Notes from Scene on Radio’s ‘Seeing White’ in 2017

Ahead of an Antiracist seminar that several coworkers and I are attending, organizer Kim Crayton recommended attendees listen back to the popular 2017 podcast season of Scene on the Radio ‘Seeing White.”

Though it’s several years old, I appreciated listening in greater detail and with fresh eyes. It’s as timely today as ever. Here I will share notes for me to return to, but I strongly suggest you listen to the entire excellent 14-episode series on “whiteness,” the historical construct of race and its implications today.

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What does work productivity look like during a pandemic?

For a story she wrote for Technical.ly (which you should read), my colleague Paige Gross asked me what I thought of work productivity during this disruption. I gave her a long answer, which she helpfully trimmed for her piece.

If interested, below I shared my stream of consciousness response to her at midnight 🙂

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Sometimes you have to go backward

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I was hanging a drop ceiling in my basement with my father-in-law a back in November. The materials and approach of suspended drop ceilings haven’t much changed since the 1960s. You run long beams perpendicular to shorter cross beams. Those hang from the structural ceiling to support tiles that serve some aesthetic purpose. It isn’t complicated. 

But a half-day into the project, a series of minor decisions had created a major problem. My precise measurements were thrown out. A crucial structural beam was now blocked by my gas pipe. To maximize ceiling height in my home built in the 1890s, I had ignored the recommended distance between my drop ceiling and the rafters. I had a plan. But to make other accommodations, that plan faltered. We tried a few hacks to correct the issue but it got worse.

It wasn’t square. It wasn’t sound. We had a mess.

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Opportunity costs: think of the big but not the small

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Economists love to review our decisions through the lens of opportunity costs. Each decision we make has the added cost of that which we did not do. 

When a big box-store clerk, paid hourly, volunteers to leave her shift early because foot traffic is particularly slow, she’s making a choice. She values what she does with that time more than the wage she would have earned. 

When an influential academic, evaluated by her published research, agrees to take on another young mentee, she’s making a choice. She values that relationship and the person’s development more than what she perceives to be the potential career gains she could have developed with more time in the lab.

I wrestle with this paradigm more often than I might want to admit.

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Try a ‘Laser Day Weekend’ for dropping projects

I let projects accumulate. Consider it enthusiasm.

That means I’ll let 100 draft posts bottle up on this blog. I’ll sit on too many drafts of newsletters. I’ll get a household project half-way done.

In truth, I consider this habit of mine a healthy one for getting things done: I’ll always get myself to take the first step of a project. Sometimes though something will linger too long.

To solve for that, every few months, I’ll try to protect some time and call for a ‘Laser Day Weekend,’ in which I shut down, delete, end, complete, finish or discard lingering projects. I take a very different mindset when my intention is to finish a thing.

Once I get on a role, I can pick up steam and get plenty done. Give it a try, the frame of reference helps plenty.

Ways I combat my amassing lots of unused clothing

Between family hoarding tendencies and being surrounded by company swag, I tend to collect more articles of clothing than I need. Fortunately, like most of America, I’m passed peak-closet.

I’ve built up some habits that gently help me keep myself under control.

Know your thrift store

Loving a nearby thrift store helps plenty. It feels good to donate, and then find something you love there.

One for one

I maintain a fairly rigorous donating of one item if I bring a new one in.

No seasonal switchout

I keep all of my clothes in a single closet, no seasonal boxes. That keeps me honest and offers a fixed constaint.

Month of purging

I occasionally do purges of a thing for each day of the month (meaning, one thing on the first day of the month; 15 on the 15th, etc.) and these put a lot of pressure on me to unload those freebie t-shirts that have piled up.

Must-use

Every year or so, I try the reverse hanger trick, in which I flip a hanger around for a garment I’ve used. If I go through an entire season and something hasn’t been worn, it’s got to go.

Does it ‘spark joy’

If not, toss it. That’s the tidying classic. I try to use it too.

3 simple ideas for thriving in an open office

You can find a lot of solid advice for surviving the open office.

The historical arc of offices is richly told. Despite the criticism they get, I’m fond of them, over many offices or more established cubicles. Someone recently asked me for advice, and I found I had three quick answers that I stand by.

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Start with the doing. Then get to the done

Big goals can inspire. They can also paralyze.

One of the best outcomes from building the habit of building habits is having a skill to make big change. If you want to stop always being late. If you want to be a better public speaker. If you want to drive your company to new heights.

Once you identify the obstacles, these all are essentially tasks of building habits. But we often stare down the end of an enormous project and are so intimidated we never start. That happens to me a lot. So I remind myself that it all comes down to an incredibly simple act: just get started.

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To be great, you must know how to change speed

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter a couple weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

In high school, my varsity soccer coach would preach: Masters change speed.

The best players aren’t always the fastest. They are the ones who can go fast and then slow. Dribble the ball at a sprint. Stop. Pause. Redirect. Sprint again. Pace. Pace. Pace.

It’s among the lessons from my youth I reflect on most often. It carries through so much of my life. I love speed. It takes mastery to manage on deadline, something I surely learned from newsrooms. Yet, as I age, I’m most proud of how I can find moments of calm to slow down amid my frenetic pace.

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Nobody wants to follow someone who made General in Peacetime: notes from Tribes by Seth Godin

I had read other books by popular marketer Seth Godin (I was a regular reader back in 2009). But not one of his best known, one most aligned with work I do, his 2008 Tribes.

A friend (thanks Kristin!) handed me a copy last year and told me to get it done already. Godin is so ubiquitous in web circles that I stopped pursuing his work. I do respect his perspective and approach; I just expect to come across it from his passionate follower base. I supposed a friend handing me the book was just that.

I read it in a weekend last fall, and I just came across the notes I wrote down for myself. Below find them.

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