Do you feel left out? Make the best of it!

I have read a blog post about feeling left out on the Aha!’s blog and a lot of old memories came into my mind that I have to write out.

My background

About 4 years ago I was working with a centralized team and nobody was prepared to that. Not them or I. After I went through on almost all of the cases in that post I have changed a lot. And after that, I was able to turn these disadvantages into benefits. That is what this post about.

Centralized decisions

Feeling left out

The team was working together in the same open space for years. And suddenly I came into the picture. My experience is the same as in the referenced post: usually, they just simply forgot me at all. They haven’t even thought about me. Actually, nobody cared about the lonely man far away.

Feeling of left out
Feeling of left out

Sometimes they even forgot to tell the decisions after they made. So not only I couldn’t participate but had less amount of information than the others.

Work more than ever

That situation was very frustrating during the first several months. After this struggle, I made the following decision: Fuck that!. I cannot really force others to take care of me or count me as a person. But I can improve myself. I can solve the most amount of ticket, answer on the largest portion of live issues and get the deeper knowledge on the part of the system that I work on. 

Work hard
If they ignore you, you get extra time to get things done

After several months of hard work, their attitude started to change. Actually, I think, I become a person who hard to ignore. And believe me, if a team needs some help, they do everything that needs to get that.

And get the results

My hard work got a great result: At the end of the year, I had to take care on one of the new hires (who was working in the same place as the others) and I had to do some ‘technology lead’ like role in a big project (in that time I was the only remote worker on the team).

Delayed responses

When you work in the same place as the others and you have a question, you have a lot of information: first of all, you just see if your teammate is at his desk or not. Secondly, it is a way harder to not to answer you. If you write a message, there is no guarantee that you’ll get an answer at all.

That is also a topic that you cannot change. I cannot jump into my car at every single question, drive 2 hours and ask the person directly – usually, I have to wait. To solve that problem, I had two strategies:

More tasks – gain benefit on the wait time:

I always keep more than one todo item on my list. And prepare the case when somebody doesn’t answer. You cannot just sit at your desk and get blocked because you are not the top priority on some others job. But you can work on one of the other tasks or learn something new that makes you smarter.

Don’t let you left out – action plan to reach out people

I have collected as many private phone numbers as it possible. And also made an agreement with one person in the team: if I cannot reach somebody and it is really urgent, I can call him directly and he speaks with the person to please answer me. In that way, I had an emergency method.

Forgotten timezones

That is the only point that I was lucky with. We were living the same timezone so there was no question about that.

My current team is an opponent with that one. Now we have to work together with the other team and we have 9 hours of time zone differences. That basically means, there is no common time window for us and we are facing a lot of challenges.

I could lie if I would tell that I know the best answer – I think that is something that we still need to work on but we are improving day by day.

Technical disrespect

I couldn’t call that technical but simply disrespect. There is nothing more frustrating than being part of a meeting and missing the main information just because the others are using whiteboard just because it is comfortable for them.

I have to tell, in that case, I have only a small amount of patience. After I ask a team several times to please not do that because in that case, there is no reason to me to be involved in the meeting, I just say goodbye and ask a meeting memo. After that, I can work on the next important thing and wait for the meeting memo.

In the case if the topic is urgent, I’m sure, there will be some solution. In the worst case, I can ask the team to read the whole whiteboard to me. Or they can take a picture for me in every five minutes to get updated but these are not solutions.

I think maybe the best solution is just asking to be the presenter and do the job that nobody wants. And drawing the diagrams online (prefer to use a company wiki just to keep the information searchable).

Final thoughts

Working remotely with a centralized team is really hard and needs a lot of patience and I bet every single person who had to try that, lost his calm blood at some point.

My closing thought is that: yes, it is really hard when you feel left out, but there is your choice how you will respond to that. You can sad or you can make the best of the situation – It depends only on you!

 

Rules

I have spent many years as a software developer who did everything that was needed and yet could not step forward. I was the guy who suited perfectly to his job but nothing more. When I look back I see I have wasted a lot of time without developing myself. I think one of the reasons was that I did not have any rule that I could set on and I could be strict to.

When you start switching your job from a regular 9 to 5 job to remote working you will be invisible for all of the people around you. Before the change, your family knew you have a job and you have to work. Before the change, you were visible for your teammates. From one day to another you become the invisible programmer, and you have to find your way to work effectively and become visible. To do that you must have some rules.

Distractions at home

I remember my first day as a remote developer. My whole family knew I came back to the city where I was born and I was going to work at home. Actually there are almost nobody in my family who could understand what computer programming means and what it means when I say I will work at home. On the first day I got multiple requests from my family: My mother asked me to go to the pharmacy and get her medicines, my sister-in-law wanted to me to do her shopping and I got a request to go to the post office to post some letters. Actually nobody thought I will work. I believe they had a picture in their mind about me playing computer games the whole day and that I have a lot of time.

And there was one additional source of distraction that could highly affect my performance. In that time I played a lot with an online game called League Of Legends (LOL). This is a really good game that can burn all of your time if it grabs you. As I remember, the average gaming time was about 40 minutes and that means you can waste a really huge amount of time if you do not control your playing habits. I believe online gaming is an invisible distraction source that can the most of your time.

Rules to reduce distractions

So as you can see not only my family but I was a distraction source for myself too. On the first day I have learned I need some rules and I have to be strict with them. The first rule was: my working time is my working time. I have to act the same as when I work in the office with my colleagues.

There is no exception. So I have started to say no: No, I will not go to the pharmacy, no I will not do the shopping or post letters. And I had an other important rule: I will never play online game during my working time. Maybe it seems to be funny that I have to create a rule about online gaming but the truth is my brain fall into a habit: when I sit down my computer I start to play. And it is terrible.

Rules about rules

Actually there are some rules about having rules too. First of all, not enough just write down your rules, you have to commit to them. Every time you go close to break a rule you have to ask a question to yourself: ‘I am sure I want to break that rule? What will happen when I break that rule? What happens when I break that rule multiple times?’. I am sure the answer is simple: If you have committed yourself to your rule, you will not break that rule. Of course there are some emergency cases when you have to break them. If your pregnant wife asks you to call the ambulance you will not tell her ‘Sorry honey, this is my working time and I have committed myself to not to care about my family during my working hours’.

If somebody asks you to leave one hour earlier and drink a beer with him it will be a lot more easier to answer the question. And the reason is simple: if you have a rule you do not have to decide if you go to drink a beer or not. You have your rule and you have accepted the fact you will not leave sooner. Because if you leave sooner today, you will make the same decision tomorrow and the next week too.

Conclusion

To summarize that, You have to create your rules. If you are at the decision point you do not have to do a decision if you have a rule, just follow your rule. And do not forget sometimes to review your existing rules and do not hesitate to modify them.

And finally I highly recommend you to use rules not only for your work but for your personal life too.

 

Example

You have your goal. You want to lose some weight. To reach that goal your goal has to be specified: You have to write down your target weight and your deadline. You cannot choose a short deadline. You have to give time for yourself. It cannot be done in one week. So choose one year or a half year. The internet is full with calorie counters and they will help you a lot. You enter your age, your gender, your current weight, your target weight and your deadline. After that you just have to enter every meal and every drink that you take and follow one simple rule. Never eat too much and never eat more calories than your daily limit.

When you are committed to your goal and your girlfriend asks you to eat some cake, or your friend calls you to drink some beers you do not have to choose. You will see how many calories you would eat and you will simply able to answer no. And you say, sorry, but I cannot eat that or drink that because I have a goal and I have a rule that helps me to achieve my goal. And your goal will be simple: I will never eat more than my daily limit.

I had that rule for a year. There was a new year party when my weight was about 99 kilograms and I told myself; it is enough. I will never reach 100. So I have set my goal to reach 88 kilograms in a year. I have started to use a calorie counter software. And after I was strict to my rule I could check my weight again on the next new year eve and it was about 86 kilograms so I think the method works perfectly.

Actually after I have reached my goal I made a big mistake. I have forgotten to follow my rules and now, about 2 years later I am at 92 kilograms and I know what I have to do. I set my calorie counter and I start to follow my rule again.

That is my experience about having rules. I hope you enjoyed it and you find that article useful.

Time management

It is 5:44 am and I am writing an article about time management. More precisely, about how to schedule my time. I know that sounds crazy but believe me there is a good reason for that crazy time.

At a regular 9 to 5 job

When I had a regular 9 to 5 job I had no problem with time management. I knew I have to arrive at 9 am and I will go home at 5 pm. And the reason is simple: I had an employer who have created a rule and my employer decided when I have to start and when I finish my work. It is really easy.

Freedom when work remotely

In 2012 my life has been changed. From October, I was the first in our company who was allowed to work remotely. There was no culture of remote work, there were only a few rules and I had to figure out how to do my daily job. I become the invisible programmer. Everybody knew about me but nobody saw my face.

That change meant a lot of freedom for me. It is something similar to the change when I have left the high school and started the university. In the high school I had to attend every class and when I didn’t go to the school I had to bring a medical certificate about my illness or I have been punished. Opposite of that at the university nobody cared about me. I had completely freedom of what I do and when I did it. I just had to pass my exams.

Time management problems

When somebody works remotely it is really easy to lose control over the time. Sometimes you start your work a bit later and sometimes you finish it at midnight. Or You might have a good idea at 10 pm and you sit down to your computer and start to implement it. At first hearing, it sound good but actually that means you have no idea about how many hours you actually work to your employer and when do you do that.

It causes two problems: First of all you don’t know how much your salary per hour is, because you don’t even know how many hours you have worked. Secondly, your team does not know when you are available for them. You will be the invisible programmer and nobody will know, when they can reach you. And it is horrible because you work in a team. You have to find a way to be visible for the others. And that is what I want to write about in this blog: how you can be visible, when you are the invisible programmer in your working environment.

Proper time management

I think the best solution for time management is simple: You have to define when you will work. In 2012 I had a simple solution for that: I decided to work from 10 am to 18 pm and set my alarm clock to 9:45 am and 17:55 pm. That was my crutch to be strict on my time, and I knew when I will start and I when I will finish my work.

I have decided to do that in the same way as working in the office. When I was late or I had to go out somewhere I always sent a message to my manager and my team and they knew when I was unavailable. They knew they can call me from 10 am and they knew when I went from my desk and when I will response their messages.

It was a bit easier when I had worked in the office: when I left my desk everybody saw I am not here. I am visible at the office. When I came back they could ask their questions. And I have created a rule that fakes that I am in the office so my team could trust me because my behavior was transparent for them.

My example

It is now 2017 and there were a lot of change during the last five years: I still work at the same company but the company is way larger, today I am not the only one who works remotely, I have two kids, I work on a way different project and I have my own side project so my schedule changed a lot. But I show you my daily schedule at the moment:

  • 05:00 – 07:00: Working on side project
  • 07:00 – 09:00: Family stuff: breakfast bring the older to kindergarten, etc
  • 09:00 – 11:30: Work
  • 11:30 – 12:30: Lunch break (I know I should work on that. It takes a bit more time than it needs)
  • 12:30 – 17:00: Hard work
  • 17:00 – 19:00: Family stuff
  • 19:00 – 19:40: Fitness break
  • 19:40 – 22:00: Family stuff / Learning something If I have time

That is my basic schedule. I try to keep the timing, of course I cannot be strict to that schedule all the time but I think this is a good frame for my day.