Get your time back… by learning to automate it

After nearly a year ago saying I was going to be a more regular blogger, here I am nearly 4 months from my last post ( and closer to 5 months since one that arguably had some sort of insight to it ). So you, one of the 5 regular readers of my blog are probably wondering what’s my excuse going to be this time.

Simply put, I let my own inefficiencies get the best of me.

I plan to do a series of blog posts around this topic, but the bottom line is that being a remote worker means you have to have an even better grasp on your time. If you don’t, you’ll get yourself buried in no time.

So let’s start this series with what I think is one of the easiest things to do. Learn to automate what automate-able.

I had several things I did on a regular basis, including posting builds and updating our API and Schema documentation. And each time I was running all the commands to do this by hand. Now question 2 of the Joel Test says this is a bad idea from a build perspective, as it makes the whole process prone to all sorts of human errors in skipping a step or mistyping something. But I look at it an even more elementary level; if something you do is repeatable and done largely the same way every time, not automating it is in effect wasting time. Especially if it’s a long running process; it’s far better to have it run on another computer while you tend to things needing your attention. It’s multitasking where you don’t need to pay tons of attention to one of the tasks. So I’ve dug back into my bash scripting skills, and make every since task I do that’s script-able into a bash script ( or a PHP one if that’s easier ).

But then there’s slightly less obvious methods of “multitasking” that is often overlooked. I was reading an article in Delta Air Line’s Sky Magazine last month ( sorry, couldn’t find it in non dead tree form ), which talked about how more and more people are outsourcing the little things in their lives that are taking time away from friends and family. And it clicked for me in a somewhat surprising way; I made the focus of my job too much at the low level, when I needed to be looking at the proverbial “big picture” more to be able to be effective. And these little tasks, all very low level, were eating away at my day and not letting me focus on being an effective evangelist inside Sugar.

So I’ve started down the road of being more effective with my time, and in the process had to decide what’s truly core to my job and making sure I keep that most important. Then with the other tasks, I’ve worked with my team to balance them between all of us or move them off my plate when they don’t make sense. It seems quite simple on the surface, but for a person like me who wants to turn out a complete and perfect thing with everything I do it was tough. But the gain for me for doing this, I’ve found my days less stressful, working less late into the night, and generally have enjoyed what I do even more than before. As a bonus, my communication with my other team members, as well as other folks in the company, has improved.

Being remote makes it really easy to fall into the trap of becoming a workaholic, as work is a mere few steps away. Resist the urge, and instead become more focal to your co-workers and managers on what is a timesink for you and work with them to help solve the problem. It’s easy to become siloed as a remote worker, and when this happens you will quickly fall into the inefficiency trap.

Advertisements

Learn more about honing your business skills in this Saturday’s Day Camp 4 Developers virtual conference

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about life and career in this blog recently, as to help developers become more productive members of a functioning business team. It’s a topic that is near and dear to me, and one that is essential for anyone looking to progress their career.

But if you want to really dig deep into this topic, then drop a mere $40 and check out the Day Camp 4 Developers conference. One day and you’ll hear some great talks such as these:

  • Lorna Jane Mitchell: Time and Money
  • Jacques Woodcock: So you want to be Self Employed
  • Thursday Brahm:  Planning Your Business for the Long Term
  • Tara Aaron: Put It In writing: Why good clear written agreements are important for developers and their clients
  • Paul M. Jones: Career and Life Management

And one from your’s truely as well…

  • John Mertic: Is it good for the company?

Loving what you are seeing? Curious on how to take your career from developer to manager? Then definitely sign up today at http://dc4d4.eventbrite.com/.

Hey Delta, is it this hard to find an iPad?

So this post is a bit of a rant more than anything, so for the three regular readers of this blog feel free to skip over this post. I promise to make this foray a brief one.

I made a blunder on my flight home from Atlanta to Akron/Canton Airport a few weeks ago; I left my lovely, SugarCRM logo and my name engraved iPad safely in it’s case in the seat pocket of seat 3A. D’oh!

I realized this the moment I got home, and being a bit of a snow storm decided it not prudent to risk life and limb to return to the airport. Calling the airport informing them of this, they took my name and number as said they would ask the Delta desk about this. Being my self driven self, I started tracing the plane, and saw it was doing a CAK-ATL-CAK-ATL-OMA run that day, so figured it would end up in one of CAK, ATL, or OMA ( Omaha for those who aren’t as familiar with airport codes ).

So I went back to the airport at CAK, and they didn’t have it ( but had another iPad someone lost on a plane ), and called OMA, which didn’t see it either. My guess is that it’s in ATL, but low and behold, THERE IS NO NUMBER TO CALL ABOUT DELTA LOST AND FOUND AT ATLANTA. That’s right, nobody to call and ask, nor anyone I could be transfered to that will call there and ask. What do they want you to do? Fill out a web form and hope for the best. Which I did, and all I am left with is hope :-(.

So my call to the blogosphere and twittersphere is this: short of going down to Atlanta and stalking the Lost and Found desk, who can I call to help me.

Having relaxing time off when you are remote

I think one of the most challenging part of being a remote worker is taking time off. When you work at an office and take a day off of work, all you need to do is not show up at the office. But if you office is in your house, it can be really tough to get away from it. And since people aren’t used to seeing you in an office to signifying that you are available, it can be really tough to get that message across.

I’ve been working like crazy lately. Tons of travel taking me to many locations across the US, Brazil, and Europe, lots of hours in getting various projects and programs going, and many late nights processing emails, reviewing pull requests, and doing reports, has really kept my head entirely into work. Which is good in one sense, as I’ve let my passion for what I do professionally really help me grow, but sometimes you need a bit of time away from it all to clear your mind and reset the engines, so to speak. So with the  end of the year holidays ( and a glut of PTO time in the bank ) I decided to take two full weeks off from work.

So knowing that I’m a remote worker, and getting pinged by everyone under the sun every day, how did I get this done without the temptation of slipping back into work?

Well, for starters, I knew I couldn’t completely ignore work for two weeks. I of course sent out an email to all of my co-workers to announce my intentions, and set my out of office reply to remind everyone when emails come in that I don’t respond to. But I also know from past experiences that I didn’t want to come back to a mountain of email, and so every day of vacation I knew I would be stressing about that first day back. So everyday, I spent 10 minutes just processing thru email; just clearing out things I knew didn’t matter and making sure anything of super urgency didn’t come in. My goal? To make sure that January 3rd isn’t spent processing and dealing with email for an entire day.

Next, I knew I needed something to do. One of the easiest ways to slip into work is to have too much idle time, and then you can rationalize opening up the laptop and starting to work on work stuff. So I planned to have several projects to work on as a part of our basement remodeling project; doing some plumbing work, pulling some cabling, and so on. We did a lot of different family activities together; from get togethers with family we don’t see as often to taking the kids to see Christmas lights. All in all it has been rejuvenating.

So far, this mix of managing my work life while taking more time in my personal life has resulted in a very relaxing and enjoyable time away from work. I’ve realized that cold turkey is just a recipe for disaster, but learning how to turn down work has given me the freedom to enjoy being away from it rather than stressing about the disaster that could be lurking upon my return.

What’s your secret? Sound off in the comments below….

“Hey, didn’t you use to blog?”

I imagine the title of this post is probably on the minds of all three of the regular readers of this blog ( or probably not, since you probably figured this was on the slow road to just another abandoned WordPress blog ). Well, as often in the case, life gets in the way, and in this case more so my professional life than anything ( though having an additional little one in the picture certainly didn’t help ). Let me recap my last few months:

  • Got an incredible promotion to become the Community Manager at SugarCRM. While I feel incredibly blessed to be in this role, it has lead to…
  • More travel ( Delta’s gonna throw me a party at the end of the year )
  • More blogging on a different blog, and a lot more frequently
  • Writing another book, this time with the fine folks at O’Reilly and in a much shorter time window
  • Much less coding time than before, and more “cat herding” so to speak ( those in similar community roles know what I mean here 🙂 )
  • The privilege to meet a lot of really cool people from all over the world.
…which naturally means even less time for blogging ( and heck, this is only post 33 so it’s not like I’ve been that chatty on it ).
What does this mean for this blog? Surely I don’t want to abandon it, so I kinda want to use this outlet to share some thoughts and insights on my interactions with the industry as a whole. Plus, I’ll continue to pimp some of my upcoming and past speaking gigs, just in case I have a secret fan club forming :-P.
So long story short, stay tuned, and hopefully there will be something interesting coming out of this blog in the very near future.

Developer’s SugarCRM book coming to a bookstore near you.

The Definitive Guide to SugarCRM: Better Business Applications is the book I have been working on this year, which offers a unique insight into the SugarCRM platform from me as a engineer at Sugar. I go into details on the nuts and bolts of how things work: MVC, metadata, web services, and more, and then show how to extend the platform to meet any organizations needs. In the end, the book really shows the power of SugarCRM to fit into any business as a more than just a CRM, but more as a platform for application development. It’s also special because it’s the only SugarCRM book on the market that is an official book for SugarCRM, bearing the company logo on the cover.

The book is available on Amazon using the link above.

PHP 5.2.6 updates and changes with me

The new PHP 5.2.6 release will feature automatic configuration of the NetServe Web Server thanks to help from James at Net-X Solutions. There also will be some bug fixes in the area of FastCGI configuration, Vista support, and extension configuration.

I’ve also changed jobs recently, starting at SugarCRM back in December as a Software Engineer. Big thanks to Travis Swicegood for helping me find this amazing opportunity.