We never really stopped working but we took a selfie to commemorate our showered return to work last week.
We never really stopped working but we took a selfie to commemorate our showered return to work last week.
Part of my motivation. I value greatly who I work with and its very difficult to know how well you will get along with the team in any company you might join.
… No bosses or investors to tell me what to do. Just me and my customers. And no-one else to share the profits with, apart from the tax man.
The downside is that you don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off and it can be a little isolating at times. Nothing is perfect. …
The place in which you work makes a difference as to how you deal with isolation. I find Charlottetown to be a very difficult place to do the work we do and have often considered moving to a place where there is a community of like minded people, or organizations to interact with. But life is not all about work so we stay.
I like creating products. So I created a job around that, with a conscious decision not to take on any employees. A ‘lifestyle’ business.
I like this framing; creating a job around doing what you love doing.
My love of coffee and the vision I have for my for my professional life converge.
… Instead of privileging the pursuit of profit, craft businesses and professionals are part of the rise of creative professions. They are driven by esthetic engagement, creative expression and an aspiration for quality.
Craft work gives professionals the opportunity to create unique products that align with their personal visions. This helps the makers distinguish themselves and express their identity through their work.
The craft revolution helped develop the market for specialty coffee
I’m experiencing deja vu this morning as some workers next door are sawing, drilling, and generally making as much noise as possible. This as I have a deadline which requires quiet.
In Taiwan, inevitably whenever plans were made to do some concentrated work at home, or take a rest day, or in one case celebrate Christmas, someone somewhere would decide to refurbish their whole apartment. Some neighbours would do it multiple times a year. This of course involved lots of drilling of concrete and deafening noise. This tendency to create noise whenever it pleased was one of the many reasons that prompted our decision to leave and return to a place with slightly less noise. Except for today of course.
So much has been happening all at once lately, that I think I must add a shit happens clause to my life. Whereby everything gets postponed until all the dust settles.
I’m sitting in St. John at the Second Cup drinking putrid coffee trying to stay awake after a sleepless night. We are here yet again for another few sessions at the Aquatics centre.
I’m supposed to be writing a story about a mouse who is jealous of a dog’s life but when I am tired I am more open to procrastination.
Thursday we signed an agreement with Redcircle for non-exclusive distribution for 3 of our podcasts. If we were more marketing savvy this might warrant a press release, or something similar, but this paragraph with have to suffice. All change entails some risk but the terms and the platform that they gave us makes this an important opportunity. So far the switch has worked seamlessly and the redirects are working as they should.
This agreement also means we are also obligated to publish our funky science podcast, which was a fun experiment for us, and which we have been trying to relaunch for almost 2 years (I can’t believe I have been doing this for that long). There will be less beeps and bops, fart noises and such in this season, and it will focus around Bernice and Papa Bear working on science homework before bed. Bernice and Papa Bear are characters that I created for Sleep Tight Stories, and which I hope to have in print over the summer.
My son asked me last night what a graphic designer does, and I gave him the standard definition that floats around visual communication and the mediums in which they generally work.
He then asked me if this is what I do or what I call myself.
I said no, though it once was close to what I once did (my concentration in grad school was also visual communication) but it’s not a title that I would have or would use now. I left it at that because I didn’t really know what else to say. He knows what I do, but I guess as part of this foolish CEO class they take in high school they discuss job titles and he is trying to find how to fit my square peg in their round holes.
The work I do today ticks a lot of boxes for me. We are a success in so far that we have built products that people love. Unfortunately, despite making an income that should be enough (but isn’t), from work that I could continue doing till my mind turns to mush, I made a decision a while back that the likelihood that I can continue is pretty low.
Last year I ran a research project, interviewing 15 different people, local and remote, to get a sense of job prospects, their methods of success, and how I might now fit in the grand scheme of things. The reason to do such a thing was I guessed I would soon need to become an employee, not an employer. I analysed and abstracted the results, which in turn gave me action items. But I didn’t take action because I was having a great time doing what I was doing.
I don’t care much for job titles, if you ask what I do, I just say I make products for kids. But many employers seem to care and computers that scan CV’s care.
Much of the work I do still involves design at some level, but I’m not a graphic designer, nor UX, nor a product designer (whatever that is). Nor am I podcast producer or audio engineer. I’m certainly not a CEO. None of these levels of abstraction seem to work with me; maybe I’ll just string together a bunch of words like they used to do years ago in startups like (but add product and UX for SEO): Dream (Product) Alchemist, (UX) Happiness Engineer or a title used years ago when I was at the Creativity Lab, Creative Disruptor.
I haven’t had to dress well for work in over 20 years, with smart casual being as fancy as ever needed. Mostly my uniform of choice has been jeans and a t-shirt, maybe leather shoes if necessary. But a combination of working alone and the pandemic has created a whole new level of comfort. Sweat pants, comfy sandals and running socks are now the norm for me. I get some looks from other olds like myself when I’m shopping for groceries, but I could care less. This habit is here to stay.
I started my holiday not with sitting still but with cleaning the whole house, taking all the extra stuff’s laying around out to storage, installing some new pieces on the wall and generally doing things that kept me moving and busy. It’s excruciatingly difficult to not do something.
Eventually I calmed down a bit and Christmas Day was spent preparing for our afternoon dinner and watching bad movies and TV. The only close family we have left on the Island is my 90 year old uncle who came over for a socially distanced dinner. He left with enough food and sweets to get him through January.
Perhaps it’s reverse culture shock, but I’m still not convinced with the “be kind to yourself take a break” culture that seems to be so common on the Island. I do feel energized today, despite not sleeping well, and am looking forward to a full day of work tomorrow. To contradict myself, they might be on to something.
When I was in Asia I was big on resisting the prevailing attitudes on work. I wanted hobbies, time for outside activities, and time to think. It’s strange to me that once I arrived in Canada, a place where you can’t find people because they are on coffee break, I became what I often wasn’t before.
While I don’t expect I will start taking weekends off anytime soon, I do plan on taking time off like this more often.
In the Spring of this year I finally came to the realization that the work I was doing, though rewarding, was at best a side hustle and decided to make some changes. Ideas of what to do are easy, ideas always are, but I didn’t really trust my own intuition and decided to ask for help.
So I started a design research project of sorts. Which though odd, makes sense to me since I use design thinking in most areas of my life. In total I interviewed about 12 different people, some of whom knew me, but none of whom have ever worked with me. Most were employed in tech, design, or were entrepreneurs. These were “casual conversations with a purpose”, short, and very open ended. I had no script.
The results were a wall of data which I further distilled to 2 categories, each with 3 data points each.
So I knew how and what to do. But I didn’t take action because all of sudden we started to make money podcasting.
The funny thing about living in Canada is that more money is not always a positive. It has to be a lot more money.
In our first year we made next to nothing, but had almost zero expenses. In our 2nd year, we doubled our income but we added a huge increase in expenses which negated the increase. In our upcoming 3rd year we see a large increase in revenue but now any increases will be absorbed by taxes, depending on how, or if I take a salary.
Yesterday over coffee we looked at the business, our finances and talked more about our future. We lead a modest lifestyle with the majority of our money going to support our mental and physical health. The thought of living here long term, leading the lifestyle we wanted, was a risk, the economics of which no longer exist.
I don’t know other families in Stratford well enough to ask how they manage, but I do know that we make far above the median income and just break even. We can’t approach the same lifestyle we had in Taiwan, nor could we survive on my wife’s salary like we frequently did there.
So we have started planning for an alternative future, one that includes living elsewhere, but also includes me working for someone else, which I admit is attractive, and/or working multiple jobs.
The future is basically more, not less work.
I’m burned out and reached my limit. With the exception of my wedding anniversary I have not to my knowledge taken a day off since last Christmas.
There has always been a bit of darkness to my personality, lurking in the background of my form of introversion, and sometimes exhibited by moodiness, or by being overly pragmatic, or once at it’s worst, mild depression.
Lately, it’s been more akin to burnout, which is what I have been feeling for a number of weeks now. It shades my perspective of living here and life in general.
My lack of running due first to injury, than the near constant horrible weather (an excuse), has not helped. When I move and do something I feel good. When I don’t accomplish much I can feel the darkness encroaching on my mood.
The conditioning workouts at Crossfit help, but working myself to physical exhaustion, last night I felt like throwing up, doesn’t have the same lasting effect as before.
So for 4 days I am going to try and do nothing, except clean the house, read, and binge watch tv. That’s this years Christmas gift. The hope is that this will be a recharge of sorts and that it will enable me to continue doing good work in what is going be a very busy new year.
I’m sitting here at what is becoming my second office trying a soy milk Latte, after tasting which I remember that I have always hated soy milk. The kids love of all things soy never took hold with me.
Today is supposed to be a day of writing, but with writing being my worst skill and with no real deadline, I’ve done every other possible task.
Perhaps next I should go home and clean out my son’s closet.
When I first arrived in Fuzhou I was required to stay in a dorm in the city – they had my passport for a couple weeks so I little choice as hotel stays are bit more strict in China than say the former Queens Arms Inn (which based on experience was of similar quality). Luckily the apartment I had later was in a different class all together. I remember being a bit salty when I walked into the room, but though I was recruited, I was still considered a local management hire and with their obsession with harmony, deserving of the same treatment as everyone else.
25+ yrs earlier, Sheryl’s tiny one room apartment in Antigonish had a similar arrangement in the bathroom which seemed more fun at the time.
I watched this last night and it brought back memories. Particularly the constant messages that you had to answer no matter the day or time. As a foreigner I had been given different expectations, but if everyone else on your team is working, it’s pretty hard to walk away. This work ethic was not limited to China, it was the norm in many companies in Taiwan as well. I still remember the first time I saw the Startup Zone in Charlottetown, it was just past 5pm and the place was dark and empty. I couldn’t believe that people at the beginnings of building a company would leave work before 5pm. And that in summer, so many office workers would be on their way home at 4:30pm.
No getting lost in blue sky white cloud induced daydreams in this space. It’s all business. What we do need is a neon sign with our logo to give it a more pro-podcaster/designer vibe. ;)
Every design office that has a team of researchers keeps this mess on display, seemingly to show that something is being done – to make the invisible insights visible for others to try and understand. I think we kept these whiteboards populated for 2 months after the project ended in the off chance the VP of design might pop by.
I had my first session with Focusmate today, a service that was introduced to me a while back as a means to keep me accountable while doing those tasks that I generally abhor, and thus delay until the last possible moment.
During my first year back on the Island I was in the midst of a work crisis. I was doing so many different little things, attending far too many events, had no real deadlines, and no one to answer to. The structure and extreme pressure of my previous workplaces were gone and I was languishing.
This wasn’t a new problem, as I’ve tried working independently from home at various times, for over 20 years. I think seeing Sandra Bullock sitting on a beach with a Powerbook, miraculously connected to the Internet, in The Net, might have started it all. I tried just about every productivity hack, software, and method available and am a self-professed expert in most. While they certainly help with organizing the things that I needed to do, they were useless when it came to keeping me accountable.
The problem has been largely solved – I can be as productive alone as I was with a sociopathic CEO and overly ambitious team members. Developing my own work structure and self-discipline has been one of my successes over the course of the pandemic. Too much so, as I became the workaholic I was when competing with others.
But now that I am working in my own space, without any distraction whatsoever, I find I miss the little bit of human interaction you get when you work around other people. The noise. The annoyances. I also learn a great deal by simply observing others in work or public space. Perhaps Focusmate could fill this role?
I found my first session … weird. Beyond a check-in and a wrap-up you don’t actually talk or listen. You just stare at this head on the screen from time to time, like a voyeur who has commandeered a strangers webcam. I can see where it might help with accountability but it feels like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole for my use case.
At $5/month it seems like a ridiculous value, so I’m going to give a few more sessions a try and see how it changes my work habits.
We’ve recently moved in to a small office space in the bowels of a building on Victoria Row. The landlord was gracious enough to give us a couple weeks to get a feel for the place before we start paying rent and so far it’s working out well.
The small space should serve as both a working space for me, and once built, a voice-over booth for Sheryl, and possibly others. With our small home seemingly being more office than living space it became clear that constantly working from home was not tenable over the long term. That and having to constantly schedule our recording sessions based on others’ quiet times had us looking for alternatives.
We looked at recording studios, and shared spaces, but though the costs were doable, they didn’t make much sense. It also didn’t solve the problem of having 3 desks littering our home.
We also found a new house but since we are both essentially self-employed, we decided to not take on more risk. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
This means no more permanent desk at the StartUp Zone. I’ve had a great deal there for a couple of years, and might have stayed on into the fall, but with the organization in such disarray, I couldn’t count on having a desk there from one week to the next.
The only downside to the new office is the solitude. That can in part be alleviated by daily trips to a café, but something tells me that customers might not be interested in hearing “problems at work” from a stranger.
I’m sitting here in what is usually a quiet office (few come to the Startup Zone anymore) trying to test the mix of some audio, when sound of a drill hitting pavement reverberates through my skull. Unlike Taiwan this noise is outside on the street instead of your upstairs neighbour changing the layout of their kitchen for the 5th time in a year. I try to test the mix of our audio on devices that our listeners will most likely be using, including a phone speaker, and this requires some quiet. Though I suppose not every listeners environment would be as quiet as Charlottetown at night so this is perhaps a good test.
The view from my apartment window in China. I wore a N95 mask regularly for entirely different reasons than we do today. Eventually it became inconvenient, I became complacent, and as a result, I have no doubt my lungs are filled with all manner of micro-garbage. It’s scenes like this which help me appreciate what we have here on the Island. Often when outside I simply stand and stare at the deep blue skies in appreciation.
I worked in the design centre, not finance, and was in a less developed province, so while this made many things slightly more relaxed much of what is related by Zara Zhang rings true.
“Work”, as we know it, is basically a struggle to reply to WeChat messages. On any given day, I probably receive several hundred WeChat messages (this is not counting large WeChat groups) for work. Business plans, legal documents, and due diligence files are sent over WeChat. It is very common for professionals to have tens of thousands of unread messages on WeChat. Consider it your email inbox, except that every sentence within an email is broken down into separate messages, so the number of unread messages multiplies. Since WeChat messages come at all times and many require immediate response, people are constantly interrupted and distracted during meetings.
What is it like to work in China? via Jan Chipchase
.. or in my case too much time.
In 2018 I was sitting in perhaps one of the worlds great cafés drinking tasty coffee and working on an app called Sleep Tight Stories. An app that would get finished, but sucked, and then transformed itself into one of the worlds most popular podcasts in its niche.
I never could revisit that code, in part because I no longer could understand what I wrote, and because it’s nigh impossible to find someone locally willing to write in Swift (on the cheap). Also, I’ve been working 7 days a week on something else.
Now that I have a few days a week to devote to creating new products, it’s time to revisit that bad code, write a tech. spec, and find someone online to help write the parts I will never be able to do alone.
For all of my adult life, with the exception of that period of time where I would wear a black suit to the office, my definition of work wear consisted at its most fancy, a pair of khakis and leather shoes. For the most part, I’ve dressed the same as when I was a kid – jeans, t-shirt and sneakers.
Today, I stayed home and didn’t make my weekly trip to the town centre for meetings and general conversation. But I still decided to dress for the office. Which meant ditching the comfy gym shorts and old t-shirt, and donning gym pants and a fresh sweat shirt. I don’t think it’s possible to get any more casual.
I’m in full support of this anti-fashion, super comfortable work from home office attire.
Don’t multi-task browning meat, cooking vegetables and siting at your desk editing audio.
On Sunday I cooked a turkey we had in the freezer as a protein hedge in case the world came apart at the start of the pandemic. Cooking a turkey in of itself is nothing special, I cook most meals, but trying to multitask while browning a turkey proves yet again that multitasking is largely a myth.
With headphones on I heard a strange sizzling sound and came out of my daze to realize that I was actually cooking something. Water was boiling all over the stove. And the oven had been set to broil. A minute longer and we might have been met with disaster. Luckily the turkey, despite some charing, was moist and as delicious as turkey can be.
I like trying different ways to organize my day. My current system using Omnifocus is getting tired and I’m now somewhat blind to the ever increasing list of tasks tagged “today”. So I have been having fun, as much fun as you can writing lists, trying different analogue ways to capture my attention and decrease the cognitive load associated with having to remember to do things. I saw this nifty little pad at Staples and almost purchased it until I realized that it was missing two days. Obviously this pad was created for people other than myself.
I was inspired some time ago by Peter Rukavina to keep a running log of the sort of things I am working on, or interested in during a particular month. A public pronouncement of sorts, in an effort for accountability. Unfortunately, I haven’t really been paying attention to it since last March and haven’t changed the updated date since July of 2019 (I just updated it now).
But much has happened since then, and since I shared a short progress report on our Instagram, which by the very nature of Instagram must be entirely positive, I thought I might give a slightly longer update here, and include some of our challenges.
🎧 In the past year I have almost completely pivoted to audio. I still do the occasional product consulting, and I try to approach all the work I do with the same approach I advise to others, but my hands on design and design research skills have been set aside. I’m not sure what the future will hold for me if our venture isn’t able to produce revenue but it’s often great fun.
🧑🏾🤝🧑🏻 Our company is now called Minzoo Studio Ltd, and I hold no title, other than what is required on the legal document. I cringe when introduced as CEO or some other nonsense.
🎙️ We currently have 4 podcasts with others under development. Of these 4, Sleep Tight Stories has proven to be the most successful, at least in terms of listener growth. Sleep Tight Relax passed the 1,000,000 download mark a few months ago, and Sleep Tight Science finished its’ 1st 10 episode season. We soft launched Sleep Tight Premium in the past month as a paid product.
💯 Sleep Tight Stories is currently ranked in the 0.5% of all podcasts according to Listen Notes and is consistently ranked highly in kids & family and stories for kids. Unlike most podcasts we share our data on our website.
💯 Our growth this year has been phenomenal, thanks in no small part to The Startup Zone. Sleep Tight Stories continues to grow and now has over 530,000 downloads per month and close to 4,000,000 downloads this past year alone.
💯 Audience measurement and its’ meaning continues to be a bit of a mystery. And downloads ≠ money.
💯 Numbers make for a great talking point, but don’t really expose the true value that this project brings to us and hopefully our listeners. Creating a product that resonates with children and has a positive effect on their lives brings us great joy.
📚 We continue to feature local independent authors on Sleep Tight Stories as much as we can. Authors generally are enthusiastic, but publishers, especially local ones, are less so.
🗞️ At the behest of an advisor, we created a press release, which resulted in a bit of local coverage.
🐝 At one point we (the 2 of us) were producing 6 episodes per week. It was 7 days a week, with our heads in front of Logic Pro amongst other tools. We’ve now managed to make the workload a little more manageable so that we can focus on creating more products for children.
🎨 Content creation as a business, despite the stories of successful YouTubers and Instagram influencers, is not a path to riches, and yet all my life I have found myself drawn to this type of work.
💸 Our original plan to be advertising free wasn’t sustainable as we had little time left to develop other products that people might pay for. It’s proven to be difficult to get people to pay for what was always free in the past but Patreon, private feeds and ad revenue is growing, albeit too slowly.
📚 Our first attempt at being a sponsor of the Island Literary Awards fizzled – this the idea of a generous Island teacher who offered to donate the prize money. For some reason since I have arrived on PEI every attempt to either volunteer or donate my expertise, or in this case our platform, has failed. For now we will focus our attention off-Island, but may revisit helping the local community in some small way once I understand what I have been doing wrong.
💸 Startup Zone has been the only source of government assistance we have received. We are an outlier in this regard, so it seems, as I don’t know any company in the StartUp Zone who isn’t actively pursuing money from the government. Some get government money to hire someone to help them get more government money. Without outside financing we rely upon our own sweat equity which slows growth but I think creates a more sustainable enterprise over the long term.
💰 We find living and working on PEI expensive, so if we grow, and we are able to freely travel again, we might start looking to work and hire from elsewhere. I miss traveling immensely.
🦹♂️ The hardest decision which is always waiting in the shadows is deciding whether or not to stop. The fact that we have worked so long on this project shows how lucky and how financially disciplined we are. It helps when you are bootstrapping to be cheap. There are many measurements of success, and I feel great about what we have accomplished to date, but playing the starving creative was never a role I ever was fully committed to – otherwise I would still be working in music today.
I came out of my cave yesterday and had coffee with the outgoing CEO of the Startup Zone, who is moving with his family to Halifax. In our conversation he reminded me that I have been renting space at the fish bowl and rarely set foot in the space. So today I am sitting in my space away from the lure of the kitchen refrigerator.
It’s been since the pandemic that never goes away (because of people) since I have worked with any regularity outside of home. It’s also one of the few times I’ve been concerned with looking human – it’s t-shirts and sweatpants and an ever growing beard at home.
I get the feeling that working from home is here to stay. The travel time and cost of working in even Charlottetown doesn’t make the same sense that it once did.
If we ever finally settle down here in the Charlottetown area, ensuring that there is a dedicated space for work will be a priority.
I think likely the greatest gift I can give myself this coming Christmas is to take some time off. I may be wrong, as my memory fails more often now than years past, but I don’t think I have completely disconnected from work since January or February. Working weekends has been the norm.
But my enthusiasm for the work and productivity have plummeted of late. Each day feels like I’m slogging through large drifts of snow. Which is pretty indicative of the need for a break.
I have no plans for the 4 – 5 days I plan on taking off. I’d love to proclaim a complete disconnect from the screen, but that might be too optimistic. Instead, I’ll likely eat, run, read books, and spend time with family. Hopefully I’ll fit some boredom in there as well.
From J.B. Rainsberger’s latest newsletter titled Conversation Dojo. Would that help you?, comes a paragraph of which I love the tone of, and which I might just use in the future.
I’m not going to lie: I would like to be paid for this work. Even so, I recognize the need to give some of this away before I can reasonably expect to charge for it. Accordingly, I bring this idea to you, my faithful readers, so that you can participate before I feel justified asking for money.
I’ve been giving my time away for free for so long, to the tune of often having no days off whatsoever, that the very concept of getting paid for work seems almost novel. It’s especially difficult when I see people out enjoying the Island summer while I sit in a hot office; I’m not sure what I would do as I don’t golf and sitting on a beach is boring to me, but at least I would be away from this monitor and outside where it’s cool.
I’m sure I will come to my senses eventually.
When we lived in Taiwan fellow parents used to say to me that I was more Chinese than they were, referring to my attitude towards education I suppose. It would seem I still harbor some other Taiwanese characteristics that I didn’t know I had.
Here it is Saturday morning, and I remarked to Sheryl that I still haven’t received an email reply from a potential partner for a project she is developing. I thought it was strange that she wasn’t working Friday night and Saturday morning. Sheryl gently reminded me that people don’t work Friday night and weekends here.
I’ve become what I used to constantly rebel against when I worked for those bosses in Taiwan and China.
One of the most powerful nudges Humu has found during this crisis is a reminder for people to set up what we call virtual watercoolers.
“Set up a meeting, and have it run on Zoom or Google Hangouts on whatever platform you want, forever. … Set up a three- month long meeting. So anyone can just pop in when they need support. That reinforces affinity and kind of replicates that randomness and serendipity you have where people bump into one another,” Bock said.
What we’ve learned about how remote work is changing us
This is an interesting idea. One of the things I miss, not just since self-isolation but since returning to PEI, is the lack of idle chit chat around design or the work we are doing.
There are a lot of traditional graphic designers, fine arts folks, and a handful of talented people in UX, but there is very little in the way of afterwork mixing going on, or much taking at all really. Likely people get enough of that in their workplace, and treat 5pm as a time to leave that behind. There was a meetup of sorts, but it was generally poorly attended and as far as I can see has been put on hiatus.
There are many avenues online to have serious discussions about design or design research et al., but that’s not really the same, and to be honest not as interesting to me as it was before.
What I did try last week, was starting a Facebook Live session. I thought since my goal was to continue to ignore Twitter and read something of interest I could in a short video share what I was reading. This would have the added effect of some accountability and perhaps most importantly, help me confront my hatred of seeing myself talk on video.
So I started the session early in the morning while I was drinking coffee, picked Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction By Nathan Shedroff as my first read, and pressed Start Live Video. All of a sudden I had I think 700 people watching my live stream, a number of who peppered me with questions like, “Where are you from?”, “What are you doing?”, and etc.
Not exactly what I was expecting.
The beauty of having an audience of a few (like this blog) is you can do whatever you want. All of sudden during that live-streams I realized that someone might actually watch it and that might require some preparation, which gives it a sense of seriousness I was not really counting on.
I may try it again, by embracing the banality of it (fitting extension of this blog) or by trying something else. But like a casual talk, I hope I don’t have to prepare.