Need Keyboard Shortcuts? Use Cheatsheet.

If you use a computer much at all, you quickly realize that time spent reaching for your mouse is time wasted.  It sounds trivial, but somehow, the effort to move your hand to the mouse, move it to figure out where the cursor is, and then do whatever it is you need to do has a magical ability to slow me down and break my concentration. Any time I can keep my hands on the keyboard rather than the mouse or the trackpad, it’s a victory.

So, it was with great excitement that I happened upon CheatSheet today.  Install it, and hold down the command key, and voila:

cheatsheet

A list of keyboard shortcuts for the current application.

It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t catch all shortcuts in every app – but it’s useful enough to install.

Being Reliable

I’m a sucker for digest emails from Quora.  They get me to click through nearly every time, because they’re routinely filled with really great content.

A couple days ago I ran across the question “From the perspective of a CEO, what are the most underrated skills most employees lack?”  A terrible question, slathered in things that annoy me – “most underrated”? “most employees lack?”  It all makes me think of stupid life hacks, and people looking for secret shortcuts – but it had some really great answers just the same.  This one from Auren Hoffman really stuck out to me:

If you consistently do what you say you will do, you will almost certainly be someone people desire to have on their teams.  It is so rare that when you work with someone who is reliable, you never ever want to work with anyone else.  You will do anything to keep that person on your team.
Doing what you say you are going to do starts with setting the right expectations.  If you tell someone you will get them the deliverable by Tuesday, you need to understand that it can actually be delivered by Tuesday.  If you are good, you are probably factoring in slack in case someone in corporate slows you down or your child gets sick.

And so if your boss wants something done Monday and you think it cannot be done until Wednesday, you need to be up-front.  Because once a date is agreed to, you’re on the hook for accomplishing it.

 

On its face, this seems super obvious (which makes it even better – it’s not sneaky or surprising or underrated) – but it got me thinking: am I lax in doing what I say I’ll do?  How bad is it? How annoyed are people with me about it?  Not just at work either – at home, and anywhere else I interact with people, how often do I treat spoken agreements with nothing more than passing interest – to be fulfilled if I happen to remember?

So I’ve been giving some thought to being more reliable.  Auren hits on these points briefly in his post, but it’s worth fleshing out: what does it take to be more reliable?

For me, it’s 2 things:

1. Remembering what it is I say I’ll do.

I’ve got a terrible memory, and as I said, I treat conversations pretty lightly. As a result, I often just forget things that are talked about, or agreed upon.  upon reflection, I realize how terrible that really is.  So step 1 is to start writing down everything I agree to – from work plans to calling the eye doctor and making an appointment.

2. Saying no.

When you don’t put much stock in your verbal agreements, yes comes quickly and easily.  Why wouldn’t it, if it’s meaningless?  The problem with following through is that you quickly find yourself too busy to finish everything you’ve agreed to – meaning that if you really want to do what you say, you’ve got to get real about your time constraints, workload, and priorities – and say no much more often.

Social Media Does Not Count as a Break.

It’s Tuesday afternoon. 3:15. I’m at my desk, computer open, headphones on. I pull up Facebook. Then my email. Maybe there’s something new on Vimeo. Back to email.

I have things to do, of course. There’s always more work than there is time. I enjoy my work. I don’t loathe turning on my computer in the morning, or coming back from a vacation – in fact, I often look forward to it. So why am I checking Facebook again?

Like everyone (I hope), I sometimes just don’t have it in me. Maybe I didn’t sleep well the night before. Maybe I’ve been working on difficult problems all morning, and now I can’t face the thought of trying to create a new solution, or understand a new problem right at this moment.

So I type in F and let chrome autocomplete fill in acebook.com again. Nonsense. Scroll down. More nonsense. Check email again. Go get a snack.

Except, when I get back from that snack, or discover once again that there’s nothing interesting on Facebook, I still don’t want to work. The little break I took didn’t recharge me, it made me more bored, more desperate for distraction. So, in most cases, I immediately, unthinkingly, start the process again. Facebook. Email. Reddit. Repeat.

Somehow this feels even more sinister when you work from home, or in any environment where you’re not next to your coworkers. When you’re at an office, or a grocery store, or a ski shop, (all places I’ve worked in the past) you are proving your value to the company on a superficial level simply by physically being in the correct location. Even if you’re not doing anything productive, at least everybody knows you’re not enjoying yourself somewhere else. Suffering is almost as good as productivity.

At home, no one knows what I’m doing – so I feel a strange urge to sit at my desk. After all – even if I’m not being productive, at least Im in the right place, right? That’s what my employment history taught me was important.

At some point, spurred by the particularly progressive environment at Automattic, it occurred to me to just give up the charade. Nobody cares if I’m at my desk from 9 – 5. If I don’t feel like working at 3:15 on a Tuesday, I can just stop working. Play a game, watch a movie – or better yet, get up and walk away from the computer. Go for a walk, or a bike ride. Read a book. Work on the bench I’m building. Take the kids to the park. Do anything except sit at the desk and suffer.

Initially, this feels really wrong – the reason I allow myself to check Facebook is because I can do it quickly, and come back to work. 2 minute break, I tell myself. I can’t get the kids to the park and back in 2 minutes. A quick glance at Facebook won’t waste the afternoon – a trip to the park will. The responsible employee just glances at Facebook and then gets back to it.

Except that’s not how it works. A quick glance at Facebook won’t waste the afternoon in theory – but depending on my mood, I won’t be back to doing productive work in 2 minutes. Sometimes I won’t be back to productive work in 30 minutes, or an hour, or 2 hours. What’s worse, I’ll be enduring a potent mix of boredom, self loathing, and irritation the entire time. By choosing a distraction that

  • I don’t really like
  • Is very short

I’m guaranteed to finish it almost exactly as I started. My brain hasn’t had time to recharge and there hasn’t been time (or reason) for my mood to change, so I’ll just start again. Except this time I know that I’m once again choosing to take a break, piling on a second helping of the self loathing that comes from knowing that I’m making a decision not to work when I feel like I should.

I’I haven’t found a way to force myself to do things when I’m not in the mood (with occasional exceptions – like pending deadlines, broken production code, etc). I’ll keep working on that, although I’m not sure it’s possible in any sort of sustainable way. In the meantime, at least I can make the best of my downtime.

Choosing to sit at the computer and consume social media when I feel like I need a break under the guise of “getting back to work quickly”, or “staying at my desk” is not innocuous. It’s bad for me, and therefore my work (and my employer), as I almost end up in a worse mental state than when I started.


So, you know, lay off Facebook in the middle of the day.