Why is speed important?
One of the most common recurring conversations I had with startup founders was how to get products and features out the door faster. Typically, all is running smoothly until it’s time to actually push your work out into the wild. People want to buy the poster that says “move fast and break things”, but they end up not doing the former, causing more of the latter. One of my core tenants in Dependable was to help move projects forward by making sure everyone checks egos at the door and gets out of their own way.
Fear is the project killer.
So why is moving fast important? When put on the spot recently, I blurted out “because life is short and we’re all going to die one day.” I thought I should try to collect my thoughts and phrase it in a less morbid fashion.
And to be clear, I am not an advocate of the “move fast and break things” mantra. Facebook lived by it & paid it no mind when they broke things like their interface, their trust among their users, the news media, or American democracy writ large. Moving fast without caring about destination or side effects isn’t speed, it’s haste and recklessness. It’s careening down the highway at 100mph, instead of picking the route to your destination with the quickest route and finding ways to cut out stops along the way.
So don’t be hasty, and don’t be reckless. But be quick, and be aggressive.
When people ask me how work is going, my response is “the good kind of boring.”
No pressing deadlines. No sense of urgency. A tried-and-true tech stack. Feedback comes in, and I implement changes. I send code off for review and review others — Features ship. Bugs die.
It’s not terrible. But, when my wife comes home and asks me to tell me about my day, I got nothing.
I’m not complaining, but “the good kind of boring” is still monotonous. Every job and every project has doldrums. Periods, where all there is, is the grind. Since these times are inevitable, what can you do to tolerate them better? I have found a few tactics that have helped me, but before that, here is why it’s imperative that you first take ownership of your boredom.
It is not your boss’s responsibility to make your job enjoyable, exciting or fulfilling. That’s on you. You don’t find a job that fulfills you; you find ways to build more fulfillment out of your work. Your happiness is more a function of your self-awareness and self-management than external factors. It’s part of your emotional intelligence. What’s causing your boredom, and what can you do to relieve it? It’s a learnable skill, just like writing, coding, or selling. Now on to those tactics.
Over the last few years, mindfulness has moved from Eastern religious practice to Silicon Valley fad. More than enough podcasts discuss it, so I won’t belabor the point here. Just know this: mindfulness doesn’t have to be a rigid morning routine or even a meditative practice. It can be 5 – 10 minutes of quiet, taking stock of your crazy monkey mind’s contents. We can all 5 minutes. Here’s a trick: The next time you are reading an article online, listening to a podcast, checking social media, or checking your email, don’t. Instead, take a moment to be present. Ask yourself:
Are you honestly working as hard as you can? Is there a way you can Daft Punk your tasks and do them harder, better, faster, or stronger? Actively trying to improve your skills increases engagement. Here’s how I turned one of my first gigs, a data entry job of endless Excel cut-and-pasting, into an enjoyable and fruitful exercise:
I hid my mouse.
Excel has roughly 37,000 hotkeys, of which I knew about 4. I decided to learn more
Are there other tasks you can do outside of your current position? Talk to your coworkers and see what they are struggling with. Another story: Part of working in automation is that you are in a constant state of obsoleting yourself. At one previous job, when I had automated all the significant sections of our marketing funnel at one company, I talked to coworkers about their processes. It turns out customer support had about 1.5 full-time jobs worth of tedious bullshit on their plate. I took on automating that and was able to get others away from their excel sheets so they could do something a little less boring themselves.
What if none the above work? No matter how hard you try to find meaning or challenge in your work, it still seems listless and dull. You doing as much as you can, and you can’t take on anything else.
That means you are fortunate enough to have a chance to work on your mental discipline. Just as emotional intelligence increases with study and practice, mental toughness increases with training. It works like any other way you increase knowledge or strength. You improve by pushing your limits. You’re bored? Keep being bored. Learn how to be bored. If it’s inevitable, then prepare. If you can’t improve your situation, better yourself.
“Help! I Landed A Job, And I Have No Idea What I’m Doing!”
Do you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing… like you’re a fraud?
Impostor syndrome is common in our industry.
Wondering when you’ll “just know” something and not be so reliant on Google & Stack Overflow? That day never comes.
Anxiety comes from chasing an ideal that doesn’t exist. Everyone relies on external resources. There is no “10x” developer that just knows the documentation from memory, that doesn’t have to reference.
Every single developer makes mistakes every day. Every developer has moments they have to reference the language docs for a particular function, even if they’ve used it 1,000 times before. (It was probably this one.)
What you know isn’t what’s important. What you get done is. Shift your mindset from “how good am I?” to “what can I get done?” It moves your focus from internal to external. Stop worrying about yourself, start worrying about others
Break the problem down. Solve the smallest part. Get something done. Start writing code before you understand. You don’t have to commit. Work with others, it’s a good reminder that everyone deals with the problem.
Most of your job is novel. You do things you have never done before and solve problems you have never seen for a living.
Everyone Googles. You can Google. I’m giving you permission.
All you have to know is the next actionable step, And go for it. Don’t read and study and noodle around the problem. Take action. Find answers as problems arise.
Most creatives freelance at some point. Either as extra nights-and-weekends work, filling gaps between jobs, or building your own business. I advocate for learning the basics of doing client work. It gives you immutable job security. If you know how to find clients and profitable work, you’re never unemployed. The ability to fend for yourself provides freedom.
At some point, you’ll face the decision: should I freelance or work full-time? It’s a personal decision, and there is no correct choice. The only wrong choice is being indecisive and not moving forward.
First I want to distinguish between freelancing and building a service business. Freelancing could mean taking side gigs here or there and making a quick buck. If you are considering client work as primary income, then you must approach it as building a business, not gig hopping. You’ll need consistent sales and marketing processes, and the ability to manage your cash flow.
Long term, my goal is complete financial independence. I’m aiming to have assets that generate enough cash flow so that no longer have required work. The simplest, most conservative strategy is to have enough investments such that 4% returns pays for everything. In the interim, work is finding the quickest path to that solution.
From that perspective, we have a starting point. “Will freelancing help me reach independence faster than full-time employment?”
But that’s just one factor. If all we did were optimize for retirement, we’d all end up working in finance, fueled by a diet of rice and beans. In the interim, it’s about optimizing both cash flow and lifestyle until you are at a point you are no longer required to work to sustain yourself.
But wait, doesn’t freelancing provide more freedom? After all, that is the origin of the term, Although I prefer the Westerosi version of Sellsword. In some ways, it does.
But it’s complicated.
One of the reason’s people see freelancing as appealing is they see it as working whenever they want as much they want.
Spoilers: it’s not.
Freedom isn’t a lack of structure; it’s the ability to build the structure. You have 50 hours of work to do this week. When are they? You are working with clients and will need to be available to them at some point. You aren’t completely divorced from the 9-to-5 world.
But deciding how many of those hours you work and when is still under your control. You also don’t have to ask anyone for vacation time or over time. If you want to make more, work more. If you need a break, scale back the client work you’re taking on. Which leads to the other part of freelancing freedom:
If you want to make more money at a full-time job, how do you do it? Overtime isn’t an option for a salaried creative, so you’ll have to ask for a raise. You may be able to get a few percentage points, but that doesn’t substiantially move the needle. Usually, the only option is to make a diagonal leap to get a higher paying version of your job at another company.
When freelancing, you set your rates and capacity. Nothing is stopping you from doubling your rate on your next project. You also have more say on how you get paid. You can get paid upfront or net 60. You can bill hourly or with fixed fees. Sometimes changing your pricing strategy is all it can take to increase your revenue by 70%.
But neither of these are the real freedom most freelancers are looking for. What you really want is…
Who you work for is often the biggest factor in job satisfaction. If you work at an agency that takes on cheap toxic clients and then attempts to get profitable with volume, you’re gonna have a bad time. When you’re running the show, you get to decide who you work for and what kind of work you do. If you enjoy working with clients in the music industry, you can build a pipeline focused on them exclusively. Don’t want to write PHP anymore? Don’t have to.
“You’ll never get rich working for someone else.”
This quote holds true in freelancing since you are working on assets owned by other people. But you can make more working for yourself than you can working for a company. I know several freelancers who make between $150k – $250k per year, and they don’t live in Silicon Valley.
If you’re freelancing and your only billing hourly, you’re doing it wrong. With your independence, you should be finding ways to leverage time and money, not just trade time for money. If you charge a flat fee, you can shave hours off of development buy shopping the shelf instead of building something from scratch. You can outsource tasks to virtual assistants or subcontractors. These tasks allow you to skyrocket your effective hourly rate.
Owning a business means owning assets and systems that generate revenue. When your freelancing, you are still responsible for some of the work. In some ways, freelancing is more akin to designing a job for yourself and not building a company. You still learn a lot about marketing, sales, and self-discipline. Being a freelancer means less time working on your craft, but more time sharpening your business acumen.
Contrary to popular belief, employment is the highest risk professional position you can put yourself in.
When you are an employee, it only takes one person deciding that they don’t want you to work at your position anymore and POOF, there goes 100% of your cash flow.
When freelancing, you have a diverse set of clients. In one of them fires you, you should only be losing a small fraction of your income. If you have systems for finding clients, you also have a quicker recovery system.
(Note: much of this part is based on my personal experience and is U.S.-Centric. If you live in a country where health care makes sense, your mileage may vary.)
You can often get better health insurance at a lower rate than you could being self-employed. There are also some tax benefits if your employer offers you a 401k.
Laws and banking systems aren’t set up with the self-employed in mind. Want a fun challenge for yourself? Apply for a mortgage while self-employed.
If my wife weren’t traditionally employed, we likely would not have been able to buy our first home. It’s easier to get good credit when the bank sees that you have ‘stable’ income. The combination of credit score, a W-2, health care, and a tax-preferred investment account means that full-time salaried employment provides you with a lot of life infrastructure.
With great freedom comes great responsibility. Sometimes for 100% of a project. On a tea, people have specialized jobs, and you have a support system.
I knew a freelance developer who was frustrated with all the hours he had to spend hustling. “I wish I could just put on headphones and code all day,” he said.
The, he should get a job.
If you’re a full-time dev, that’s what your boss wants. This means more time focusing on your craft.
People think that freelancing is higher risk, but in reality, it’s higher variance. You may have lean or fat months, busy and slow seasons. Everyone isn’t cut out for variance. Jobs tend to bring more consistency: you work roughly the same number of hours with the same group of people forever and ever. You get roughly the same amount of money every two weeks, which makes budgeting simpler.
When surgery was invented, the job title “surgeon” came with no modifiers. It didn’t matter what needed to come off or go in, you could see the same person. As medicine advanced, the job splintered. More knowledge meant increased complexity which necessitated specialization. Soon you would see one person for your war wounds and a different surgeon for tuberculosis. This process continued today, where we now have many different specializations.
I’m getting there. I’ve watched a similar splintering happen to designers and developers throughout my career. At my first job at an agency, back in 2008, those were the only two titles in the production department. At today’s software company, you will find a mix of front-end, back-end, DevOps, mobile, native, UX & UI experts. All taking orders from a product manager or project manager, sometimes both.
I’ve seen a new type of position begin to branch off. The marketing developer. Sometimes called a growth engineer.
Today marketing departments of a certain sophistication require a programmer’s skill. You can make progress faster when you don’t have to fight the product team to gain access to it.
Since this idea is new to me, I want to attempt to put a finer point on it.
It’s an interesting field. One I expect to see a lot more of in the coming years.
Looking for ways to spend less time doing parts of your job that you hate? You have three options:
I’m a minimalist. I like to take a Marie Kondo approach in business and life. Tasks get on out plate more quickly than they get off, and we don’t always stop to reflect and ask: “Does this work provide value? should we do it at all?”
Let’s assume for this article that the task has passed the sniff test. You can’t eliminate it. Then move on to the next two options: If a computer can do it automate, else we delegate the task to someone else.
There’s an important step before you can productively do either: document your process. Documenting your processes is something that you should be doing at any stage of your business, for a company of any size. I was documenting new processes on day 1 of my one-man shop.
Everyone has systems in their heads, whether they realize it or not. Do you have a morning routine? A strategy for handling your inbox? These are almost a process. However, I’m a firm believer that:
Ideas in your head are fuzzy and abstract. Getting a system out of your head and out into the real world has several benefits:
Many people get hung up here. Don’t. It can be anything that lays out how the job gets done. Some common examples:
You don’t have to pick one, choose the one that makes the most sense for the process at hand. Don’t try to force too much uniformity or rigidity. It also doesn’t have to be just one of these; it can be a mix.
Recently I had to consider the following facts:
So the conclusion was obvious. I shouldn’t be doing outreach; I should be building the outreach system. So I decided to tackle the problem in that way. The process is broken down into three parts.
By creating a process, I turned outreach into something fun instead of being a chore. Now I’m not just sending emails; I’m testing and iterating on parts of the process. I was able to shrink down the amount of time I spend doing the outreach so that I can spend more time doing work I enjoy.
Try documenting one of your systems today. It shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes. Pop open a Google Doc, and write down the steps or create a template for just one task. See how much easier that task feels the next time you go to tackle it. How much more confidence you have. See how many minutes you save. Once you get over the hump and get started working on processes and see the benefits, it’s almost addicting.
tl,dr: no, you shouldn’t.
The United States Senate is on the brink of making a huge mistake. And it’s the same mistake that sinks software companies every day.
They want to rebuild a project from scratch.
It happens at software companies all the time, typically with new teams. They see a project full of legacy code that confuses and frightens them, and they decide they want to build a new codebase from the ground up.
Ripping out an existing, working system is always a costly mistake. Even if…
But don’t take my word for it. Take it from Stack Overflow co-founder Joel Spolsky in this essay about things you should never do.
Next time your company is thinking about repealing and replacing an existing project stop. You’re opening yourself up to once again face reasons projects fail #1, #4, #7, and #10.
Look for ways you can improve the existing project without starting over.
I’d like to share a story with you about my first conference talk, back at the end of September.
September 28th, I arrive in Norfolk, Virginia for the speaker’s dinner. Brennan invited all of the speaker’s out to a fancy restaurant before the opening mixer at the Double Your Freelancing Conference . This conference will be my first time speaking at a conference. To prepare for any presentation, I have a routine:
The talk is never scary; it’s the anticipation that breeds anxiety, even though I know I shouldn’t be. The organization is on point, what could go wrong?
Matt Inglot takes the stage to give his talk. His slides broke. Matt didn’t miss a beat. My heart did.
Something could go wrong.
It was also Gina Horkey’s first conference speaking gig too (Don’t tell her I said that). She went on before me. We would silently cheer each other one whenever we passed by in the hall.
“We got this!” “Do we have this?” “We got this!”
Gina takes the stage. Slides are out of order. She dropped her clicker. It snapped open. The battery fell through a crack in the stage.
After that, it was my turn. I was a bit shaken up, but it went fine.
If I learned one thing from DYFC, successful lifestyle business
people know how to party.
Of course, we talked shop too. You know what people said about
the day’s presentations?
cared about her bad luck. “All that happened, and she was still
People who gave a damn about the things we feared most: zero.
Why did our talks work at all?
… if the presentation is a user experience, then I am just a UI.
I am a UI.
And what’s a key attribute of a good UI?
It does not draw attention to itself.
And the moment I remember this is the moment I exhale and my
pulse slows. Because I am not important. What is important is the
experience they have. My job is to provide a context in which
something happens for them.”
We all took the stage aiming help people and did. We
disappeared. Broken decks and speaker pointers ceased to matter
because we ceased to exist.
Are you starting a new endeavor? Maybe you’re in the middle of
one, and you’re struggling to finish. Either way, try to take
yourself out of it for a minute. What problem are you solving for
who? Focus on that and success can find you regardless of rough
P.S. This letter originally appeared on the Tuesday Pulse Every Tuesday I could be sending you letters about shipping products that provide value to as many people as
possible, and you can get over the personal problems that stop you.
There are hundreds of project management tools out there, almost enough to convince software developers that they shouldn’t build another one. As a consultant, I form small teams frequently: my assistant and me, or pulling contractors together into a Large Project Justice League. I also have the privilege of working with many different companies, experiencing a smorgasbord of tools, techniques, and philosophies.
My Mother works in Elberton, GA, The Granite Capital of the World at a local Quarry. Here is their #2 best selling product:
I love companies like this, invisible enterprises that build something important to everyone. But this isn’t a letter about tombstones; this is a letter about their all-time #1 bestseller:
If you ever think you can’t provide value to the market, here’s a company making bank by selling tiny rocks on the ground, an abundant natural resource.
The quarry didn’t set out to be a tiny rock business. They set out to build beautiful monuments. The tiny rocks are a side hustle. Stonecutters work their craft, and tiny rocks just happen.
These rocks are gathered, bound, packaged, priced, and sold. This company took waste and turned it into a product that sells more than the product they showed up to build.
Every business has its tiny rocks: rubbish waiting to be butterfly-transformed into an asset. Here are some examples:
As a small business owner, resources are always tight. Without a lot of time or business capital, you need to get the most out of the resources you have. Look around you for tiny rocks, gold that you’re leaving on the ground. What have you been missing?
Sometimes when a client reaches out to me, they open with a question like this:
“My real estate company needs a website. We need show our real estate listings. How much will that cost, and how long will it take?”
Putting estimates together for projects is difficult even in the best conditions. It’s even harder when client’s are pushing for a proposal before you’ve had time to get all the details, or you end up having to spend a lot of unpaid time putting together a proposal that ends up getting rejected.
You know what one of the most common causes of failure is for software projects? You don’t have a plan. Unlike building with more solid materials in construction, you can start making software before you know what the hell you are doing. Writing a program roadmap helps you make decisions earlier when they cheaper, and give you a reference point to make sure everyone involved is working towards the same goals.
All businesses are inherently risky. Human beings are terrible at understanding and quantifying risk. Since most entrepreneurs tend to be human beings, this causes problems. Without having a clear picture of what risk is, how to identify it, and how to quantify it, making correct decisions about your business can be hard.
The biggest cognitive dissonance is that people confuse variance and risk. For the purposes of this article, I am defining variance as the variety and difference and outcomes of any given probabilistic event. A six-sided die has more variance than a coin since it has six different possible outcomes while a coin has two.
We define risk as the losses incurred based on the outcomes of one of those events. The greater the amount of loss and the greater the chances of that loss occurring increase the amount of risk in any decision.
Launching a new product can induce a lot of anxiety. If you have been working on your product for some time, it is easy to let the fear of uncertainty about public reaction take over. You might decide to push the launch the back until you can one feature a bit better, a part of the design a bit cleaner, or to fix one more outstanding bug. You end up pushing your launch back to next week, next month, or in the worst case, “one day”.
Apple just finished their 2015 WWDC, and there are some valuable lessons startups can learn from Apple’s marketing strategy.