Always watching, always learning.

4,129 words

You'll only receive email when Jay publishes a new post

Always Thinking About What's Next

March 9, 2018

Today turned out to be a great day. The week? Not so much. But today turned out great.

At work, the project team I'm on was able to submit our deliverables. There wasn't instant agreement on the content of those deliverables, but we eventually did reach common ground, and submitted in time for our deadline.

That felt really good, as I will say that I had a big hand in finding that common ground with all team members.

And while I don't necessarily enjoy making decisions by committee (I prefer a hierarchical structure, but that's just me), it's how things work here, and so I can adapt.

I've been doing really well here. Better than well, excellent, actually. My performance reviews and rewards have been top notch. Tangible indicators that my contributions here are both respected and appreciated.

All in all, that feels great. Now combine that with the fact that we were able to come together as a team and pull out our most recent win has me simply stoked.

And, as I touted the team's latest victory to my manager, his question to me was, "What do you have planned for next week's [win]?"

While I said, "Sitting around the pool sipping pina coladas" in a joking manner, I really wasn't. But, alas, it was only a joke because it wouldn't be true.

I did forecast the team's next set of tasks and future wins, and that I do know to be truth. And he did, too, so he was good with my answers.

But there's something else that gave me a little extra pep in my step today.

I gained a bit of clarity... about what's next.

Not what's next week, but what's next for me as a person. Now, to be fair, I've had a lot of ideas about what I'd like to be next, or what I think I would like to be next, but turns out a lot of them were pretty fleeting.

Fun? Sure! But doable as my next thing? Not really.

So, you might ask: If you're doing so great at work, why are you thinking about what's next?

The answer is: Because, it's what I do.

Maybe it was the military, or maybe lessons learned while growing up, or earlier on in my IT career, but I always need a fallback plan.

It's not an option for me. In my time, I've found myself suddenly laid off more than once. Somehow, I've always managed to stay employed, and land on my feet.

I could say I've been really lucky, but I'm not sure it's all luck. Some of it has to be either preparation, or the ability to seize opportunities that arise from a sudden change of circumstance.

Those opportunities may not be immediately beneficial, but the smaller ones certainly do lead to larger ones.

So, in the back of my mind, I always ask myself the question: What if you lost your job tomorrow?

When I don't have a good answer, I feel vulnerable. I feel like I need to have an answer to that so that a sudden change in circumstances doesn't mean a sudden change in lifestyle.

And, for the past couple of years, I thought I had my what's next solved. Turns out, the ideas I came up could be an eventual thing, but not my absolute next thing.

Well, an epiphany has been brewing. It started as a small seed, but it's blossomed. And has now turned into an undeniable need to take action to make it real.

And, as it turns out, my next can serve as the basis of everything else I've wanted to do, even the eventual stuff.

This time, though, my what's next isn't just one thing, it's two things, with the option to turn into three.

But, in order to quench this thirst, I have to start with one. The one that is the heart of all else. The one that will help facilitate all my other wants and desires for what I'd want to do next if I found myself without a job.

What's more, my absolute next will also help me be better at my current job, perhaps even prolonging my usefulness here. And, it will also help me to possibly make extra money on the side, which would fund my other ventures and passions.

Ok, so what is this next thing I want to do that's got me so excited?

I want to become a copywriter. And right after that, a career and relationship coach for men.

So why a copywriter? When I set out to really think this through, I realized a few things about myself.

First is, I love to write. I find it to be relaxing and therapeutic. And no, just because I can write lengthy posts doesn't mean I'm actually any good at it.

So, becoming a copywriter will challenge me to improve my skills. Maybe say more with less words, make a larger impact with fewer lines on a page. I'll bolster my love for writing with the knowledge of knowing how to write better.

Second is, I want to make extra money. Can never have enough saved for a rainy day, or eventual retirement. Copywriting will give me several avenues in which to do this:

  1. I can write professionally as a freelance writer.
  2. I can write personally to promote products I believe in, and earn affiliate commissions based on my words and feelings about those products.
  3. I can use these skills to write copy for my life coaching website with actual skill and knowledge on how to make the most impact and land clients that would be excited to work with me.

For me, these are very practical reasons for wanting to learn how to be a copywriter. It's applicable here and now, and in the future.

If I found myself suddenly unemployed, my copywriting skills, and all that I intend to do with them could (potentially) enable me to launch an entire business based around this set of skills alone, offering me flexibility of time, hours, and even work location.

Is it any wonder, I'm walking around with my head help up high, smiling, and not feeling as vulnerable as before?

I've finally figured out "What's Next", and it feels fantastic!

The Concept of What's Fair

February 14, 2018

While at a Super Bowl party a couple Sundays ago, I overheard two guys talking while I was grabbing my Buffalo wings. These guys, who were each wearing their favorite football team's jerseys, with neither of their teams actually in the game, were sharing why they "hate" Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

"It's like, this guy [Tom Brady] is in the Super Bowl every single year", one of them said. And then the other one continued, "Yeah, and the Patriots? Really? Couldn't some other team get a chance to play for once?"

What I Was Thinking

Thankfully my back was turned to them, because it took all I had to keep from laughing. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots team and staff are definitely the stuff of legends. Love them or hate them, they've built a dynasty that belongs in any conversation that includes Dallas, San Francisco, Green Bay, even Pittsburgh.

Did any team that has won a Super Bowl, whether it's once, or multiple times in their franchise's history, ever just show up off the street for the Super Bowl and was instantly awesome?

The answer is NO. The Super Bowl is the pinnacle game that determines the one true champion of the sport for that year. To get there, you have to endure a regular season of at least ten bone-crushing games. Then, if you've got enough wins, you get to go to the playoffs. That's several more bone-crushing weeks.

Then, only after you've eliminated all comers in your conference, you get to face off with another team that defeated all who dared in their conference.

Then, and only then, do the two best teams, one from each conference, get to duke it out for the right to claim "World Champion" until the next year.

When the new season starts, it's a clean slate for all teams, and every team has the same chance to progress through the gauntlet that eventually sees the two best teams face off for the title for another year.

So, the teams that get there fought hard, each and every game. The teams that didn't win, didn't necessarily fight any less hard, although some actually didn't fight as hard. And some teams couldn't last as long on the field. And other teams made bad decisions, or made enough mistakes to cost them the game.

In a nutshell, it's a COMPETITION.

So what these two guys were bellyaching about, wishing another team had "a chance" to play in the Super Bowl other than the perennial Patriots, is to me all about the concept of what's fair.

These guys didn't think it was fair, that the same team would keep going back to the Super Bowl. Nor did they think that it was fair that one quarterback should have so many appearances in this one championship game, seemingly year after year.

But yet, at least one other team has more Super Bowl wins than New England, and that's the Pittsburgh Steelers. Has anyone griped about wishing another team had a chance to play in the Super Bowl during any of their multiple appearances and subsequent wins?

Doubt it.

Fair’s Fair, or All’s Fair?

I see this a lot in children's competitions now. Everyone gets a trophy for participation for just about any sport now. Even some 5K runs in town now offer ribbons to all who run the race.

One NFL player landed in hot water a few years back for giving his kid's Participation trophy back to the sport's organizers, saying that the only trophy his kid will receive will be the one for actually winning.

So, with all that... is working your ass off, preparing day and night, never stopping or quitting until you reach your goal, only to finally reach it, "fair"?

Or, is "fair" allowing other teams and players that didn't spend as much time on the things needed to make the best of the best to play in the biggest football game of the year, so that the joy and reward is spread around evenly?

So, what is the concept of "fair"?

In my mind, there is no such thing as "fair". Period.

There's being the best, and then there's everyone else. In sports, in career, in life.

The best prepare. The best take the challenge and make the sacrifices needed to be the best. The best make opportunities to succeed even when there don't appear to be any. The best will find a way to win, to achieve, to overcome, to finish what seems impossible to sometimes even start.

Not just in a game, but in every situation in life.

And when you give it your all, your heart and soul, in the preparation, the sacrifice, and physical and emotional pain it takes to elevate yourself to the next level, and still lose, it hurts!

It sucks. It feels futile. It makes you question everything. It can even make you give up.

But, those that don't give up only get stronger. They only get better. They figure out what went right and what didn't, and improve what went right, and fix what went wrong.

In other words, figure out a way to win. It may not be that game, or that job you wanted, or the promotion you thought for sure was yours. But, if you keep going, keep working, keep improving, it could be the next one. Or, it may be the one after that.

And the one you finally win could be even better, even sweeter, even more amazing than the ones you lost.

My First Experience With Competition

My first taste of winning came when I was 9 years old. I was in a kid's bowling league, and my mom would take my brother and I to the bowling alley every Friday night to practice, then every Saturday morning to bowl in our children's league. I'd even beg my mom to take us several nights during the week so I could practice even more.

I took to bowling pretty well. I seemed to have the hand-eye coordination needed, and I was able to take coaching from older mentors really well.

That season, I won a record 8 trophies, and, was the only minor that was invited to bowl in an adult tournament, and actually kept up!

Up to that point, I'd never won anything that I could remember. And so, I can imagine what it would feel like if that despite my hard work and preparation for each game, combined with the focus and concentration and the will to win each game, despite setbacks, those trophies were given to other kids that didn't win.

It would suck more than losing! Not because I was stingy and didn't want to share with others. It was because I was able to put the right things into place at exactly the right time to win those games. Maybe another bowler even spent more time than me preparing. But, in the end, I did what was needed to win.

If that would have been negated because someone else felt bad, and needed some kind of validation that even though they lost, they still won something... what motivation would that kid have to ever push themselves for anything?

In my years, I've played sports, went for jobs, was put in for promotions, even tried to get the girl that was out of my league.

Sometimes I won, other times I lost (many times, actually), but in the end, I have a job I love, in a career that I've been doing forever, still working to be the best every day, and yes, I even got the girl of my dreams.

So, no, I don't believe in fair where everyone gets a trophy for playing. I believe in the reward going to the person that put in the most work, to get the result needed to win the game (or job, or promotion, etc.).

That's what I call "fair".

Achieving A New Years' Resolution I Never Made

February 6, 2018

Last week, while at work, I started something that I never intended to start. Turns out, I needed to do this mini-project way more than I realized. Both in result, and in actual benefit.

What I started last week was to chip away at organizing my work emails, and took on the challenge of figuring out the best way to leverage Microsoft's OneNote alongside Outlook. The MS Office suite is standard issue at work, and while I've been using these and many other Microsoft products for multiple decades now, I never really took the time to learn OneNote, let alone learn how to use it with Outlook to create a killer productivity combo.

But, starting last week, that's exactly what I did.

First Step: Email

I started with trying to figure out a way to reduce the size of my inbox, without losing any emails. I keep all my emails for work, for various reasons, most of which benefit me at some time or another. I learned a very long time ago not to rely on subjective and inaccurate human memories, it's all in black and white. This helps on many levels and for many reasons.

At my work, we're not allowed to use the standard archiving feature of Outlook. It's automated, it's reliable, and... it's disabled.

And with me having less than 1GB free on a 5GB mailbox, I had to do something. Having just started the new year, there's no way I could cram an upcoming year's worth of email into less than 1GB of space.

So, I first went through and deleted all the crap. All the meeting responses (Accepted, Declined, Tentative). The meetings already happened, and I just don't care who accepted, declined, and "tried their best" to make it any longer.

Then I cleaned out all the corporate announcements. I'm sure it was important to know about our upcoming open enrollment, but it already happened, and I signed up. As well, can I no longer keep the announcement of a company vice president that I never met is stepping down several months after the announcement went out in the first place. Again, by now, it's already happened, and we all know who replaced him or her.

So, after that, I went from .98GB of free space to... 1GB of free space. Yay, progress, but I need to do more. Way more.

Second Step: OneNote

Knowing the Internet has an answer for everything, I did a search on how to master OneNote. It's a tool I've used for a while, but never really used it. In other words, I used the basic features and functions, but never went beyond that. So, I found some articles on Lifehacker and Make Use Of and found my answers.

So, I set up a way to tie in my Outlook tasks to OneNote, which are tied to this year's project notebook. I then figured a way to export my emails to a separate notebook called oddly enough, "Archives". Then, I ported all my emails over to the archive notebook, and deleted the originals from my mailbox.

I rinsed and repeated with my sent folder, and any other sub-folder I had in my mailbox that has lived past it's usefulness.

After several alternating crashes between Outlook and OneNote, my export/import process was complete.

  1. Because Microsoft
  2. I had a LOT of emails to push across

So, after archiving all emails prior to this year, I had like 3GB of space left. Now THAT'S progress! But still not good enough.

With OneNote, I organized my notebooks for my projects, and my general notes, and now they're easy to find and use. Organization is starting to be fun again! I'm on a roll, so I'm gonna do more.

Third Step: Outlook again

Now that my entirely useless emails from past to present are gone, and all my known project emails that lived in their own folders are moved out, where else could I free up space?

Well, of course, my INBOX (cue scary music)!

In the previous years, I'd tried, and failed, at keeping my emails in their neat little folders, according to their topic or project. And, by failed, I mean some made it into their folders (already archived now), but most simply got left in the inbox.

So, I start combing through my inbox to find the emails that belong to specific folders, and I move them there. Then, I repeat the Export/AppCrash/Import routine between Outlook and OneNote.

This took a while. As I had tons of emails in their respective folders, I had even more email that was unorganized in my inbox. But, in this case, patience won the day, or the week, in this case. After chipping away at it, little by little, my inbox had only the emails from January 1st and newer in there.

My inbox now had 4.1GB of free space. Pretty good, eh? NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

And, being a glutton for punishment, I decided I could do even more.

Fourth Step: Reinventing my Outlook Experience

I decided that if things were going to change, they really needed to change, from top to bottom. So, I completely revamped the layout of my Outlook. I stripped away persistent menus, added useful side widgets, and basically brought my Outlook to a very minimal yet functional appearance.

For my inbox, my calendar, even my tasks - every single section, now has a fresh new and uncluttered look. In this case, uncluttered doesn't mean unusable, it means easier to see and do what I need when I need to. Then, when I don't need Outlook, it stays out of my way.

Next, I set up some custom inbox processing rules. There are several emails that come in with alerts and notifications that just don't impact me. They're automated blast emails from various systems and products that I don't personally use or maintain, so I set up a rule that intercepts those before they hit my inbox and take them directly to my Trash.

That alone saves me close to 50 emails a day, and up to several hundred over a weekend.

Then, I created new subfolders that actually make sense for what I'm doing this year for work. Easy to read, easy to access, and it has to make sense to use or it's gone.

Once that was done, I created a couple of "Quick Steps" with Outlook. These are handy little buttons you can click that will do one or more thing with or to your email when you click them. So, I created quicksteps that would take any email I select, then it would give it a Category with a color coding for easy reading, and then would automatically move it out of my inbox and into the folder designated for that Quick Step.

So, I have multiple Quick Steps created, and they're all visible at the top of my Outlook workspace, when I have my menus pulled down.

Now, I do have to manually select the email, and select the Quick Step that is best for that message, but that's not a bad thing. It's not bad because I now am present with each email, and have to decide what to do with every email that comes into my inbox.

I either, Quick Step it based on which category and folder it needs to go in, I can delete it, or I can reply to it, then Quick Step both the email and the reply, or when the time is right, archive it to my OneNote.

Whichever I choose, I have to read my email in order to decide what to do with it.

And, the beautiful, glorious result is: I've reached INBOX ZERO! Plus, 4.8GB out of 5GB free!

I have no emails in my inbox at the moment. When emails come in, I read them when I'm able, I process what to do with them, and get them out of my inbox.

If I'm worried that an email that gets Quick Stepped into oblivion by being out of sight from my inbox and hiding in a folder (which could also happen if it's buried within hundreds of other emails in the inbox), I Quick Step it, then go to it's new location and right-click the message and place a follow up flag on it for a time that's appropriate, and set a reminder from the same flagging feature.

By adding the flag, it places that email in my "To Do" list, that I can now see all the time as part of my new minimal heads up layout for Outlook, and the reminder will pop up in my face when I set it to, so that I can really take action on it if I somehow ignore it glaring at me from Outlook as a side widget.

And there you have it! Inbox Zero, a way to sustain and maintain it, and a stress-free way to handle emails without running out of space.

All the things I never declared as a New Year's Resolution, but did it anyway, and am so stoked about my new organization system!

Have you done anything unintentionally (at first) this year that you can claim as an unexpected New Year's Resolution win?

The Next Best Thing: Football Edition

February 5, 2018

The Super Bowl was yesterday, and my favorite team lost.

And if my favorite team couldn’t win, the next best thing I could hope for was a competitive game. And in that regard, this year’s Super Bowl did not disappoint.

Both teams slugged it out, fought hard, and in the end, the hungrier team won. I’m not even mad that my team lost. I saw it as a very evenly matched competition, where only the team that came together and made the fewest mistakes could win.

And this year’s game was decided by one big mistake made at a very critical time, combined with other smaller mistakes that added up over the course of the game.

In a game that had only one punt (that has to be a record), and one sack (perhaps another record), the team that had the sack lost while the team that punted won. Therefore, it stands to reason that the sack was a far worse mistake than the punt, and the team that made fewer mistakes and/or less critical mistakes, took home the Lombardi trophy.

A great game, and a really great lesson for life, if you look close enough.