Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Getting Around to It, Eventually

As I sit here watching my son fall asleep in his homework, I'm thinking about one thing: procrastination.  Ah, the sweet smell of responsibility deferred! Procrastination is inverted instant gratification, replacing the deeper satisfaction of a job well done with a shallow taste of, well, anything else.  It's doing the dishes when you should be doing the taxes, cleaning the litter box when you should call your mother, rearranging your music library when you should be writing that next chapter of your book.  It's playing video games with your friends when you have homework to do (meaningful look across the room).

People have written scads of articles about procrastination, offering all sorts of ideas about why we do it, why we shouldn't to it, and how we can trick (or force) ourselves out of it.  About once a year, some cutting-edge technology/psychology/business magazine will come out with an article hailing the virtues of procrastination, usually with the idea that a panic-induced bout of creativity is better than none at all.  But in the prevailing opinion, as Calvin Coolidge said when his wife asked him what the preacher had to say about sin, "He was against it."

I think that we all agree that there are important things that we should be doing right now, certain tasks our bosses or spouses (or bossy spouses) wish us to complete, certain dreams we want to pursue.  We know we'll feel better when we finish the task or pursue the dream, but we just can't seem to muster the energy and focus.

So why do we do this?  Why do we replace something meaningful and worthwhile with a momentary distraction?  Why not just do the work now and play later?

I got nothin'.

I think I'm supposed to have an opinion on this, but I'm as bad as everyone else.  Let's face it: there are times when we just don't want to do anything that we're supposed to do.  Sometimes for years.  And I can't argue with that.  Well, I could, but I don't feel like it right now.


OK now I'm ready.

A little procrastination is probably a good thing.  It allows us to release the tension, to let our minds and bodies relax, to do something that's just for us for just a little while.  A life without this kind of relaxation is dangerous.  All work, dull boy, axe through door, etc.  Procrastination is like candy for the soul, a taste of something sweet in the midst of our vegetable-flavored duties.  But like candy, too much can ruin you: when the responsibility deferred becomes the opportunity missed, when the bills you were meaning to pay go to collection, when the secret dream becomes that thing you never tried, when "later" becomes "too late."  We can put things off for a little while, but eventually we have to get off our butts and get some stuff done.

Last Wednesday kicked off the season of Lent, the 40 (-ish) days leading up to Easter.  For the past ten years or so, my decidedly non-Catholic family and I have participated in our own version of this season, called "The 40 days of Faith."  It's something we picked up at the Greater Boston Vineyard church, and I've found it to be a very useful process for refreshing my faith, my spirit, and my outlook on life.  As part of this annual experiment, we choose something to give up, a modern variation on fasting.  In prior years, I've given up sweets, wine and beer, and video games.  This year, I decided to try something different.  Rather than giving something up, I'm committing to write something every day.  It might be a blog post, it might be working on a new book (I've been playing with an idea that could be fun), it might even be a play.  But I'm going to write something every day that isn't another work email.

Writing is more than simply a creative process for me.  It's work.  When I finish a writing session, I'm usually equal parts exhausted and wound up.  My brain seems to be running at ten times it's normal speed, but at the same time it often seems to lock up.  I've never understood people who say that they "have to write."  I always assumed that meant they didn't have another paying job.

At the same time, I rarely feel so exhilarated as when I've written something and shared it.  I can't wait to hear what people think, because writing distills my thoughts to a purer essence.  I spend my days thinking on my feet, talking through problems, and basically running a 9- or 10-hour improv scene that's always set in an office.  When I write, I finally have time to think.  I can vent my frustrations in a constructive fashion, explore deep feelings and concepts that require time to coalesce, or find the perfect punchline for a joke (just read to the end).  Writing is my meditation.

So this year for Lent, I'll be writing.  Or giving up not writing, I guess.  I'd say I'm giving up procrastination, but I'm already almost a week late.  Let's see how it goes.

By the way feel free to harass me on Facebook (if we're friends) or Twitter (even if we've never met) if you don't see anything coming out.  I'll take all the inspiration I can get.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reed Group's new digs

We moved into our new headquarters today, and the new building is awesome!  Check out these pics:

The reception wall is lined with Colorado river stones.

Break room with fancy coffee and free soda.

Collaboration!  Every project team has their own scrum area with a flat screen for demos, videoconferencing, and displaying the scrum board

Everyone was trying out their new sit/stand desks

Our offices are in there.

Nice view, Doug!

Erik pretends to work, but he was really just playing with his desk:

"Down!  Whee, this is fun!"

One of our conference rooms, which are named after Colorado 14ers

Did I mention that we have free gym memberships?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Feelin' the Feelings

A while back, I decided to get in touch with my feelings.  Unfortunately, I'm an introverted white male with strong logical tendencies, so my feelings are not only hard to find, they may be actively hiding from me.  Plus, I'm not sure that everyone really wants me waving my feelings around all the time.   They have better things to do than deal with my schtick.

This is a problem that we introverts, or "quiet people," as we prefer to be called, have had for years.  We aren't loud and showy to begin with, so people aren't sure what to make of us when we start making them notice us.  Extroverts are already out there, talking to everyone, interrupting meetings to see what's going on, walking up to strangers and offering their opinions on Asian fusion cuisine (or as they like to call it, "Fasian!").  We already know everything about them, so all those feelings are just icing on the chatty cake.   When an introvert starts to share their feelings, on the other hand, it makes people nervous.  They say things like:

"What's up with Chuck?  He's kind of all over the place today."

"Why is Andy so angry lately?  Do you think we need to talk to Security?"

"Aaah!  You startled me!  How long have you been sitting there?"

Extroverts with feelings are "dynamic."  Introverts with feelings are "moody."

Despite this bias, I was determined to try.  My inner child was in there somewhere, and I was sure he had something to say.  I wanted to be more mindful, more "in the moment."  I wanted to listen to that little voice and benefit from its guidance.

When I was a young man, I pretty much had two feelings: "hungry" and "sleepy."  Sometimes, usually before or after lunch, I would combine them into "hungrily sleepy" or "was hungry, now sleepy."  But now I'm a grown man -- with children and everything -- so my emotional range has widened and deepened.  I've added "irritated."

No, I jest.  I haven't really delved into the richness of my psyche yet, so it's too early to categorize these new feelings.  Let's not be all about the labels, people.  Let it develop.

The first step to getting in touch with your feelings is to recognize when you're having them.  I learned that what my younger self mistook for hunger was actually a wide range of emotions.  They all just happened to affect my stomach, so I naturally assumed that I needed a Quarter Pounder.  It turns out that what I really needed was love.  Or to punch something.  Or a good laugh.  Or, sometimes, a Quarter Pounder.  As I stopped and took stock of these sensations, I realized that I was having feelings.  The second thing I realized was that most of these feelings involved wanting to pound someone.

There's a problem with asking men to get in touch with our emotions: we're men.  We have testosterone, a chemical that God (or evolution if you prefer, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster if you're a smug Internet smartass) put in our bodies to make sure that we didn't ever join together and unify the world under a single benevolent government.  As long as there's testosterone, we'll never get along. We'll be too busy pummeling each other, lifting weights, and making up stupid competitions to see who's the lifetime office champion in Office Chair Rugby or fantasy football.  The true story of the Tower of Babel isn't that God created hundreds of different languages to stop the people from building the giant ziggurat.  He just introduced the idea of the keeper league with a snake draft and all the men went home to start working on their cheat sheets.

As a man, I spend a large part of my day annoyed at almost everyone else within my line of sight, smell, hearing, or memory.  I start my day in the car, surrounded by morons and maniacs, to drive to an office where everyone is either too slow, stubborn, or misguided to recognize that I'm right, and the sooner they all get with the program, the happier we'll all be.  Let me point out that this has nothing to do with my current job, which I actually enjoy.  I have felt this way since I worked at the Dairy Queen in high school.  I am the center of a small, irritating universe, and my testosterone tells me that I'll feel much better if I just kick a little ass, consequences be damned.  Of course, I'm also a civilized man, raised by a good mother who taught me that hitting people just because they were annoying or wrong was a poor long-term strategy, so I do not  kick anybody's ass.  Instead, I tell the testosterone to go away and it returns to chewing on my stomach lining.  This is what we call "stress."

I had found my inner child, and he was yelling for everyone to keep it down and get back to work.

I decided to dig past the superficial levels, beyond "annoyance" and "irritation," past the rocky section of "what did I ever do to you?" and the sedimentary layers of "Oh, right, that's what.  Sorry about that."  I'm a complex man, damn it, and I have levels.  I discovered another feeling: insecurity.

We all want to feel good enough, as though we measure up to whatever standards are being applied to us.  We all want to be told that we're doing a good job.  Behind the anger, the frustration, the "why won't you listen to me?" we secretly wonder if it's because we aren't worth listening to in the first place.  This is the motivation behind every jingoistic politician, every legalistic preacher, and every hedonistic Paleovegan: we all want a measuring stick, and we want to make sure that we score higher than everyone else.  When we can't find one, we pick the things that we were already good at and we make them the standard.  Ta-daa!  Instant winner!

My insecurities were pretty pedestrian: was I a good enough father, husband, and boss?  Was I ever going to fulfill my dream of becoming a professional writer, actor, or playwright (possibly, probably not at this point, and maybe)?  Was I funny enough or not taking things as seriously as I should?  Was I putting people at ease or scaring them?  Was I making every place better because I was there or was I just taking up space?  In other words, was I enough?

Now my inner child was in the corner, sucking his thumb even though he knew he wasn't supposed to.

I dug deeper, past the worry, past the blame, past the noisy voices of "should," "ought," and "too late."  And suddenly it got quiet.  I looked around, but it was dark.  I called out, "Hellooo!  Is anyone here?"

A deep voice said, "Shh!  I'm thinking!"

I followed the voice through the dark, the quiet deepening around me.  I found a statue.  Head in hand, it sat, quietly pondering.

"What are you thinking about?" I asked.

The voice spoke again.  "Really?!?  What part of 'Shh' was hard to understand?"  I proudly realized that I could recognize that emotion now: that was annoyance!

"Sorry.  It's just that I've come a long way.  I don't know if you realize it, but it's a mess out there!"

The voice sighed, "Of course I realize it.  Why do you think I'm in here?"

I looked around.  "Where is here, exactly?"

"This is your core.  Your heart.  Your soul.  This is where it all starts."

"Funny, I thought there'd be more here.  A few posters, at least.  Some pictures, maybe?"

"Pssht.  Distractions.  I need quiet if I'm going to do any good."

I hesitated.  "And... who are you, exactly?"

"I'm your mind.  Duh."

"My mind?  And did you just say, 'Duh?'  That seems sort of counter-productive, coming from my mind."

"Be quicker on the uptake, then."

"Now you're just being mean."

The voice laughed.  "Look, you want filters?  Go back outside.  Here we deal in truths.  And cravings sometimes.  I could really go for some pizza right now.  But mostly truths.  This is where we see clearly, listen openly, and speak truly.  It's here, in the silence, that we can hear The Still, Small Voice.  And if we can get through all the noise out there, we give you insight."

I looked around.  "Um... who's 'we'?"

"Never mind that," the voice replied hurriedly.  "Do you need anything else?  You laid some heavy problems on me today, and I have to get back to your subconscious with some answers before midnight."

"Just one more question: have you seen my inner child anywhere around here?"

I got a sense of a hand waving vaguely.  "He's around somewhere, probably coloring on the walls or eating paste.  You never really developed there, did you?  Now go!"

I went.

I don't know what this all means, but I guess I learned a few things from my emotional experiment.  First, women are much better equipped to deal with all of these feelings and things.  I don't know why, but I suspect it has something to do with shoes.  Second, not all feelings are bad.  Scary and powerful, but not bad.

Third, I like it when it's quiet.  But I guess you already knew that.