Jay's Journey


Didn't see that coming! Image credit: Andrea Piacquadio at Pexels

This week I had a conversation with my manager, and it didn't go at all like I expected. But first, a little background.

Since late last year, I was promoted into a new role that I never applied for.

At first, I was kind of upset about it. And before you get mad at me and judge me for being some kind of a-hole for not being happy about a promotion, hear me out.

Prior to being moved into my new role, I was really happy where I was and with what I was doing for work. I was efficient, and frankly, had everything down to a system where I was working way less than 40 hours a week. I wasn't managing any other team members that directly reported to me, but I was leading other teams' efforts toward project and company objectives.

And, since I'm a salary worker, that meant I was being paid the same amount of money, and having a lot of time that I could use for things I wanted to do outside of just work.

And, if you've read my previous posts, you'd know that I value time more than money. And, so, I had a pretty sweet setup that was paying the bills AND giving me back a ton of time that I could use in any way I wanted. And, the icing on top was, I was killing it with my then-manager, and getting all kinds of accolades for the quality of my results.

Notice I said “results”, and not work. That's because I'm truly blessed enough to work for an employer that values results more than how many hours my butt is in a seat. My employer believes in flexible work, and it's the foundation of the work culture there, and I love it.

As a guy who loves efficiency, this is great for me because I don't like wasting too much time on non-productive activities while working – as well, when I'm done with my work for the day, I want the freedom to go do something else, and not be held captive until the clock strikes a certain time of day so I can yabba-dabba-do my way out of the office.

And, since I work from home, I no longer have to deal with time-wasters sidling up to my desk to talk away the next hour babbling about literally nothing while keeping me from getting my work done.

So, yeah, I totally love that I work from home full time, and I work for a company that measures actual results and value instead of how much time you wasted sitting in your chair, even if you finished all your work for the day. I used to work for a company like that, and it used to really frustrate me.

Ok, so back to the story, I had a sweet setup, didn't have to work a full 40 hours ever because I'm efficient, effective, and focused... you with me so far?

Now, this sweet setup got interrupted when my manager's manager's manager saw I was doing a really good job in my current role. There's another division elsewhere in the company that needed a guy... not just any guy, but a guy they can trust to do a good job.

And out of nowhere I get asked to [virtually] meet the head of the department within the division where they need the guy that can do a good job. I was told initially that I would be “helping out”, so I'm thinking I'm being asked to help them out for a few weeks, but not leaving my current role or management structure.

So, I meet with the department head, and we hit it off. He says I'm hired, and that I'll be leading a team that will start small, but will be growing to several team members within the next year. I was a little confused as to why they'd want a temporary person to grow a team, so I asked about that... if I'm only helping out, are you sure you want to build a team under me if I won't be sticking around?

Turns out, I was mistaken (by not being told the whole story). When I hit it off with the department head, it turns out they wanted me to join them permanently, and yes, they want me to build my own team.

Hence me getting a little upset. Building a team means more work. I was liking the work I was doing, and killing it, but not having to work any harder than necessary to get all that done. Growing a team means more work. Dammit, my little setup is no more!

So when I first joined the new division, my new manager, who I interviewed with and hit it off with was throwing a bunch of stuff at me. Mostly because he has to grow his department due to lots of funding and it being a priority for the company that his department and the division as a whole to grow to meet demand.

And, since there's lots to do, and he doesn't have his full team to do it all, I was having to jump in and help out wherever I could. As a result, I'm not just leading one team, I'm leading two. To be fair, the second team is just temporary (for real temporary this time), so not a forever thing.

Well, it also turns out that the work we're doing is work I'm actually enjoying. It's been a long while since I was doing hard(er) work that I was feeling both challenged AND fulfilled at, so this was kind of cool. And even though I just joined a few months ago, I've already got some quick wins that have been making their way up the senior management chain.

And yet, still no full 40 hour weeks required so far. Again, my knack for efficiency is keeping the overtime monster at bay.

Then, earlier this week I have the unexpected conversation with my new manager. We go over the staffing for both teams I'm leading, and then he says that by late spring, he'll have found a permanent lead for the second team I'm helping out with.

I told him that so far, it hasn't been a huge time commitment, so if he needed me to stay on longer for that second team, I was happy to do it. Then, he says this, “You're totally doing a great job, and you're crushing it on both teams, but I don't want to burn you out. I need you for the long term, and overloading you with two full time teams is not a good way to keep you for the long term.”

Now, you might be thinking he's just being nice and trying not to hurt my feelings, but he'd been directed to put me in for a title promotion by his boss's boss, which also means a higher pay raise to go with it. That wouldn't be in the works if they were just letting me down gently.

They're actually concerned that if they give me too much, I'll either flame out, or want to leave. And they're willing to take active steps to prevent that from happening.

Imagine... how many times has it been the opposite? Like, “we really appreciate all the extra hard work you've been doing, and we realize you haven't gotten a raise and are so tired you can't see straight, but we need you to hang in there just a little while longer (with no real end date in sight) and we promise we'll make it worth your while”... and then proceed to do absolutely nothing but continue to crush your soul and work you to near-death.

This was the opposite, and my work is getting noticed in a positive way many levels above. Now, they want to be sure I'm not being overwhelmed and am in the Goldilocks zone at work. Amazing.

So, it's not that I'm lazy at work, it's that I value time to an extreme degree and even have to take steps to protect it from professional time-wasters. I don't like to waste it, I like to maximize it, while also enjoying the dividends that being efficient and effective with time management pays back by not having to bust my butt a full 40+ hours every week.

And the other side effect is that it helps produce results that bring value to the company and get noticed by my manager and several executives above him. Everybody wins, and when that happens, life is good.

tags: #reflections #productivity

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Gmail, not my computer Image credit: Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash

Anyone who knows me also knows that I have a generally negative view of Google as an email provider, let alone a corporation. Back in the day, when I didn't know any better, I loved using Google's email, calendar, and docs.

The ease and simplicity of using their services was just too good to be true. And, it turns out, it actually was.

When news story after news story came out about Google's downright evil corporate surveillance of it's users, I stopped using Gmail and Docs many years ago. I also vowed never to use these services ever again.

And I get it. They're a business, and since I didn't pay a dime for these amazing services, they should be allowed to make money somehow from the services they offer. Which is why I chose not to use their services as I eventually learned, I was the product.

To be clear, I do have a Gmail account, but that's just to be able to create playlists, like videos, and comment on YouTube. I don't actually use the email or the docs.

So, I never thought I'd say it, but here we are, and I'm just as shocked as you are. I'm going to miss Google. And that means that at work, they're in the process of migrating us all off Google Workspace over to M365, which is Microsoft's attempt at email and collaboration.

More like Microsoft's email and convolution. Ugh. Thankfully, it'll take a while before I have to use M365.

I'm no stranger to M365 as I used it for my small side-business because I refuse to use Google products, let alone pay for them. So, I know what awaits me when my employer makes the switch, and I'm kind of dreading it.

Having had to use Google Workspace at work, I've become more and more impressed with Google Workspace's ability to actually get work done. The collaboration features are really solid. But what's been even more surprising to me was the individual tools that enable me to get work done.

Little things like the ability to click a button in your calendar entry to create a pre-formatted Meeting Notes document that fully references your meeting from the calendar entry itself. From there, you're asked if you want to share that same document with your attendees – where, because it's Google Docs, you can all view and edit simultaneously. What's more, when you create bullets, you also have the ability to assign bullets as tasks to any of the attendees.

Yeah, Microsoft let's you do that, kinda, with Teams, and Word and Sharepoint, and Outlook fat client, etc. Not as smooth or out-of-your-way easy like Google does it, and, you've got about 3 different tools to do the same thing. Thus, making it hard for a work team to know which tool to use for which task.

The result of this is that information your team needs is spread around several tools and storage locations. Sure, everything is really stored in Sharepoint, but it's disjointed and disparate.

Heck, OneNote doesn't even let you tag users STILL. After years of enterprise users begging Microsoft for the ability to @mention users in OneNote to be able to use OneNote in a task-collaborative manner, Microsoft still couldn't give a shit.

Google Meet is kinda meh, and it needs some updating in features, needing tighter integration with Google Drive, Keep, and Tasks. But from what I've seen with Google's ability to create a truly functional productivity suite, I'm sure it'll continue to get better over time.

Spaces in Google have really gotten pretty good. Spaces are virtual work rooms where chat, documents, and even tasks can be centralized and coordinated. Combined with the features that Google Drive and Docs offer, I'm just really impressed, and much more productive and efficient as an individual and as a member of work teams.

And, since my employer is footing the bill, I don't have to worry about betraying my principles. But, in secret, I really enjoy using Google Workspace as my project documents, emails, calendar, and the ability to stay organized and productive has never been better.

So, this is why I say, reluctantly, and albeit surprisingly, I'm going to really miss Google. Sigh.

tags: #technology #productivity #thoughts

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You've Got Mail! Photo credit: Yannik Mika at Unsplash

I don't mean too many emails, I mean too many email accounts. With emails all up in them as well. I've just got too many email accounts.

Why? Well, I kind of collect email accounts like some people collect purses, or shoes, or salt and pepper shakers. And this past weekend, I finally realized that it's not good.

Why do I collect email accounts in the first place? Well, mostly because I like to try out new email services. Let's face it, since email as a service is kinda boring, most email providers have to market their service as being unique.

You know, the whole, “A Unique Approach to Email” is the headline. And, to some extent, each email provider does do email a bit different than the other. So, I like trying that unique thing. And, over the years, it's translated to like close to 12 different email accounts. <—– I already updated that number like 3 times while writing this post as I keep remembering more accounts I have laying around.

Some accounts I pay for, and some I don't. The ones I don't pay for are an issue because the old saying goes that if you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

But, with a provider like Zoho (yes, I have an account with them), they'll give you a free account and won't do evil shit with your info. But, for places like Yahoo and Google, and even Microsoft, yeah, they do.

I ditched Yahoo years ago after they had the biggest email breach in human history. It's true, look it up. And, I have Gmail out of necessity because, you know, YouTube, but would ditch them entirely if I could – damn those digital crack dealers!

And, with different email accounts come different email addresses. And with different email accounts and email addresses comes email sprawl – email on many different servers in many parts of the world. And because most email providers offer an email migration tool of some kind, I'm a propagator of my own email across different services.

Because it's just. So. Easy!

I've been on a quest to find the email service that won't be evil with my email by snooping on or selling my data. Then, it needs to have function and utility to enable me to manage my email in a way that's fun, or at least in a way I don't hate it.

A huge bonus if the email service is end to end encrypted with zero knowledge, meaning the staff or third party contractors or anybody but me can't read my email.

Each email service tends to have it's own value triangle: Features, Zero Knowledge Encryption, Fun to Use – You can only pick two.

As I'd like to get this post out relatively quickly, I won't go into which service meets each of the elements of the value triangle, but maybe in another post.

For the purposes of this post, I've come to the realization that I have way too many email accounts, and this past weekend I started to do something about it.

I started by first embracing the fact that I can't have all three elements in the value triangle. Then, based on that, I decided that in order to have all three elements, I'll need TWO email accounts. One that does what I want without zero knowledge encryption while being fun to use and fast, and then one with zero knowledge encryption that can at least do the basics without sucking too bad.

I settled on the two that will get the job done for me in the way I need to and want to:

  • Fastmail as my daily driver: It's way fast, feature packed, and at least private, but without the zero knowledge encryption.
  • Protonmail as my virtual safe deposit box: Stuff I'd only want my spouse, priest, attorney, or doctor to know go in there. I also have their VPN service, so it's kinda free and I get a stupid amount of storage, like 500GB.

And, by doing that, I feel relieved. Like I'm getting a handle on things.

Now, for all the email addresses that I have out there. I'd started using an email masking and forward service a couple of years ago called SimpleLogin.io. It's great because you can create an email alias, on the fly even, for every website you have to sign up for some kind of an online account.

It's also great for signing up for newsletters, basically, anything you have to give out your email address for. Instead of giving out your real email address that they can sell, give them an alias instead.

Then, when that alias email address is sold or compromised in some data breach (which happens daily now), you can easily disable that alias in the SimpleLogin dashboard.

So, just today I had to register for jury duty. On the county's website, I created an alias on the fly of the countyname@mydomain.com. And now that email alias forwards email to the actual mailbox of my choosing. SimpleLogin also allows you to specify multiple mailboxes to send that email to.

That doesn't really help me as I'm a recovering email account collector, but it's good to know I can do that if I want. So, with that service, I can also give people an email address that I can determine where it lands. It saves people from having to always update my email address, or even have to keep several of them in my addressbook entry.

I just give them one address, and whichever or how ever many email services I use on the back end, all they need be concerned with is the one email address I gave them.

So, the next step is to take the next week or two, and pull all my emails off these other services other than the two I've decided to use, and cancel the rest. Until I fall off the wagon again, that is.

tags: #technology #reflections #productivity

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This post was originally posted on my previous blog site called Jay's Journal on February 6th, 2018.

Here's to ME!

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?

tags: #thoughts #reflections #productivity

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But muh deletes! Image credit: The Internet

I'm a fairly recent Mac convert, and I enjoy it very much. As an IT pro, however, I still use different operating systems like Windows and Linux for fun and profit.

But, one thing that's unique on a Mac keyboard more than the others is the “delete” key. See, the delete key is really a backspace key, and there's no real proper delete key on a true Mac keyboard.

Some of the Mac purists out there may say I'm blaspheming by saying that, but c'mon, the delete key takes your writing cursor BACK one space for each time you press the key. That's a backspace, even if you are removing a space or a character while moving back.

A true “delete” key enables you to press it, and one character or space AFTER the writing cursor is removed each time you press it. Hence, the act of deletion.

So, is there a way to use the Mac's delete key as a delete key? Yes, there is.

If you click the function key (fn) with the globe on it, at the bottom left of the Mac keyboard, and also press the delete key, you can now delete characters and spaces after the writing cursor. These two keys right here Image credit: Macinstruct.com

There you go. Hope that helps!

tags: #technology #productivity

If you like my work and you received value from this post, please consider buying me a coffee: Like my work? Please consider buying me a coffee.

And, if you'd like to stay up to date with new blog posts, subscribe for free email delivery each time a new post is published. I hate SPAM just as much as you do, and your information will never, EVER, be shared or sold.

Since the Write.As platform is a minimalist blogging/writing service, there's not a lot by way of sidebars and frilly site navigation. I love that.

It's clean and, well, minimalist, which makes in uncluttered. However, I'd like to give you a way to see all the groupings of blog posts by their tags, so here we are. The tags page.

Simply click on a hashtag and all posts that share that hashtag will appear for you to see all on a single page. Enjoy!

#updates #thoughts #opinion #reflections #diet #rants #observations #productivity #technology #privacy #security