concept into my current body of knowledge.  

Expands Area of Expertise

Having a different approach to develop mobile apps  provides the added benefit of having more perspective on something that in which I already specialize. Of someone has a need, I can now draw from a larger pool of expertise to find the optimal solution. Having more arrows in my quiver means that like Arrow or Hawkeye, I’m more likely to have to right one for any occasion.

Allows You to Stay Current

Because the declarative approach is the “new hotness”, learning how to do it keeps me current and able to engage in what the cool kids are doing. I don’t give this aspect much weight normally, as there will always be another new shiny thing and I can’t afford to invest time and attention in all of them. In this case, I felt it was a good time as I saw a convergence on both major mobile development platforms. Google was further ahead with its Flutter framework by about 2 years but the strong commitment by Apple with SwiftUI means that I can learn simultaneously two solution to the same problem.

Can be really fun

Learning new things not only increase confidence and competence, it can also be fun. Remember the joy of a young child, constantly asking questions and acquiring new information. I’ve been using resources such as Paul Hudson’s 100 Days of Swift. His approach makes the process fun and I’m digesting it in reasonable bytes. Likewise, the The Boring Flutter Show has an great forum that provides a good mix of education and entertainment

Not Reaping the Benefit of Education?

Not every project will be challenging or allow you to acquire new knowledge of skills or use them in a different way. Too much of this can lead to stagnation and burnout. To combat this, push yourself to go beyond the requirements (if time allows). For example, perhaps the project doesn’t require continuous integration or testing but use the project as a testbed (pardon the pun). Because the project isn’t itself isn’t challenging, you’re free to use you mental capital in learning the new thing.

Economic

While I’d love to imagine that I’m above it, in a world of financial realities, it’s hard to ignore to ignore the economic impact of the work that we do. Deciding to take on this endeavor is no different. There’s an opportunity cost in engaging, you could be reaping financial benefits by doing something else. I’m still doing this because I believe there will be a future economic benefits via client work such as:

Keeps the Lights On

Two of my favorite activities are sleeping indoors and eating. I enjoy them so much, I try to do them daily. Receiving payment for my development efforts allow me to continue doing more work, even if it’s not in luxury. Tacos are cheap but they aren’t free

Creates Runway

Having a financial buffer also creates runway, time in which I can survive financially if my income and expenses remain constant. The more runway I have, the more I’m able to invest in future projects and improvements on existing ones.  As Walt Disney once said, “’We don’t make movies to make money. We make money to make more movies.’

Support Meaningful Endeavors

In addition to keeping my own business and life going, I like to support others who are doing meaningful work. As my economic benefits increase, so does my ability to support them. Some personal examples for me include Black Girls Code and The Human Utility.

Provides a quantifiable measure of value. 

Even though I’m not working on any paid projects using declarative UI frameworks, I can use the current projects to gauge levels of effort when estimating future project costs. In addition, I am able to create reusable components and gain experience which allow me to provide  a better level of service to my clients.

Not Reaping Economic Benefits?

This can be a pro-bono or open source project that you’re working on. It could be a project in which the client didn’t pay or simply an app that you love but hasn’t generated any sales. Take the learning from this project and try to monetize it in other ways.

Exposure

This factor is a hot button amongst creatives. We are often approached to do unpaid work as a way of gaining exposure. I would caution anyone who has heard this to consider a few things. Firstly, reread the previous section. Secondly, paid opportunities also provide exposure  in addition  to the money (Imagine that!). Whether paid or not though, exposure provides benefits:

Offers Social Proof

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does, that’s how sound works but who will know? Gaining exposure allows that noise to be heard and validate that it indeed happened.

Builds trust

Publishing work allows you to establish trust with others. By sampling your work, others can gain confidence that you know not only what you’re talking about but what you’re doing as well.

Increases Marketability

Taking on new challenges can make you more marketable. As previously mentioned, staying current with new technologies has educational value but applying those new skills to help those who need it has a multiplying effort. It’s here that we can see the junction of the Education, Economic and Exposure aspects.  There’s one more coming but first:

Not Getting Exposure?

 We live in an age where the democratization of information and access to it provide you  a greater degree of control over how much exposure you can receive. Toot Your Own Horn! Post what you’ve done on your website, blog, podcast and/or video channel. Even if client work is of a sensitive nature (under NDA or classified), there may still be lessons drawn from it that you can migrate into something that can be shared. Talk about the concepts, challenges and solutions in abstract terms.

Esteem 

Human beings are emotional creatures so decisions are not typically made based on tangible factors alone. Self actualization and  esteem are at the top of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In addition to the other benefits mentioned, how we feel about ourselves and the work we do is important. It provides benefits such as :

Higher Quality of Work

When we are passionate and enthusiastic about our work, it shows. It’s so much easier to go the extra mile when you are fully invested in what you’re doing. I do caution that passion should not be a substitute for a strong work ethic. Keep your word and do what you say you’ll do.

It Feels Good

Work that we enjoy is less arduous even if it’s hard. As the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun”. 

Not Getting Esteem?

Soul sucking projects are harmful in the long term. Taking on projects that compromise your values can take a toll and doing them is a difficult decision. However, more often than not, it’s not that the work is compromising, it’s just boring. To combat this, it can be helpful to tweak your outlook on these projects.  Find an interesting angle that you do find interesting. It could mean taking a broader view of the project find connection points between it and things that you are passionate about.

Conclusion

Choosing where to allocate your time and attention is as important as the work you do. I hope you find this guided approach useful in your own decision making. I talk in more detail about my process on The Cocoa Nomad Podcast. Feel free to tune in and get more insight and examples.

How do you decide on which projects are worth your time and attention?

Cocoa Nomad Podcast: Retrospective #17

In the latest retrospective, I dive into my transition to writing and teaching, the importance of giving to others, why I needed to cut back on my commitments and the importance of finding a supportive community.

Show Links:

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The Cocoa Nomad Podcast #24: Arbitrage

In this episode, I talk about the concept of arbitrage, share the ways in which I have used it and  how you can make it work in your own life.

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Cocoa Nomad Podcast: Retrospective #11

In this retrospective, I provide progress updates on Capoeira Songs, share my productivity struggles and look to the upcoming fall events.
 

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The Cocoa Nomad Podcast #22: Eating the Frog vs Quick Wins

In this episode, I talk about changes to the show and its release schedule, how I use music to set the mood while working and making the choice between tackling huge tasks versus small ones to start the day.
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The Cocoa Nomad Podcast: Weekly Retro #3

In this week’s retrospective, I catch my breath after a long travel day (they let me back into the country!), learn that I’m not immune to accepting suboptimal solutions, set my sights on the June T-shirt Challenge and get ready for the announcements of WWDC.

Show Notes:

Greg Gottfried (YouTube)

WWDC 2019

 

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The Cocoa Nomad Podcast #6: Pushing Through the Dips

Starting new things is the easy part. We’re excited and full of passion. But what happens when that passion fades. Will you still keep going? How to keep yourself motivated and avoid distractions with “new, shiny” things?

In this week’s episode, I talk about some sound advice that’s helped me with “pushing through the dips”.

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Cocoa Nomad Podcast: Weekly Retro #1

Retrospectives are helpful in managing your progress towards goals. They allow you to access what’s been working well and what may need to change. This episode is the 1st of weekly retrospectives in which I’ll share my goals, progress, setbacks and lessons learned.
 
Show Links:

 

You can listen to the Cocoa Nomad Podcast on the following services:

Anchor FM

iTunes

Spotify

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I’d love to hear from you. Reach out with comments, feedback or show ideas on Twitter() or Instagram

Puffin: An 80 Hours to MVP Retrospective

After 80 hours of development on Puffin, a work planning/tracking app for IOS, the buzzer has sounded and it’s time to look at what I accomplished.

The purpose for this MVP was to replace the spreadsheet that I had been using to track my work session.

Work Session Spreadsheet
My existing mid-tech method for tracking my work

What I managed to accomplish at the end of 80 hours

What went well?

Gaining clarity on the tracking portion. My attention was initially focused on the standup aspect of the app, so it wasn’t until I created a spreadsheet to track my work sessions that my understanding of what I wanted became clearer. I don’t have a desire to track hours specifically, that feels like a regression to my previous 9-to-5 work life. But I do want is a way to know when I am working and for how long in the overall context of my life. I’ve become more protective of my free time and wanted to make sure I wasn’t spending too much time working on any one project. Conversely, I still wanted to make sure that each project was getting the attention that it deserved.

What didn’t go well?

I spent an inordinate amount of time wrestling with the a few things that I thought would go smoother, namely the calendar. I’m using a 3rd party component because I wanted to save time. I soon discovered that my situation would still require making tweaks. I need a weekly view of the calendar and that means that I still have to adjust some of the settings. I still have to create a way to display the relevant information for a given date range. That said, it presented an opportunity for me to learn more about calendars and date calculations (Yippee!!) and this can be applied to an existing product Gobo.

On the project level, I didn’t do a great job at switching between this project and others. Part of the reason I’m working on Puffin is to create a tool that allows me to move more seamlessly between my projects.

What I learned?

I need to tone down the color usage in my designs.

Simulator Screen Shot - iPhone 6s - 2018-09-24 at 09.29.04
So much Blue!

I have a habit of picking a primary color for each new app idea and having it permeate all aspects of the design. While it works well for the icon creation portion of the project, it tends to make my screens overwhelming. I’ll change my approach to using color more judiciously, which will keep my designs in line with where things are now. I also find that using non-standard fonts is distracting and feel out of place on my device.

On the coding front, I experimented with creating all of my views in code, instead of using storyboards. I’ve tried going full storyboard in the past and now was on the other in of the spectrum. I learned so much about layout with this approach although it was a bit slower. Taking advantage of playgrounds in the early stages should help create a faster feedback loop. I’ll be taking a hybrid approach moving forward as I still see some advantages in using storyboard in my process.

What still puzzles me?

The app is still missing crucial connective tissue. While I’m clear on of the individual components that I need/would like to have, I’m struggling to create a cohesive vision. One of my biggest challenges is determining the correct entry point into the app. I’m not satisfied with the current information hierarchy. There are already too many tabs and I haven’t gotten the planning portions in.

What would I do differently?

My primary focus when I started was in the daily standup aspect. I was attempting to replace my daily journal with an software solution. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong way to go, as I made discoveries along that allowed me to throw away much of my early work. And that’s fine. Early versions don’t have to last. They’ve served their purpose as prototypes that I could use, learn from, and discard. As in writing, I have no issues with “killing my darlings”.

I’d also document the intermediate stages, There is value in being an “app historian” and capturing thoughts and decisions throughout the stages of development. Tracking what assumptions were made at the beginning and how/why they changed could be helpful further down the line. When revisiting features, there may be valuable historical information in determining the optimal time for if/how/when they should return.

Is it worth it to keep working on this? Why?

I’m still deeply interested in seeing this product continue. I find myself using the session tracker portion daily and it has replaced the spreadsheet in conveying how I’ve been spending my time. I’ll continue development by integrating the missing components and discussing them in further posts.

This MVP was a success and I’m looking forward to applying the lessons learned to the next one.

My Nomadic Lifestyle Setup – My Stuff

The toughest part about creating a nomadic lifestyle is having access to the things that I need when/where I need them. Since I primarily migrate between Atlanta and Carolina, I had the following questions:

  • What do I really need and what can I get rid of?
  • What about things that I need to access infrequently?
  • Should I carry them with me or just keep

I decided to get rid of most of the things I didn’t need to transport. This included lots of books, clothes and shoes. Once I started looking at the other things I used frequently, I came to some simple solutions for my locations (Atlanta, Carolina and elsewhere)

  • Clothes – Travel with a week’s worth (1 bag). 
  • Books – I keep e-books on my iPad or on DropBox.
  • Coffee grinder & French Press – Inexpensive enough that I can keep one in both locations. Everywhere else I go, I’ll just drink local coffee.
  • Drum kit – I will keep my electric set in Atlanta and get an acoustic kit for Carolina. 
  • Golf clubs – One set in Atlanta. One in Carolina. When traveling from either locale, take the set with me or rent when I get there.

Going through this process has helped me to simplify things by focusing on things I really need/want. I’m sure the specifics will change somewhat when I start extending my stays in other locales but I think this setup will work for now.