22 March 2014

Work-Life Balance : Commitments and Boundaries

Welcome! Thank you stopping by. It is a great pleasure to write these articles.

I have spent my career working in the high-tech industry. The high-tech industry has provided me with steady work and great opportunities to grow and succeed for more than 20 years. During my career, one of the greatest struggles I've had is the management of my personal work-life balance. In this post I'm going to explain a few things I've done as part of effectively managing myself to achieve my desired work-life balance.

Work-life balance is almost a joke in many companies. Most of high-tech industry has set the work hours between 45 and 50 per week. I'm not talking about expected overtime. This 45-50 is the normal work week. Add on top of that the expectation of extra effort and you are finding yourself working 60 hour weeks.

Early in my career, I started out as a software engineer and then moved into project management. I remember one especially tough time in my career when, for a period of two years, I worked more than 60 hours per week. Sometimes I would work more than 40 hours in a row. The longest single working session was 68 hours without stopping.

As you can imagine this kind of workload was due to many factors that also increased my personal stress load. Eventually I had a 3 am panic attack at work.

This led to a recalibration of my work-life balance. In the re-calibration I did find a lot of relief from many of the factors that impacted project performance. I was relieved from much of my stress and I'm glad to say I've never had a repeat of the events that led to my panic attack.

The following are a set of rights and their corresponding boundaries I developed to help me avoid the kind of catastrophic issues that led to my sense of overwhelm at work. These boundaries evolved from many things but their core comes from the "Teflon Coating" I talked about in my blog post on Commitment and the Developer's Bill Of Rights identified by Steve McConnell in his book The Software Project Survival Guide. You can find them referenced in this article on the Tales of Agile Software Development blog.

These personal boundaries helped me in moving away from 60+ hour work weeks, the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, and the failure to produce top quality work products. They are:

  • It is expected that the project sponsors, customers, and leadership will set the project objectives and clarify priorities. -- Boundary: I will not work in an environment where objectives and priorities are not clear.

  • It is expected that I will be given detailed descriptions in enough clarity for me to understand the  products I am to create. -- Boundary: I will not work on tasks where the requirements and specifications are unclear to me.

  • It is expected that I will be allowed to work with customers, managers, and other team members where the entire organization is held to the same project commitments. -- Boundary: I will not be held to project deadlines that are not shared by all of the team members, customers, and leadership team members.

  • It is expected that I am allowed to work in a technically responsible way, so as not to be forced to implement the product until the design is completed. -- Boundary: I will not start coding before the design is completed.

  • I will determine the effort and schedule estimates for any work I am to perform. -- Boundary: I will not be held to deadlines determined by estimates I did not create.

  • I am allowed to accurately report my work effort so that the entire team can review the estimates and commitments during the execution of the project. -- Boundary #1: I will not work on projects where there is no allowed estimation error; Boundary #2: When additional requirements are revealed to me I will re-estimate my effort and update my estimate for completion.

  • I will work in a productive environment free from frequent interruptions and distractions, especially during critical parts of the project. -- Boundary: I will not work if my environment is not conducive to effective work effort. Specifically, my environment should be clear of any distractions be they sights, sounds, or smells.

  • My involvement in activities (training, meetings, etc..) that do not directly affect my work products will be minimal, and I will be supported in reducing effort on tasks that do not add value to the execution of my work, unless to do so would cause potential financial harm to the company. -- Boundary: I will not allow anyone to add additional work to my plate that is not scheduled into my normal work time.

  • My teammates are responsible for holding their own boundaries and obtaining the levels of productivity they commit to. -- Boundary: I will not be held responsible for the lack of productivity or boundaries of others.

  • When I am working on creating estimates, it’s my responsibility to ensure that I have thought through the entire problem I'm having presented to me, and to ensure that my estimates are accurate and complete to the best of my knowledge. -- Boundary: I will not commit to estimates that I do not believe I can complete.

  • When my actual effort and schedule do not match my estimates I will notify the management of my project as soon as possible so they are aware and can take the appropriate action. -- Boundary: I will not act like I'm making effective progress when I am not.

  • Progress towards any significant work effort is completed in manageable work tasks. I will decompose the project into a set of work products using an effective work methodology that allows me to finish visible and complete work products at least once every two weeks. -- Boundary: I will produce a solid work product that others can review and use at least as frequently as once every two weeks.

By implementing and holding to these boundaries I have found that two things happen:

  1. My efforts are more directed, focused, and effective. I achieve greater results for my efforts.
  2. With these boundaries I am taking responsibility of my work load and commitments.

This means that if I am having trouble maintaining a work-life balance, it is up to me to fix the problem, either by living by my boundaries, or by changing my commitments.

I know that as you read this you may have strong reactions as to why these boundaries are hard. You may feel that the company you work for won't allow you to hold them.

You have hundreds if not thousands of reasons to think that. I can only offer that, like you, I also felt that way. But by doing my best at holding my boundaries and taking ownership of the problems I face, I have transformed my experiences and found great relief from the anxiety that led me to a poor work-life balance.

Thank you so much for coming to read this post. I hope that you are feeling blessed, and your life is filled with hope.

20 March 2014

What Does Love Look Like?

Welcome! Today I'm writing a post prompted once again by the DungeonPrompt. The prompt this week is “What Does Love Look Like?”

I love the word love. 
Love is the energy of the sun upon my back warming me while I walk on a cool beach here in the Northwest.
Love is the empathy that brings tears to my eyes when I hear the pain borne by a friend in their childhood.
Love is my grandmother rubbing my eight-year-old toes after I had gone into a rage at my brother.
Love is the smell of my grandfather's roast that has cooked all the while we went to church.
Love is the librarian at the Wasilla Public library who put me to work shelving books when I came there after school when I was struggling the most with my family. 
Love is the presence of God listening to me when I walked alone on the college campus lost when my roommates had pressured me to move out by playing cruel jokes on me.
Love is the money my grandfather sent when I was almost unable to pay for school. 
Love is a feeling that comes over me when I see my children.

I feel like there is a simple story to tell to explain how far away from love I once felt even though I know now that I was never without love. 

When I was 15 I was homeless in Alaska and winter was coming. I was filled with anger and hurt. I was known to my family as having a heart of ice. I cared for no one's feelings. I enjoyed making fun of people and sometimes hurting them physically. During this time I was disconnected from God and, it can be said, felt no joy in my life. 

But even in this place God and people would not abandon me. A parent came to our school one day. She was there to tell us about what it was like to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). I was mesmerized. At that very moment, in what was my darkest time, I saw a light -- a light that I could become something. I could do what she did and learn to be an accountant. I could overcome all the circumstances in my life, get a master's degree, and become a CPA.  

Some people dream of being pro-football players. Some people dream of being actors. I dreamed of being a CPA. The warmth of that dream gave me warmth on cold nights. The universe had heard my plea from deep inside my despair and brought me an answer. I took that lifeline as a way out of the pain.

I still believe that the CPA who came to talk to us that day kept me from doing something more drastic to get attention and cope with my pain. The hope she gave me was tangible and I call that gift she gave me Love. 

Love is the thing that happens when I put my ego aside and humbly fill my heart with gratitude, while I wait for the universe to hear my prayers and engage me in the act of creation.

I am love. You are love. We are love.

18 March 2014

The Power In My Name

Welcome! Thank you for coming to read my post.

Today I sat at a different desk for a time so I could be near the sunshine. When I mentioned this to other people in the office they looked at me as if I'm crazy because the sky was clouded over. I explained that I consider all natural light as sunshine, be it through the clouds or not.

Then I saw this post from Sreejit on his blog The Seekers Dungeon about his name and his relationship to it, and then read the DailyPost Wordpress Blog prompt: THE POWER OF NAMES.

This post is in response to their prompt.

The idea of the power of names got me thinking about my naming of the light earlier in the day, and this got me thinking about the power of words in general.

As a manager I've learned through anecdotal observation about the power of my words. The power to create expectation and define projects. Through my words I define the acceptability of work performance for my team. By the use of labels I apply to the outcomes from the work of others I define their level of success. I define many things by the names I give them.

This observation doesn't come to me without some amount of awe at the level of personal power we all have. My realization is that we each and all have great power via our words. The realization comes with some desire to live up to that power.

That's not to say I came to this realization through some epiphany. To the contrary, I've been learning about the personal power of our words from some pretty great people -- specifically, Don Miguel Ruiz, Byron Katie, and Anthony Robbins.

As I mentioned in my post on Secrets, Don Miguel Ruiz charges us to be impeccable with our word. Ruiz's assertion is that our words are like spells. Spells we cast with the power of our voice. His challenge therefore is far greater than just living in integrity. We must strive to not only keep from saying things that break us down, but also to use the power we have to achieve our highest and best. It’s not enough to just exist. We must celebrate and thrive through the use of our words.

Byron Katie calls upon us to look at our version of reality as our projection of our internal fears onto the world, to run our words through a process she calls The Work. She challenges us to turn our words around. By turning our negative judgments of others into positive affirmations we can look at the world through a different lens. By turning our words back on ourselves we can see how our judgments are really fueled by our own low self esteem and fear of how we might be seen in the world.

Anthony Robbins challenges us to reprogram our brains using Neuro-linguistic programming. Tony's recipe for our transformation starts with the words we use -- to use our language to reprogram our brains.

So with this wisdom and understanding of the power of words, I look back upon my relationship to my name. You might question the use of the word “relationship”, but I think it may be a more powerful relationship than any other relationship I've had. You see, my name is the single representation of my entire being. Invoking it invokes all of my conscious and subconscious beliefs about myself.

The name David James Kester was given to me by my mom. Named for my father, David E. Kester, and grandfather, James McLoed. I was almost instantly seen as a replication of these men -- not only a genetic prodigy, but in some ways as a surrogate for them, at times taking the anger that should have been directed at them, at other times falling short of living up to the model they represented.

The strong stoic image my grandfather presented was a high bar that as a young man I could never reach, while my father's search for release from inner demons irritated folks and left them wondering about his capabilities, morals, and ethics. I had the demanding task of creating a new concept of self while still operating in their shadows.

From my earliest memories I can still recall my mother telling me I was just like my dad. In middle school I became bitter towards my father, focusing on his shortcomings. In my high school years I was referred to as “Little D”, which, when I was feeling down, I saw as a pejorative. As a result, I was often sarcastic about it.

As I grew into adulthood my greatest struggle was in earning my own reputation and a name for myself. For twenty years, I could not seem to throw this name off. Internally I was still “less than”.

Now I know it was because I did not understand the power I was giving to the names others gave me. In my codependence, I could not separate and create my own reality. I could not name myself.

Then in 2003 I began to transform that codependent attitude -- I stopped going by “David” and started going by “Dave”. I began to define myself in my terms. For a while I would even sign my emails “Dvae”, making use of a typo to differentiate even further my internal state of myself from the names others applied to me.

As I began to define myself in my terms, the name David James Kester began to take a more complex form -- a man defined not by the definitions of my family, but instead by my own definitions. A man worthy of the name. A man who strives to do his work, adhere to his principles, and to believe in himself. A creator, a father, a mentor, a guide, a way shower, a light to others.

My dad passed away years ago now. I have not been called “Little D” in almost half a decade. But I know that today, even being called that, I would no longer let that name define me. I define my own name. I am  in charge of finding and determining my destiny. I am in love with the name Dave because in one syllable, I can define the very complex person I am. In those four letters, I can let anyone know the power of me. I can share my dreams with you. I can share my wisdom with you. I can share my life with you. Just through the sharing of my name, you can come to know me.


16 March 2014

Going it Alone vs Having a Posse of Support

Welcome! Thank you for reading my blog today. I love to share my ideas. Please, share this with anyone you think would be interested.

Yesterday I made a comment to someone that they were a joy to be around. Right after I made that comment it came to me to ask myself, Am I joy to be around?”

I honestly had a tough time with this question. I rarely consider myself in those terms. The reasons I don’t see myself in this way go back to the earliest part of my life when I made some decisions about how the world was and how I was in it.

I realized that I think of myself as going it alone. You cannot be a joy to others when you are all alone. That made me feel a bit angry and chagrined at the same time.

Then it dawned on me. What if I was never going it alone? What if instead I've always had family, friends, and co-workers with me. What if instead of my belief that I’m alone I am in fact connected, interdependent, and part of a grand community? What if the belief I created for myself more than 40 years ago wasn't true? What if the world was on my side and had my back?

Well, in that case, I’d have had a posse. I’d have had people around me all the time. I’d have had love abounding. I’d have had support when I needed it. I’d have reached out to people when I was feeling low. I’d have a completely different experience of the world.

But then why did I make the choice to go it alone? Which was true? Did I have to go it alone or was the world there to help me and I was just ignorant of it? What if both were true? What if I did have support but in order to learn the value of that support I had to spend time thinking I was going it alone? What if the reason I went it alone was to simply have the experience of isolation and abandonment in order to come to this place and this realization?

Let’s consider this.

My first posse was my family. Here is where I made a decision to go it alone. My parents loved me but they had a lot of personal issues. I decided that their unavailability at certain times meant I needed to go it alone.

So as a boy I learned to not rely on people unless I in turn was doing something for them.

When I was five my dad asked me if I wanted to come live with him. My answer was, “Then who would take care of my mom?”

Already at this age I had established in my mind a world order. A world order that meant I had to go it alone and when I needed others I had convince them to help me. My trick was to solve problems for them. Then I could get what I needed.

I had made a decision that codependency was a workable life strategy.

Now, as I change and grow I realize that I have spent much of my lifetime hunkered down in survival mode, using old strategies. Now I discard those old strategies for new ones. Instead of survival mode I’m in thriving mode. In order to thrive I must live from a place of joy. If I am living in joy why would I go it alone?

The answer to me is, “I wouldn't”, and in fact I’m not. I just haven’t realized it in these terms. I hadn't transitioned my thinking to realize that these days I’m never going it alone. I have a lot of people in my posse:

  • I have God
  • I have my family
  • I have my friends
  • I have my therapy community
  • I have my co-workers
  • I have you all

I live in an abundance of support, encouragement, and friendship.

The truth is that I live connected and bound to many people. My realization this weekend is that I do not have to ever act like I’m going it alone. I do not have to hunker down when my mood is low. I do not have to hide when I make a mistake. I do not have to seclude myself with my small dreams.

I can ride with a posse in the hunt for my next adventure. I can take the liberty to explain my problems to another. I can get their help and support when my mood is down. I can live in joy and thrive in community.

I hope that if you do not have it already that you to can come to this realization that you are connected and discard the belief that you are alone. You too can look for the support that is around you. It may appear hidden. It may seem unavailable from those around you who are caught in their own isolation and fear, but a posse awaits you.  It may be in the form of new friends. It may not look like you expect it to. It may be that you must make the first connections and ask for the support you need. I encourage you to look for it as if it was a matter of life and death.