The Three Life Pillars

A few years ago, I categorized the things that affect my life into three giant groups. The idea is that I could use these groups to see where stress and unpredictability was happening in my life.

The stress could come from work, family/friends, and health.

Each vaguely represents what I do, who is around me, and how I am physically and mentally.

The observation around these three pillars is that life is mostly okay when any single one of them is off-kilter. If my health is in a bad place, but I still have the support of family and friends and can work, then I’m still okay.

When I have two pillars that are off-balance, life is more challenging. I am handling unexpected challenges in two different areas. If I have some sort of stress happening on all three pillars, things are very real.

I frequently keep a temperature check on how I’m doing in all three areas. Am I too comfortable at this moment? Are there too many things that need my attention? Should I try to stabilize one while I continue to work on another pillar? They are a set of questions to balance long and short term challenges to make sure that I don’t burn out.

Two Weeks of Staying Connected

Staying Connected

For the past two weeks, I made an effort to reach out to folks that I haven’t talked to in a while.

I went through all my contacts and made a list of people that I miss talking to. While I didn’t succeed in talking to an old friend every day, I got a lot out of each chat and learned how integrate this new habit into my days. Here’s what I learned about the process:

  • It’s not hard, but it needs to be a conscious effort. If someone isn’t in my day-to-day, it’s easy let too much time pass in between chats.
  • It’s worth it. I get as much out of it as I do from reading, writing, and working on side projects. It’s a different lens of reflection and inspiration.
  • Everyone’s schedule is different, so it’s easier to pick up conversations with some than others.
  • Phone calls and video chats are easier logisically, and they can be just as rewarding as in-person conversations.
  • It can take up a week to coordinate time to chat.

Things to try next

  • Move the conversation over to text message as soon as possible. Coordination is faster over text than in email and other forms of direct message.
  • A more realistic goal for the near term is to talk to a couple of people a week, rather than someone every day.
  • Take notes and send them out afterward so both sides can build on the conversation next time. At the risk of being too formal, it might be worth trying this to see how it affects a series of conversations.

Experience Paths

I had two conversations this week around the idea of comparing yourself to others.

This happens when you see someone that you consider to be similar to you in some way, most likely in age. You look at their accomplishments, then you look at your own accomplishments, then a wave of anguish washes over you.

How are we the same age, while they are more successful than me?

The reality is that the paths aren’t the same. You aren’t the same person. You haven’t made the same choices. It appears to be the same when looking through the dimension of age. But it’s hard to know what advantages or disadvantages both lives had to overcome to cross paths.

If you could magically arrive at the same success state as this other person, would you want to live their life? Would you want to make the same choices and sacrifices they made to have what they have now? Which of your experiences would you give up and trade to have it?

These types of comparisons are hard to avoid sometimes. They come up when someone’s success unexpectedly comes across your radar.

Is there any value to them? Only if helps you reconsider what is possible. If it inspires you to think differently about your future choices. If it inspires rather than instill dread and regret.

Three Weeks of Writing

Write every day

I spent three weeks trying to write every day. What did I learn?

  • Publishing through my own blog and URL took some initial set up, but it’s easy now to go from a draft to a published post in a few seconds.
  • Deciding what to write was challenging. There were a few days where my mind would be more alert toward noticing topics to write about.
  • Creating each post still feels like it takes longer than expected.
    • There’s the process of deciding what to write.
    • Writing it.
    • Editing before publishing.
  • I missed a few days of writing and publishing
    • It would happen if I decided to use my morning time to work on a project instead of using that time to write. I would make the assumption that I’d write and publish something in the evening. The takwaway here reminds me of willpower and discipline as a muscle. You have a certain amount of it each day, and as you flex it, it gets tired.
  • Sharing my writing on other outlets allowed people to find my writing. But only tweeting about my own content didn’t feel very conversational on Twitter.
  • Writing about projects gives each phase of the project a sense of completion. Similar to how I’m reflecting on this writing experiment and wrapping it up.
  • Scrolling through my writing, I saw a few buckets of interest. I was aware of my interest in education, workflows, design, and management. I was surprised to see a theme of community and culture building throughout several posts. That’s a topic I’d like to spend more time working and thinking about.

What’s next

There’s are a few things to try differently next time:

  • A different publishing cadence. Write every day toward a more substantial piece that is published once a week.
  • Make it easier to decide what to write.
  • Try different publication formats and outlets. e.g. Newsletters, other blogs.

What Allows Designers to be Productive?

At work today, the topic of productivity came up. What are the core practices that allow designers to be effective—user centered design.

Without access to users, our designs are guesswork. They become opinions of what we assume users will need and use. Without user research, the only way to receive feedback on our work is until we build and launch the software.

Our ability to identify, define, segment, engage, and understand our users is key. It helps the team to understand and visualize the problems we’re solving. It helps the team make evidence based decisions. It helps the team empathize and learn. We can focus on problems as much as solutions.

This is true for the core team and stakeholders. Interviewing users early saves the team time and effort from going down the wrong paths. It prevents us from over-committing to features and solutions.

It’s a reality check. A way to help us prioritize and manage scope.

A way to make sure that what we’re building is usable and will be adopted.

Across industries, the idea of testing your product happens through different lenses. The game industry has players play test; stand-up comedians try new material at smaller venues; restaurants have stalls at food festivals.

The way to understand our users and test our ideas is by putting something in front of them and seeing their reactions. Comedians don’t have audience members fill out a survey at the end of the show. They gauge reactions based on the laughter or silence of a joke.

As product designers, our tests happen in the form of interview and research sessions around behavior. We focus on what they currently do and can accompish with our solution, not just what they say. We’re doing this when we’re learning and exploring the user’s needs and domain, and when we’re evaluating potential solutions.

We interact with our users every week or every other week. If we go for too long without talking to users, the accrued risk is palapable on the team.