Sprint 14: Career Change
February 8, 2016 by David T. Allen
January was a strange month. While Leslie started and finished editing Echo Chamber Heist, I ended up looking for and finding a new job. If it weren’t for Leslie, our manuscript would have stagnated.
At the beginning of January, Leslie knew the pace she needed to finish editing by early February. She filled her side of the board. I followed her lead, forgetting that we normally just plan two weeks at a time. Two week plans let you adjust your goals halfway through the month in case something unexpected happens.
Unfortunately, something unexpected happened.
Keeping a Promise
The startup I work for laid off a number of people, including eight engineers. I spent the next few weeks helping anyone that asked for it: finding job opportunities, giving interview advice, networking at a career happy hour, and writing recommendations.
About six months ago, I had made a promise to Leslie: if work didn’t calm down by January, I would begin looking for a new job. I love working here, but I often come home exhausted, which leaves little energy to work on our personal goals. It’s taken us a long time to write Echo Chamber Heist, and I want the opportunity for us to finish faster, fail faster, and iterate faster. I want to invest in our ideas, and I want to be more involved.
I had very few usable hours in the evenings, when I got home, and if friends or family wanted to do something, or if I had to work over the weekend, I might go a whole week without making any progress. It was like working at a startup during the day, then working at a different startup at night. One job suffered when the other needed extra work, and usually, it was our own projects that were compromised.
Friends stopped inviting us out, since we turned them down so often. There’s software developer events I’ve wanted to attend and network at but I never could find the energy for them. Exercise and relaxation have been a rarity; it’s hard to give up time I could be working on our projects.
Sleep is another problem. I’m often tired because I can’t get on any sort of sleeping schedule. If work needed me after hours, or if I had a groove with writing, then I’d stay up late. It would take days for me to recover, since work requires being present at a certain time every morning. The time was generously late, but falling asleep at 4am and waking up a few hours later is brutal.
I wanted to try to make it work, but one of the original issues was not having enough time to write, and I barely wrote all of January. So, I kept my promise to Leslie, and found a new job that should be more flexible. I hold no ill will, and I wish everyone there the best of luck. Leaving is not going to be easy for me.
Leslie, my Knight in Shining Armor
After returning from Japan, I reread our manuscript and noted a few changes that would have a big impact. They weren’t small, but Leslie attacked them with gusto. Originally, she intended to finish editing by February 15, but she got aggressive and completed everything in January. Part of her motivation was keeping me happy, since my tasks languished.
This was no small feat. She rewrote a large portion, including every single chapter with one of our POV characters, and made intense edits from the middle to the end.
I Also Did a Thing
We are contributing a short story to a collection of Steampunk Fairy Tales. I chose to do a retelling of Issun Boshi, which is a Japanese fairy tale about a one-inch-tall boy that becomes a samurai. Leslie had drafted an introduction and was going to write it, but she preferred to focus fully on Echo Chamber Heist so I took over the short.
It took all month, but I finished the (currently) 2,500 word short story, just in time for the January 31st deadline. I look forward to writing more short stories in the future, when situations are less stressful.
We’re trying a new color scheme:
- White is an originally planned task.
- Pink is scope creep, or something we hadn’t originally planned on doing.
- Green is booyah, or tasks finished after all original tasks are done.
- 56 original tasks (Leslie: 24, Dave: 32)
- 58 finished tasks (Leslie: 38, Dave: 20)
- 36 finished original tasks
- 7 finished scope creep
- 15 finished booyah
- 21 unfinished original tasks (Leslie: 0, Dave: 21) Twelve of these should have been deprioritized
- 103% completion by task count
- 1 deprioritized milestone
The counts would have been better if I had stuck to a two week planning cadence. It would also look better if I had deprioritized the twelve tasks related to outlining our process over the last year, since we deprioritized the entire milestone. Originally, I wanted to start analysis for a project management book I’d like to write. I realized I need more time for the process to evolve, so, in early January, we decided to not write that book yet. But I was stubborn and wanted to see some progress, so I added it as an “easy” milestone. Once my job made January hectic, this was the first set of goals to go.
I also cheated a bit and had a few weird tasks, like writing recommendations. Recommendations took a long time, even longer than expected because LinkedIn had a bug in their app and I had a hard time convincing their support team of the issue. Still, I wanted to move something to the done column.
I stand by the tasks concerning getting a new job, because we need an income to support our writing.
Stick to two-week plans unless you have a deadline and a well-defined set of work.
Disregard potential milestones that aren’t a primary focus and can’t be finished in one year. Taking notes on last year’s progress didn’t make sense because I had no intention of writing a book about project management this year. I was very excited to work on this project, and that impaired my judgment.
If you don’t have time to write, figure out how to make time. Over two years ago, we made a decision that Leslie should quit her job to focus on writing full-time (sometimes she took part-time work). It was only after this decision that we saw real momentum. Now, we’ve decided that I should change jobs so I can contribute more. I don’t know if it will work out for me, since I’m still working a (mostly) full-time job, but I expect lower stress and less hours will do wonders.
Barbara Hambly, author of The Silicon Mage and numerous other works, took jobs that allowed her to write. According to her Wikipedia page, these included high school teacher, model, waitress, technical editor, all-night liquor store clerk, and Shotokan karate instructor. (I forgot Shotokan was a word until just right now; that’s bad ass.) I hope that us taking a similar approach will be fruitful.
- Perhaps consider a new colored slip for explanations. I used scope creep for writing recommendations, but really, that has nothing to do with our book—I just wanted to pin something on the board to show I was busy. I don’t think I’ll implement this, since I want to keep the board simple, and explanations shouldn’t come up often … but, since we plan on writing quickly and in bursts, we plan on doing a lot of non-book stuff this year. We’ll have to revisit this one.
Here’s what we have in mind for February:
This time, I remembered to only plan for the first two weeks. Since I’m starting a new job soon, I really don’t know how to gauge the full month anyway. I will finish reading and taking high level notes on our manuscript (including copying notes out of my nook) and maybe write a few blog articles. The last two weeks will be devoted to line edits. I also intend to go to the chiropractor with Leslie, since it’s helped with some minor pain I’ve been having and it might help Leslie’s headaches.
Leslie didn’t have any specific plans for the first week because she finished editing Echo Chamber Heist early. She’s waiting for a beta read swap to begin in week 2, in which she’ll spend most of her time giving chapter-by-chapter feedback on two other manuscripts. She’ll also finish editing our steampunk fairy tale for an upcoming ebook release.
Reflecting on January
Pittsburgh in January couldn’t decide if it wanted to be warm or cold. Some people were excited to have autumn days in winter, but I prefer the seasons to just do what they’re supposed to do.
Leslie devised a strategy to calm our basenji-chihuahua-corgi-mix dog when she’s crazy.
This fortune cookie had flippin’ pinpoint timing:
Here’s a few pictures near my old job; while I’m excited for upcoming opportunities, I really will miss working there.
We went to Games N’ At for Gabe’s birthday. Before we got there, though, our basenji-chihuahua-corgi-mix dog woke up, crying and holding her paw funny.
This had happened once before, a year ago, at 2am. Right as we were about to leave for the emergency vet, she heard the treat jar and came running. We deduced her paw had just fallen asleep.
This time, she wasn’t interested in treats, even when we held them to her mouth, so I held her in the car while Leslie drove to the emergency vet. As soon as we were about to enter, Schooner began walking on her paw. She even started tugging when she saw another dog. Her paw must’ve been asleep, again.
Another case of flippin’ pinpoint timing: I was hungry, and our friend, Lauren, had brought us Spak Brothers’ hoagies!