Status: Working from home

“What you stay focused on will grow.”
Roy T. Bennett

As of Monday 16th March 2020 I have been a remote worker.

Ever since I left University I have worked in busy, bustling offices where the air runs thick with collaboration, questions and social commentary.

But now… I’m at home. I guess you could say I’m not quite sure how to come to terms with this. It certainly is strange knowing that my commute in the morning has gone from 50 minutes on the bus to 50 seconds from bedroom to dining room (via the kitchen for coffee). It’s even stranger though that I don’t get to see colleagues; friends, who I’ve worked with for years and who’s smiling faces, cheerful demeanor and indomitable spirits have been huge contributing factors to my desire to tackle the working day and make as much of it as i possibly can.

In the past remote working was simply the odd days I worked here and there from home, with nothing but my laptop because it was a quieter day when I could do some learning as well as some other life task like going to the doctor or dropping the car off to be serviced – therein lies the problem.

I had come to associate working from home with quieter periods of time, when I could focus on 1 thing at a time, maybe work from the sofa and treat myself to the occasional snack.

As of Monday however, the entire office has been locked down and we are _all_ working from home… for how long? I don’t think anybody knows. The only certainty in the world right now is that nothing is certain – so it is time to put into practice something that I always preach, but rarely am pushed to exercise. I will have to change my mindset.

I’m not alone in this at all – you may be reading this thinking “but Chris, working from home is so easy, I actually get more done and I’m more focused!” and if that is the case I applaud you, and I wish I could share those same abilities. However if you’re like me and suddenly working from home by directive has jarred you, here are my top 3 tips for working from home that have helped me get to grips with it and maintain my productivity:

1- Find a routine

This is perhaps the most important on my personal list because in the past I have found myself getting out of bed at 7.30/8am on days where I worked from home. This is ~2 hours after I would normally get up when commuting into the office and whilst this sort of lay in is great at the weekend to get some rest, it also leads to me being groggy and not fully awake when your start your morning meetings/calls/work and doesn’t help you focus or build a reasonable mental list of priorities.

Take aspects of your normal daily routine and replace them so that you build up a Monday-Friday (for example) that represents something similar to the structure you enjoyed when working from the office. Here is an example of how I have changed my schedule to adapt to my new working situation; I would normally catch the bus to the office which would take anywhere between 40 and 50 minutes first thing in the morning. Now at exactly the same time in the morning I go for a 30-40 minute brisk walk to simulate that commute – match something you did to something creative, compelling, healthy or otherwise you can do from home instead.

The thing to bear in mind is that finishing work for the day should also factor into your plan. It is very very easy when one works from home, to simply leave the laptop open or code running or join a late call. These things will rapidly eat into your personal life though so once you hit your magic “clocking off” time… clock off.

2 – Create separation between work and home

Even though they are now one and the same, you have to keep a separation between your work and home lives. I’ve heard it described by many people that they have set up in the study or in the office – but what do you do when you live in a small flat? Or if you live with your parents who are _also_ working from home and you have to say, work in your bedroom?

My solution to this, as I have a similar problem, is to make certain touches to transform myself and the space i’m working in to make it feel as though there is a transition between going from home to work.

Once I have come back from my walk I relax and make a coffee and some toast or cereal whilst watching YouTube videos, then at 7.55am precisely, my Amazon Echo buzzes an alarm, I turn the television off and I begin “building” my work space. A process which involves taking out the monitor and accompanying cables, setting them up on the dining room table, neatly arranging where everything should go and plugging in my phone and finally ensuring that I have a full bottle of water on standby to stay hydrated.

Conversely at the end of the day I will go through the same ritual in reverse to the point where we are all able to sit around the dining room table and have dinner with no trace that I was ever there working. This act of transformation somehow makes the space seem different, and gives it a different energy, which means i’m not thinking about work problems whilst I eat with my family.

3 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Ok. This one is a no-brainer, but there are subtle levels to communication that can really help when you’re feeling the weight of working from home hovering above you like so much foreboding.

Whenever you’re feeling the pinch of distraction or you’re lacking motivation, message a colleague you would normally speak to on a daily basis at the office and ask them how they are. It seems simple but if you rotate who this person is and just check in on them you make them feel though about, cared about and appreciated. Not only does this give them the motivation to carry on but is a selfless act that can also revamp your own spirits and the resulting conversation can even inspire the thoughts you need to help with whatever you’re working on.

There are so many posts about working from home and engaging with others on a technical and personal level, such as Kendra’s post on SSC, Kathi’s post on SimpleTalk or this incredibly detailed and insightful post from Alice Goldfuss, that many of these will be repeats on what others have said. However, I think my personal top 3 on communication specifically are:

  1. Turn your webcam on – be seen and see other people and enjoy the smiles and the thinking and the body language you would otherwise be missing out on.
  2. React and be reacted to -if you use Teams or Slack or any kind of collaboration tool, make sure that when people make statements or ask questions, you either offer feedback or at least react. A thumbs up emoji at least lets people know that you are listening, allowing them to feel validated and supported and not think they’re just shouting into the void.
  3. Learn to use a mute button – we have all been in situations where someone has mouth breathed the meeting to postponement or someone has had a coughing fit or their child(ren) have come in asking questions – all of these are perfectly fine because we’re humans… but. That is no excuse for everyone in the meeting internal or external to hear that. Liberally use your mute button on your meeting software or headset and make sure you are able to contribute meaningfully, but that when you’re not contributing, you’re also not hindering others from doing so.

Conclusion

Right now is a difficult time. Very much so – and I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy and happy. Working from home makes up a small portion of what everyone is feeling and struggling against at this point in time and so we should remember to be mindful and grateful that we even are a part of companies who are able to support us working from home as the ability to even do so is a blessing.

Remember to take your mindset and find a way to turn each of the things you struggle with into positives; recognize them, appreciate them and ask yourself why you’re feeling that way, and then find a way to deal with it that makes you more productive and/or happier – most companies have a wealth of people who are experienced in or who are dedicated to help you working from home, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it and see if someone can help you tackle some of the problems you’re facing. Everyone is different and will need different things, just because you don’t feel comfortable working from home, for any reason, doesn’t mean you’re doing things wrong. We’re all learning together.

So stay safe, stay healthy and stay awesome and I’ll leave you with my favorite tweet so far on the matter:

P.S. We also just recorded a DBAle Special Episode on working from home, where all podcast participants were working from their respective homes, if you’re interested, you’ll be able to listen on Spotify, Apple Music and directly here: https://www.red-gate.com/hub/events/entrypage/dbale when it goes live in the next few days 🙂

Saying “no” doesn’t mean you don’t care

“One of the most painfully inauthentic ways we show up in our lives sometimes is saying “yes” when we mean “no,” and saying “no” when we mean “hell yes.””
Brené Brown

As someone who loves to please others, I often find that I end up with a calendar that looks like someone is very good at playing tetris, with meetings and demonstrations and training as the blocks and my days fill up dramatically to the point where finding white space or even a lunch break is difficult to do. Sound familiar?

Let me be clear, saying “yes” is one of the most powerful statements you have to offer – it is a clear indication that you want to help someone, or that you care about what they are doing. Yes is a profoundly positive and exciting word.

But what happens when you say yes one too many times?

  • Meetings start to pile up meeting you are running from one to the other and not getting time to focus on your core responsibilities
  • Meetings start eating into your personal time “oh I was hoping to leave at X o’clock but I can probably push that a bit”… an hour… two hours…etc.
  • The quality of your work slips because you’re balancing too many plates and only able to give an ever decreasing % of your time to individual tasks
  • Conflicts occur more easily when people book in follow up meetings at the same times as other meetings you’ve said yes to
  • People’s expectation of you shifts – not knowing that you are overburdened they expect you to thrive on that sort of “busy” and will continue to come to you with requirements

The negative ramifications of saying yes can be many, which leaves us in a fundamentally twisted catch-22, where what is supposed to be your most positive word can actually harm your work, your personal relationships and even your mental health.

Now I’m not saying that you should be asserting “no” to everything someone asks, it is very much a case of how you communicate. Communication is the best way of handling these sorts of situations because, and you may forget this often (but it’s worth reminding yourself) – people are just that, people.

No one is going to fly off the handle if you tell them “I can appreciate your situation and I understand why you require me for this, however I’m currently at capacity and my current priorities are dealing with X and Y instead.” There is nothing stopping you from also suggesting other avenues they may be able to go down, or other people they may be able to speak to, to help them with their problem/meeting etc.

One of my favorite phrases in the world is “When you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” (then you’re a mile away and you have their shoes! haha) but the key is not trying to do the same job or answer the same queries as someone, it’s merely empathizing with them and seeing it from their perspective. So when you are struggling with workload, look for proactive solutions to help, but don’t feel you have to put yourself in harms way to do so.

Conversely, if you work with someone who is constantly overburdened or chasing their own tail – consider, what can you do to help them? If you have additional overhead, be proactive and see if there’s anything you can do to share problems or thoughts.

A phrase I always hear when working with people to implement DevOps processes for their databases is “I simply don’t have time for this at the moment.“, despite the fact that the very solutions we’re discussing – whether they are related to tooling or processes– will save them time and help them get a handle on their current and future workloads. In many situations, this can be simply addressed by breaking down some of the silos they’re experiencing in their company, and asking for help.

The top 3 tips I can offer to people who are afraid of saying no, or who flat out refuse to do so are this:

  1. Communicate. Tell people you feel overwhelmed, help them understand why your current load is too much so they understand what you’re up against.
  2. Ask for help. Many consider this to be a sign of weakness, but the most successful people aren’t the one’s who just do everything by themselves, they are the ones who know how to tap into the empathy, expertise and knowledge of those around them.
  3. Manage your time better. Revisit your priority list and identify what you can delegate, or ask for help on. Make time for yourself to catch up, to do admin work or to blog, for instance! Definitely make sure you take time for things (even block them out in your calendar provisionally) like lunches and leaving on time because allowing your brain to break away from the constant pace of everyday life when it’s not overwhelmed inspires creativity and problem solving, and will actually better prepare you for the challenges ahead.

So no. Saying “no” does not mean you don’t care, in fact it means the opposite, you do care – but you’re prioritizing, doing your best to ensure the demands of the job are met, but most importantly you’re putting your own health first.

Stop calling yourself an idiot.

“Be you, love you. All ways, always.”
Alexandra Elle

You’ve probably heard it a lot; in the workplace, at home, from yourself. The dreaded phrase “oh sorry, I’m just being an idiot.” It doesn’t always have to be “idiot”, it can be “moron”, “I’m being stupid”… the list goes on and on.

I’m going to say something you may or may not like, whether you do or not is irrelevant as it does not diminish it’s truth.

You are not an idiot. Nor have you ever been one.

Many people use this phrase to excuse mistakes they make or to emphasize that they know better but had followed a gut instinct to do something forgetting the best or ‘correct’ way of doing it, but that is neither stupidity nor idiocy. It is being human.

I work with so many intensely clever people, not just when it comes to knowing about DevOps, or knowing about SQL Server, but about things in general. Regardless of what the thing you know is, you know something and in many cases more about it than many people around you and you should take pride in that. I’m not by any means insisting that you should be arrogant or full of yourself, but you should be confident about the things you know and the experiences you have had that got you to that point.

Thinking less of yourself for simple mistakes (and that’s all they are, small, easily rectified things) is damaging not only to other people’s perceptions of you but it’s how you are reinforcing your negative perception of yourself. The more you repeat this to yourself like a mantra you undermine the self belief and self love you have for yourself, you are making a very simple but very effective statement to the world that you are not worthy.

Do you really believe that? If so, then it is time for introspection and a more fundamental soul searching exercise to lead yourself to acceptance and contentment. My feeling is though that 99% of people reading this will know that they are worthy, both of the love of other people as well as the love of themselves.

It is deeply rooted in the language we use and is an observed behavior that we grow up with and adopt into our own personal idiosyncrasies, so it is time to change up the language we use about ourselves. Take each mistake or negative feeling you have about your own knowledge, observations and/or performance and simply change the way you describe it to yourself, which can have a huge impact on how you remember and feel about that event. Challenge the use of negative terminology and use updated and positive self-affirming phrasing – you can find some great examples of this here: https://www.healthline.com/health/positive-self-talk#examples-of-positive-self–talk

I’ll give you a key example as I am very guilty of doing this myself, in the hope’s that giving a personal context will allow you to more easily identify where you can give yourself some more love. Yesterday I had a meeting with the wonderful Kendra Little (who I have already spoken about a number of times on here, but yet again she comes to the rescue) where we were discussing an upcoming webinar that we’ll be conducting together. I asked Kendra for some additional time for us to sync up later in the week so we could best discuss the format for the webinar, do a run through and (ad verbatim):

“I need to know roughly when each of us should be talking, because whilst I would naturally be more quiet and let the super-expert speak, but I don’t want to come across as the creepy guy who joins a webinar and sits there in silence not contributing anything for an hour.”

Can you see what was wrong with that? The language I used to immediate diminish my own value, without even being conscious of it at the time?

Quite rightly, I was met with silence on Kendra’s part which was immediately followed up with: “Chris. You just managed to describe all of the key benefits of this model over the more traditional single models in detail, in a way that people will understand. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

That stuck with me all evening and on reflection on how I spoke about myself I realize how right Kendra is. I am here for a reason, I was invited to participate in the webinar for a reason, and people care what I have to say.

So take some time for you, take a good hard look at how you speak about yourself, your accomplishments and your mistakes and realize, you are anything but an idiot. You are wonderful.

Accountability, not blame

“When you blame and criticize others, you are avoiding some truth about yourself.”
Deepak Chopra

Last week, I didn’t blog.

Why? Well there is no real excuse, I had opportunities to and I prioritized other things around and over it which led to a simple and inescapable fact: for the first time this year, I didn’t blog.

Every day I speak to people about development processes and adopting more agile methodologies; utilizing source control effectively and deploying better code more frequently. One of the biggest wins in this process is the level of accountability managers and teams are able to adopt. You can see exactly who has been doing what, when and why and this allows you to communicate more effectively, share ideas and ultimately deliver more value to the people consuming your end product.

One thing that always gets me though is when people, and there are many, talk about the ability to catch bad code, and holding developers accountable for their actions. Some people see this for what it really is, a feedback loop. Feedback is the single greatest thing one can receive on any of life’s paths; whether this be feedback on an essay you wrote, or on your personal tone and manners in social situations. The goal of feedback is for you to learn, to adapt, to grow.

But some people see it as a ‘blame game’, holding people bang-to-rights and using feedback to attack, rather than nurture. Trying to adapt what is primarily a process for growth and turning it into an opportunity to escape accountability for your own actions and to make another feel inferior as a by-product is a clear indicator of someone who is, as Deepak says, avoiding a deep and potentially unsettling truth about themselves.

This style of blame is akin to bullying, emotional abuse either within or outside the workplace and is catagorically not the style of accountability (if you can call it that) you or anyone should be adopting and crucially…

If you see or hear anyone giving ‘feedback’ like this, take the opportunity to speak to that person (when possible) and explain why what they are doing is so destructive.

The best way to tackle destructive negative feedback is with constructive feedback and understanding.

So no, I didn’t blog. Do i feel bad about this? Well, perhaps in some way – but crucially, the reason i didn’t blog is that I consciously prioritized other things in my life that required my attention, and I’m glad I did. The other things that I’m working on, both personally and professionally, are making me happy and fulfilled. Blogging will come with time and there will be weeks where I am not able to, but I will catch up as priorities shift themselves back to normal, stable, day-to-day levels.

I have learned from this week that there are better ways to organize my time, and this is important feedback to give myself to ensure in the future I am able to get through everything I would like to and to still have time for me, so it has been a very important learning curve.

This week, my wife and I are on holiday and I have made the decision to turn on my out-of-office and turn off work-email notifications and I will be using this time instead to focus on the one person in the world who makes me feel like nothing can stop me, who’s always there with a thoughtful, beautiful smile – and that is the very least she deserves.

I am accountable to myself to ensure I am doing the things I must, and behaving as I should – but I refuse to blame myself for taking time out for my mental health, for taking opportunities to grow… and for not prioritizing blogging.

I hope you all have a wonderful week and that your 2020 is off to the most wonderful start as we leave a cold and dark January behind us and I’ll see you back here for more of what you’ve seen so far and more!

P.S. £10 for the missed week takes the total for the ‘2020 blogging challenge’ donation to MIND up to £130 in December, a happy product of holding myself accountable.

Not letting stress take over, give yourself a moment

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Sydney J. Harris

I work in a bustling, high-pressure environment. As a Sales engineer I could be called on to do, well, pretty much anything at the last minute – and particularly at the end of quarters when there are big pushes to try and hit various targets you never know quite what you’ll be doing day to day. Will I be on site with a customer this week? Will I be doing 6 product demonstrations in a single day or one long 3-hour remote troubleshooting session?

It could be anything.

It makes my job exciting and I love the prospect of having to be on my metaphorical toes, but for me and those around me it can be exhausting. Yes it’s exciting, but never getting what I like to call “work down time” i.e. time you can use to learn something knew, tinker with a problem you’ve been thinking about for a while, can become detrimental to your mental state as the pressure starts to build.

This problem isn’t restricted to a sales environment – it can occur anywhere there is a high pressure workload, deadlines or unpredictability.

Stress is a hormonal response from the body. Adrenaline and cortisol (and others) force your body into this “ready” state where you’re constantly ready to fight or flee and it is a state that should be reserved for occasions we require it. To be in a high pressure, high stress job where you constantly feel worn out, over worked and anxious for what the day holds in store can be not only problematic for your workload as you try in vain to keep up with everything (and potentially let standards slip) but it can also have big ramifications for your health, including (but not limited to):

  • Less and/or worse quality sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Skin irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches / Migraines

It’s obvious when you’re giving in to stress because you start making excuses. When we’re most stressed that’s when we find ourselves identifying ways to put off tackling the thing that is causing us the issue(s) or normalizing and rationalizing the problem. We’ve all been students at one point, putting off working for deadlines “well, I can pretty much get it done next week I’m sure” and even now as adults we start figuring out how much time we can sacrifice around it “well if I come in at 5am and just crack on with it, because no one else will be in the office…“. This is just another way for stressful activities to play on your mind and eat into our personal time and even our sleep. But that stuff is muy importante and actually, you don’t have to put yourself through that; many people consider stress to be a normal part of the job they lead like prison guards, astronauts and doctors. The key is to use stress to your advantage, be focused on the job at hand, but don’t let it overwhelm you, whatever it is you do.

Stress has always been something I’ve had difficulties overcoming and it wasn’t until 2019 when my wife and I ran an Action For Happiness “Exploring What Matters” course (check here for any courses running near you – they’re super cool!) that I realized I didn’t have to be a slave to stress.

There are so many coping techniques for stress but I wanted to just share 1 with you today (and maybe others in the future), but this is a technique I discovered in that Exploring What Matters course that you can put into action right now.

It has long been proven that meditation can have incredible health benefits for those who practice it, but the common feedback I hear on it is “but I don’t have time to meditate in the middle of the day! I have a job to do!” – whilst this may be true, meditation doesn’t just have to be sitting in a quiet room, cross-legged saying “hummmmmm” whilst sniffing incense for an hour until you find inner peace.

The video below will walk you through taking just a moment in the middle of your day to re-focus, to help you deal with stress. Sometimes we carry stress with us from call to call or meeting to meeting and all it can take is for us to deal with that build up to prevent it from affecting us and our work. I loved the course because it made me look at stress for what it was – not a big ball of mess that I had to carry everywhere with me and could do nothing about – rather, something I could choose not to feel if i didn’t want to.

I hope this video helps you as much as it’s helped me.

One thing I will say in closing though, and that is if you find stress is a big part of your daily life and it makes you agitated, anxious and weary, meditation might not be enough to help you get through. Stress can be like a big heavy ball you constantly feel is hanging from your neck, pulling you down and restricting your airways. However, things can change and you can change them. Speak to your boss, your friends and family, even a therapist about what is stressing you out; they may hold the key to help you unlock the root of the stress and therein lies the way to releasing it.

You are not alone, ever.