“Your calendar is crazy”

At Basecamp, we don’t share calendars. Everyone controls their own calendar, and no one can see anyone else’s calendar. You can’t claim time on anyone else’s calendar, either. Other people’s time isn’t for you — it’s for them. You can’t take it, chip away at it, or block it off. Everyone’s in control of their time. They can give it to you, but you can’t take it from them.

Jason Fried – “Wait, other people can take your time?”

Jason Fried’s blog post “Wait, other people can take your time?” and his book  IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE CRAZY AT WORK1 made me reflect on my own work calendar recently.  I’ve been as guilty as anyone about taking people’s time as if they weren’t going to do anything  else. It’s a shitty thing to do to someone and it’s something I can change and promote to other people.

So here’s some rules that I’m trying to follow at work:

1. I ask people if they have free time before I take it

I’ll hit people up on Slack first, or talk to them face to face (assuming they’re not busy). If they don’t reply I’ll decide how important it is to have a meeting, erring on the side of not booking a meeting. This is a hard rule to follow all the time but I think it’s the most important one. It’s way easier to follow when their calendars have public event names rather than just “Busy.”

2. Async communication whenever possible

I’d rather communicate over email or slack or a shared document. Meetings are not good for proper reflection and decision making. Software is great for status updates.

3. Apart from 1:1s, something booked in my calendar is only tentative until a short time before the start.

If something more important has come up then I should do that instead, right? I’m not saying the urgent drowns out the important. But I reserve the right to weigh up whether I should be writing up a document or doing some research or thinking about a decision I need to make rather than something someone else wants me to do. I wish my decline/rearrange rate was higher. It might be time to set a goal around that.

4. The events in my calendar are public and I politely block out time for myself.

Generally you can see what I’m doing in a day – who I’m meeting with, the agenda of the meeting. It’s rare that I do something that requires privacy. There might be the odd “Private/Busy” in my calendar but mostly it’s something like “Geordi / Joe 1:1”, “Discuss warp coil upgrade”, or “Please don’t book here”. Guess which of those is the first to get double booked! I encourage my reports and other people I work with to make their events public, too. I think it’ll make us much more wary of taking each other’s time.

I’m getting more and more vigilant about these rules. It’s hard to maintain them but it’s worth it if more and more people start doing it too.

1 IDHBCAW is a polemic railing against the fuckedness of corporate culture. It’s full of unvarnished truths that anyone who’s worked at a company of more than, what, four people will nod their heads about. Sadly, there’s not a lot of advice other than “Go work somewhere that doesn’t do that.”

People are hard work

When I’m asked to state my occupation on a form like an airport arrival card I write “manager.” I used to say “programmer’ or “developer” but as of the last few months the most accurate thing is manager.

I’ve been managing people for the best part of ten years, always keeping a couple of fingers, if not a full hand, on the tools. I’ve hung on to the pendulum for a few swings but eight months or so ago I became a middle manager and left doing actual production work behind.

My role is dynamic, interesting, and challenging. Building and empowering teams can be incredibly rewarding. It’s harder to measure success, but man it can feel good when a team I’ve helped build does great work.

Some days, though, I find myself incredibly frustrated, much more so than any time I was a programmer dealing with difficult tools or complex requirements.

The reason for that is people. People are unique. That is to say, they’re all different. They have different motivations, different ways of understanding, different ways of thinking & speaking, different sizes & shapes, different wants & needs, different. People respond to different inputs in different ways. Even when they’re the same, they’re different. Different people have different things in common.

Perhaps the only thing people have in common is that they are hard work. I’m hard work. You’re hard work. Your family and friends and co-workers are hard work. People are really fucking hard work.

Luckily, a bajillion people have written books, presented talks, and posted on the internet about how to work with people. I’m going to use this blog to point readers to the ones I’ve found useful.

To kick things off, here’s a talk from Jennifer Tu titled “Humans Aren’t APIs” in which she discusses techniques for dealing with situations where someone won’t do what you fucking ask! you and someone else aren’t in agreement about a request.

I went on a first aid course and I’m still talking about it weeks later

Hey, how do you know if somebody is choking to death?

You ask them.

At the end of January I completed a First Aid course run by St. John. It was a game-changing experience. I learned a lot. I was almost tempted to kick in the middle-management gig and retrain as a paramedic. The photo of a guy who’d manage to lop off his finger with his garage door put me off. But I was really gung-ho about it until then!

I had had some experience with first aid courses before. Before my first child was born I learned infant and child CPR. Last I followed along with parts of first-aid course aspiring life guards are required to take as part of their training. So of course I thought I was a bit of an expert in some stuff already. And of course it turned out I was a bit of a doofus when it came to some stuff.

The first thing we were told was that the aim of first aid is to save life. The secondary aim is to prevent further harm. We were told that the primary aim outweighs the secondary aim. Over the course of the day our instructor occasionally reminded us about the primary aim. I like to think that I remembered it at least half the time.

The biggest lesson I learned is that most first aid diagnosis and treatment is common sense. When you ask someone if they’re choking they won’t be able to speak, but they’ll let you know they are! If someone’s got a broken leg and can’t walk you just make sure they’re safe and comfortable, call for help, and keep monitoring them. You don’t need to go crazy with a splint and get them to hobble somewhere.

The second lesson I learned is that CPR is used to preserve organs while you wait for help. I’d already learned at the lifeguard training that you should always leave someone and go for help if nobody else can. I hadn’t realised that CPR is only for people who are already, well, dead. That’s why it’s ok to go for help.

The the third lesson I learned is that AEDs cannot shock people who don’t need a shock. You can’t kill someone with one. They can only detect a fibrillating heart – one that isn’t beating properly. If it can’t detect a dodgy ticker it will tell you to do CPR instead.

This is an AED. It can only help save lives. It’s not dangerous to use.

The fourth lesson I learned and relearned over the day is that people will overthink things and abandon what they know to be correct for what they think they remember. Our instructor would tell us the way to address a situation like a diabetic attack, talk for a while, do a demonstration, then ask us if we were comfortable with the demo. More of then than not it was a 50:50 thing in our group.

We argued whether you should give sugar to someone suffering a diabetic attack when you know they have high blood sugar. You should, and I was in the right about that. We argued whether you should remove an object crushing a person once it’s been there for a relatively long period of time. You should, and I was in the wrong about that. I learned how to attend to a bleed and how to make someone with a broken arm comfortable so they could be driven to hospital. I threw up my arms and claimed ignorance when I was asked what to do if it was broken bone sticking out causing the bleeding. Answer: put pressure on the bleed like you normally would and make the patient feel comfortable like you normally would.

You’d think as a veteran of the software industry I’d remember my tendency to overthink things. But there you go.

By the end of the day I’d demonstrated CPR on three types of patients; learned how to recognize seizures, heart problems, stroke; tackled breaks & bleeds; and shown I know when to call an ambulance and when to take a patient to the doctor or hospital myself.

The first aid course was fun and rewarding in so many ways. I kinda want to use my newfound knowledge so I’ve signed up for GoodSAM (no alerts yet). I’ve only just slowed down sharing general first aid trivia at work. I’ve yet to don the hi-viz in a fire drill but I’m looking forward to it.