Communication, and other CIA Sabotage tactics

Communication is Oxygen. If you feel bad, breathe. If a project is stuck in a rut – communicate. So if you see fire somewhere, you just pump more oxygen into it, right?

Oh, wait.

David Perell has recently shared a page from the CIA Sabotage Field Manual:

This document was created in 1944 to help incite enemy to

“make faulty decisions, to adopt a non-cooperative attitude, and to induce others to follow suit”

In my corporate experience, I have seen genuinely well-meaning employees act in any of these ways. The bigger the organization, the more of these behaviors become defaults. You default to committees to shift risk. You insist on proper channels to be a „Team Player.”

I will not explain why these behaviors are not conducive to innovation or, for that matter, even operating of a healthy organization. Have a look at the source document.

Open communication in a bigger organization encourages most of these behaviors and that is what I marked in red.

At Automattic, we kind of take the „Apple Opposite” approach. We are distributed in 75 countries, work without a spaceship HQ, and default to open communication whenever possible. I can snoop in on all internal projects and our VIP clients, see source code of upcoming releases and chime in on a product line strategy that has zero overlap with my responsibilities.

I found our instincts to be much closer to how Pixar operates and it makes me very proud:

A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.

„Creativity Inc.”


Unfortunately, everything in life has a downside and Open communication does as well. Every positive behavior can become a subterfuge tactic if overused:

My intentSubterfuge tactic I fall into
Async communication, by definition, can be read at any time.
I don’t know what the context of the other party is, so I will make a long-winded explanation of my reasoning, so we can skip the back-and-forth
(2) Make „speeches”. Talk as frequently as possible at great length…
When I stumble upon a thread or conversation, I try to provide additional value by looping in knowledgeable people.

Connecting people who talk to each other is great for creativity.
(3) When possible, defer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration”

This one is particularly effective as subterfuge – people I loop in will reciprocate, ensuring exponential growth of a committee.
Sometimes I try to provide additional value by sharing ideas and concerns. Did you thought about X?

Maybe they didn’t, and I just saved them a discovery in the future?
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible

Also known as Bikeshedding. Extremely powerful combined with the above (3). Random people looped into a conversation will feel compelled to provide value, sharing shallow unrelated concerns.

Since Async communication does not really have the concept of the „meeting finished”, we can hit another tactic for bonus points if we „share our thoughts too late”:

(6) Refer back to matters decided upon the last meeting, in an attempt to re-open the question (…)

Hippocrates said, that everything to the excess is opposed to nature.

Excess communication can have detrimental effects. It introduces noise for everybody, but more importantly – piles on more work for people trying to solve a problem. I am not advocating for hiding the communication but cutting on self-serving comments.

Are you making that comment to:

  • Show that you are smart? Pass.
  • To prove that you have taken action, even it is contributing very little? Pass.
  • Because you feel concerned, that „proper channels” were not used? Pass.
  • Project shipped, but you feel compelled to share a concern that should be addressed earlier? Pass.
  • You have helpful information, that will make them achieve goals faster? Go ahead.
  • You are certain a major risk was overlooked? Go ahead.
  • You have a genuine question and answer will help you or others in future pursuits? Go ahead.

Breathe and communicate. Within reason.

I miss the commute

Ridiculous as it sounds, even before the lockdowns, I missed the commute.

The gentle rocking of the bus, The camaraderie of workers returning home, and the blank stares filling the space. The commute is universally recognized as bad, right?

University of the West of England
  • It eats into your schedule, robbing you of your life
  • It starts your day off rushed and stressed, which limits your performance and happiness
  • You share the rush hour traffic with half of the known universe, all competing for the same 10cm in a bus to squeeze in.
  • You get infected with every possible ailment your fellow travelers can carry.
https://i1.wp.com/external-preview.redd.it/Z23YPAIgYeA3ts8d8PJ3Lo44RG3wANFc8MhLdDY3hvc.jpg?w=620&ssl=1

And yet, a few times a year, this feeling comes back. Especially during challenging periods of focused work, I sometimes yearn for this transition period that will let me decompress between work and private engagements.

Now when we all are sheltered in place, these boundaries get blurred. We carry our stresses from work to home, because, well, both happen on the same couch!

The unexpected benefits of commuting are much more apparent now During summertime, it was quite enjoyable. I love cycling to the office and am in a fortunate position where I have 8 km of parks between the coworking spot and me.

  • On the way to the office, I get my daily fix of cardio and spent some time in nature. I identified some time ago that on the days that I see the trees, my mood goes up.
  • On the way back, I sometimes cycle quite slowly, reflecting on the day and some times maybe even sit in one of those parks.

On those exhausting days, the way home lets me decompress and maybe even put a border between times of the day.

  • The commute helps switch gears mentally
  • Me cycling to work produces mental energy

While stuck at home, you may want to reproduce the benefits of a commute:

After a challenging day, the most appealing thing is to sink into a couch and start the mindless consumption of Netflix. But if you try exercising, you will discover being more rested after the exercise than before it. Your mind will notice a transition between work and rest.

Hopefully, the lockdowns will end, because the commute can be quite OK if you choose it. With a flexible work schedule, going to the office on any given day is my decision, and I can make specific arrangements to avoid rush hour traffic.

Hopefully, I won’t have to always work from home, nor will I have to commute every day. I can choose whatever works for me, and that is the point.

Coronavirus and working from home – a primer to get your team started

This post is a crash course on Remote Work for a smaller team that is forced into this reality by COVID-19. I am linking some all-encompassing tutorials at the end. This post is meant to get you started with the basic ideas of remote work in 15 minutes.

Switching to a remote environment will take work and won’t be ideal in the beginning. Remote work requires shifting mindsets, and people are not great at that. But you have no other choice. I am using terms “Remote Work” and “Work from Home” interchangeably in this post, because to slow the spread of the virus, your colleagues should stay at home.

Who am I? I am leading a remote team in a company that has been distributed for 10+ years. We have 1200 employees in 76 countries. These are practical tips I learned there.

What’s the deal?

COVID-19 ( / Coronavirus / SARS-CoV-2 ) is an exceptionally infectious virus that can spread „by air.” A long incubation period means that people will infect others before they even realize they are feeling unwell. The virus has already spread to the majority of the world’s countries (a primer on the virus here).

That means a couple of things:

  • One employee can infect the entire office by coughing into the coffee cup cabinet
  • In fact, everybody can be infected right now and not show any symptoms
  • People are stressed with the situation and will be reluctant to work effectively. Most likely, they will be sitting in your office, browsing Twitter, reading up on the virus, and freaking out.
  • The most effective tool we have available right now to cope with the Coronavirus fallout is to slow the spread.

We are pretty sure that hospitals won’t be able to deal with all the cases once we reach pandemic levels. 80% of cases are relatively mild, but 5% requires intensive care. Approximately 1% of people who catch the virus die.

As The Economist has put it: „Flattening the spike of the epidemic means that health systems are less overwhelmed, which saves lives.”

What can YOU do?

If you are a small business owner or a team lead, you need to get on that Remote Work bus ASAP. The most responsible choice you can make is to let your employees work remotely.

  • They will minimize the risk of getting infected during the commute in your office
  • If (god forbid) they get infected, they won’t pass that on to everybody else while sharing a donut
  • They will be able to take care of the loved ones if it comes to that
  • You will help slow down the progress of infections in society.

“To minimize risk, stay home if you can. This may mean canceling meetings, working remotely, or skipping a conference (if it hasn’t been canceled already).” – „How to work during pandemic”

How seriously should you take this?

This is a sample of companies that have closed down entire offices in light of the Coronavirus:

Ok, what is this Remote Work?

I am going to explain to you four pillars of remote work and recommend you another four tools to start doing it ASAP.

If your work happens in front of a computer, it can happen remotely. Yes, face-to-face interaction is the best way to transmit complex ideas, details of the tasks, hilarious jokes, and deadly viruses.

We now have fantastic technology for all of the above except viruses. These tools have been used for a while now – Remote Work was exploding even before the SARS-CoV-2.

 

4 Pillars of Remote Work.

Asynchronous work

Remote work is by design asynchronous. People will take tasks, post updates, have discussions, and go to focus on new tasks.

You can try to keep everybody in sync all the time, but this is exhausting, frustrating, and futile. You won’t know what they are doing at their homes or if they are checking Facebook, and you need to make peace with that.

Newsflash: They probably check Facebook at your office as well.

The biggest challenge with asynchronous work is that you may be blocked by someone else’s task. But you can plan around that – think of what you will need tomorrow and have started working on it today.

It’s challenging but worth it. When you see in the same office, it’s easy to hide inefficiency by looking busy. Remote environment strips that facade, and you are left to confront the reality of your management style.

Making sure nobody is blocked is the biggest challenge as a manager. It will take practice and yield exceptional rewards.

The takeaway is:

Instead of worrying about what your people are doing right this second, try to slice the work so that they can work on pieces independently. And let them have their lunch.

Intrinsic motivation

You can’t just walk in, scold people and control what they do. When you do that online, they can just run away from the computer. You don’t want that. Instead, you want your people to be challenged by the work or at least see the value of it. It’s surprisingly easy – we all want to be useful, challenged and learn new skills.

Remember to provide enough context and give them input into the details of what you need done. You are not as smart as you think, and your employees may be more capable than you imagine.

Takeaway:

They want to do a good job. Let them do a good job.

Communication

Communicate a lot. A massive chunk of what you want to say will be lost in text, and even video calls help only to a certain extent. You will say one thing, and your team will understand something completely different. It’s easier to spot that in person.

Double-check, over-communicate, and write things down. If you feel it takes too much time, you’ll save it by having already written it down and being able to re-use previous notes.

Takeaway:

Write stuff down in Google Docs. Discuss in Slack and Zoom.

Level playing field

If you are letting people work from home, EVERYBODY has to work remotely. If the situation is not the same for everyone, then co-located people will keep their old communication habits, and remote colleagues will be left in the dark. Companies that „failed at remote work” did a half-assed job of choosing a poor soul to be left in the dark and continued to share information face-to-face.

Either your team is in the same space, or it’s at home. This is not quantum physics, where you can be in 2 places at the same time.

Takeaway

Do or do not. There is no try.

 

4 Free Tools to set you up for remote success.

Zoom.

Zoom is the new Skype. It’s more reliable, more dependable, and better suited to remote work than any other video-call software. It has taken over the remote companies by storm because it has unmatched quality. There are other tools, just none worth trying.

Since you don’t see your coworkers in the office, meeting them on video helps to transmit all those non-verbal signals that are lost during voice calls or email exchanges. I recommend you do zoom calls frequently at the beginning.

My best tips for Zoom calls:

  • If you are switching from the office and are on the same timezone, set up a daily check-in call ( say 10 am ). Ask everybody what they worked on yesterday and what they are planning to work on today. Make notes in Google Docs. Use that call to also work on your remote setup. Put that on the Google Calendar and invite your coworkers, so everybody has a link to the call handy.
  • Zoom has a good enough free plan. You need to start paying if you want to have meetings for 3+ people longer than 40 minutes. You can also stop and hop on a new session every 40 minutes. That is what I do.
  • Buy your employees good headphones ($20-$45). Take this seriously. Lousy audio from (god forbid) earbuds they got with their iPhones will be disproportionately frustrating.
  • Back against the wall, light in front. Selfie ring helps. Seth Godin has more advice.
  • The internet does not have to be that fast. Even the one from your iPhone hotspot will be fine.

Slack

This will be your primary communication channel. Since you are no longer communicating in person, you need a central hub and email is not suited for that. Slack is for all those situations where you would come over, say something in the shared space, share a joke, or have a look at what your coworker is doing.

Slack is a shared chat, with different channels. Channels help to separate various concerns and make it easier to manage.

  • Do not require everybody to read everything. Chose one channel with mandatory reading (the typical pattern is „#announcements” ). Every new mandatory thing decreases the chance they will keep up.
  • Once you make a decision or have takeaways, move to more permanent storage. Google Docs is good.
  • Remember to goof off. You need to provide an upbeat environment. If it becomes stressful, your employees will just stop working. The common pattern is to have a „#watercooler” channel and post lots of memes.
  • The free plan will have some limitations. Mainly it has a limited history of conversations. Free is enough.

Google Docs / Drive

You need one place which will be the source of truth, and people will refer to when they are confused. Since they will be working asynchronously, you have to make it easier for them to find information that they need. Shared Google Drive and Docs will help you exchange documents and keep track of your decisions. You are also producing work, which most likely has the shape of documents.

My tips on working with Google Docs

  • Write down as much stuff as possible.
  • Do make a shared folder in Drive and tidy up the structure frequently
  • Make sure to have one place where everything is linked – it can be a Google Doc with a list of running projects and links to docs each describing the progress of the project
  • Update those documents!
  • „Where is X, what the status of Y” should require no answer – it should be apparent where the information is always.
  • You can work using the personal Google Accounts. You don’t need paying for GSuite.

Honorable mention: Trello

Trello is a simple tool to track the progress of the tasks in your team. Who is doing what? How is X doing? Did we finish Y? That’s what Trello is for.

  • You can connect it to Slack so you can always see what your people are working on
  • Again, the free plan is your friend

How to put it all together – your action plan:

  1. Make sure everybody has a computer at home they can use. Buy them headsets. They will need email addresses, but @gmail.com is fine.
  2. They need accounts for Google Docs, Trello, and Zoom. They will also need to install Zoom
  3. Wash your hands
  4. Register a new Slack for your company, invite your team
  5. Start chatting on Slack, make #announcements, #general, and #watercooler channels.
  6. Wash your hands
  7. Start your first Zoom Call. See how it goes
  8. Don’t touch your face
  9. Dump all work into actionable tasks in Trello.
  10. Start writing stuff down in Google Docs.
  11. Wash your hands

Further reading

This list is short on purpose. Sign up to my newsletter to get more resources about remote work:

Contacting our pigeons in other timezones...

Thank you for signing up! Now please head to your inbox to confirm the email address. I do not want to send anyone spam.

Good luck and wash your hands!

Dear Manager, I am sorry I suck at feedback.

Dear ,

I have been failing our company and failing you – personally. I withheld valuable feedback.
To say that feedback is essential is an understatement. All human progress comes from experimentation, analyzing results, and tweaking the actions, one small challenge at a time.

I would even identify the most significant societal challenges as breakdowns in feedback cycles:

  • Obesity would not be an issue if a tasty cookie did not deliver faster ‘positive’ feedback than years of exercise and proper nutrition,
  • Climate Change is a result of quarterly profit cycles providing more immediate data than decade-long weather pattern changes,

We do a thing that we think is good, we get a consequence three decades later and are surprised what exactly is behind this result. Humanity is not built to work at this scale.

But let’s get back to business and the case at hand. Lack of feedback UP the „chain of command” is how companies fail. On paper, big organizations have every advantage. But as the company grows,  „The franchise blinders harden” – as Safi Bahcall phrased it in Loonshots. Ben Horrowitz agrees, and in  Hard Thing about Hard things identifies that „The biggest problem is the one that blindsides you.”.

No wonder that effective leaders not only shy away from feedback but crave and ask for it. I know you are the same way. You ask for feedback, you act on it swiftly and everything is better after the exchange. And yet, I haven’t been giving you enough feedback to you, and I find it hard to pinpoint why.

Following reasons come to mind:

  1. I consider myself a competent professional. As such, I pride myself in taking on challenges and solving problems. My default is to take your suggestions as a challenge and run with it.
  2. I noticed it’s easier for me to disagree with “two levels up” than with you. I am not sure what is causing this. Maybe I am afraid of bringing this up so you won’t retaliate on my performance review? I know this is ridiculous!
  3. I am pretty outspoken and have publicly passionately argued with the company direction. Everybody (including you) assumes that I will have the same force in private conversations, but it’s not true. Privately, I tend to concede much faster.
  4. I optimize my career to work with smart people on exciting projects. You can teach me a lot, and I always assume that you know a little more (or a lot) than me and have stuff figured out way better than me.
  5. Lastly, we all work remotely. I know blaming this on the remote environment is a noob move, but it’s tough to catch the misunderstandings early. When we are not on the same page, it’s really hard to see if it’s a communication problem, or we have different points of view.

Because of these points, I have robbed you of valuable feedback. There were situations where we disagreed, and I conceded when I shouldn’t have. I did not want to introduce more tension or come off as stubborn because I have behaved so in the past.

What can I do?

I don’t think being more outspoken is the way I want to pursue. I am plenty vocal already so that I will try a different route:

Whenever the „I don’t think he’s right”  thought appears, I will note it diligently and set time before our 1:1 to make sure my opinion still has merit. If that will be the case after a few days, I will bring this up on our 1:1. That’s what they are for.

I know this feedback is valuable for you, and I know you will act on it. I need to be better at giving you the opportunity to improve.

Sincerely, Artur.

PS: Dear commenter, if you have any tips on how to be better at giving feedback to your manager, please share!

Ramit Sethi – is this guy legit? I took his courses and found these 5 principles.

Everything was going fine in my life, and I was miserable.

Five years ago, I had a ‘fine’ job, but I craved a challenge – something I could be proud of. Slacking off at the office, I was browsing Hacker News (a technology-oriented version of Reddit), marveling at the fantastic things everybody ELSE was doing. I could see my future as a cog in the corporate machine, and it was not inspiring.

Ramit’s advice helped me truly level up. During one of those Hacker-News-Fueled ‘breaks’, I stumbled upon this financial blogger with marketing, business, and job-search advice. Despite the scammy-sounding title of his blog – “I will teach you to be Rich”, I found it very helpful and ended up taking the “Dream Job” course.

Fast forward five years, I work remotely for the best company I could ever dream of, making past me very proud. I travel the world with my wife, who also works remotely – thanks to Ramit’s advice. Our company even flew us to India to present at a conference. We never dreamt of going to India, let alone on the company’s dime. We went to a city known for one of the most luxurious hotels in India – in fact, Ramit went there on his honeymoon!

After taking Dream Job, I have attended Success Triggers, Delegate&Done, Mental Mastery and How to talk to anybody. I recommend each one of these courses. They deliver consistent, exceptional quality and are great lenses to organize your existing knowledge.

To answer the title question: Yes, he is legit. Any course you will choose will be the best one in the category.

“Ramit Sethi is very, very legit”

Tim Ferriss

The biggest value I get from these curriculums is what not to focus on at this moment. Ramit claims that he and the team spend the majority of the time on nailing the lesson plan and it really shows. In the world where information is abundant, this curation is the ultimate value.

Ramit is about the “Rich Life”

Yes, he is in the personal finance sphere. But instead of focusing on curbing spending, budgeting, power of compounding in investments – and all the other components of successful financial future, he focuses of the end goal – the Rich Life, whatever that means for you:

  • Getting rid of credit card debt ( in the “I will teach you to be rich” book )
  • Getting a better job ( in Dreamjob )
  • Starting a business (in Earn1K and Zero to launch Courses)
  • Negotiating a raise (in Dreamjob )
  • Reclaiming your time (in “Delegate & Done” course about virtual assistants)

5 principles of Ramit

After reading Ramit’s content for years, I have teased out these underlying messages in all of his teachings:

Disproportionate results

By investing 10% more than others into preparation, research and figuring out the strategy, you can get 10x – 100x better results. This approach is applicable in job search (make connections first), building a business (nail down your target niche first), fitness, dating and other areas of Rich Life.

Strategies, not tactics

The Internet loves gimmicks and listicles like “10 apps to polish your resume, 20 online marketplaces for creators.”. But these are tactics. The important things to internalize are the strategies that help us understand “game being played around us”. Not frantic tactics that will be useless after a year.

Focus on the big wins

You can focus on saving a few hundred bucks a year by cutting back on lattes, or you can get a 30 000 dollar raise. Nuff said. Click here if you want to read one of Ramit’s classic rants on ‘cut back on lattes’.

Psychology is key

The best advice is the one you take and follow-through. Ramit understands that and optimizes his courses, emails, and tips to make help you follow-through. They are not stuffed with every conceivable piece of information on the topic, but meticulously designed to make you succeed. That being said, his courses include “Vaults” that have 10x the amount of tips and tactics as the main material. But as I mentioned, the tactics are never the focus.

Test relentlessly

Do stuff that works. Take a hard look at what doesn’t. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by confusing the two.

Get his advice for free

Ramit frequently claims that 95% of his advice is free. I don’t think this is accurate. I found that he shared 305% of his advice for free. But you still should take his courses, because they put everything in place.

I would recommend the following path to take advantage of this plethora of resources:

Step 1:Check his Instagram.

It’s hilarious. It’s also a good test if Ramit ‘resonates’ with you.

Step 2: Tim Ferriss interview.

Tim is a world-class interviewer and they are friends.

Step 3: Briefcase technique

The technique illustrates all the principles I laid out above and helped me get my job.

Bonus round: Ultimate guides

Following that, I recommend his free “ultimate guides”:

“How much should a man spend on an engagement ring?” is a fascinating example of Ramit diving into an area populated with generic advice and actually providing an exceptional answer. This is my gold standard on what a blog post should look like.

A note about joining Ramit courses.

The only way to join Ramit Courses is to sign up for his email list. There is a public page with all the products he sells, but they are only “open” one at a time.

Sign up to his email list. You don’t have to pay him a dime, but you will get tremendous value out of the emails. They are packed with knowledge.

And I do recommend the courses.

Ramit’s vision of Rich Life has rubbed on me a little bit. Even though he does not sell anything in the space, he convinced me to get a personal trainer, cleaning help for our apartment and I even have a personal VA.

Past me would marvel at a life I built.

And if you want to hear in detail what I learned, and how I adapted Ramit’s advice to suit the Remote work environment – sign up for MY email list. ?

Contacting our pigeons in other timezones...

Thank you for signing up! Now please head to your inbox to confirm the email address. I do not want to send anyone spam.

Take a walk to get unstuck

Let’s start from the beginning.
Ever since Plato (423 BC), humanity was plagued by this notion of mind-body duality. Dark Ages have really entrenched the idea that the body is only a vehicle to move around our pristine and godly minds. The flesh pursuits are of lesser concern and don’t deserve much attention.

“Plato and Aristotle, conniving about derailing humanity’s understanding of mind-body connection”. By Raphael.

And this particular idea has seeped into western philosophy. We don’t pay specific attention to the link between the way we treat our bodies and mental performance

  • We try to “save time” by sacrificing sleep, resulting in severely diminished productivity and mental skills,
  • We sit all day on our asses, getting more and more stressed about some artificial situation, avoiding the solution that our bodies were built for,
  • We forget to hydrate or eat properly, because – of course – we “don’t have time.”

How taking a walk can help you get unstuck

Shinrin-Yoku

Japanese, forest bathing: The immersive experience of spending time in nature.

Spending time in nature has a profoundly therapeutic effect on thinking clarity, overall health, and is a surefire way to lower the stress levels. Shinrin-Yoku (forest bathing) is a recognized treatment in Japan, and British doctors are looking into prescriptions for mindful walks in the woods themselves.

Our bodies evolved in green space, surrounded by trees, shrubs, streams, and rocks. We are familiar with the wild in the core of our souls. This is where our ancestors lived their whole lives, honing their genome to fit the environment.
Is life in a concrete jungle so drab? Can a few hours in a forest significantly improve my mood? I set out to answer these questions.

For a few years now, I document my thoughts in a journal. I have an Evernote-based system, where I mostly rate the previous day and recap what happened.
I will expand on this in another post, but one of the valuable insights I was able to discover is the answer to the question


“What do my happy days have in common”?

Every quarter or so, I review my notes and try to tease out what consistently made me happy during this time.
Over and over again, spending time in nature (and preferably good swimming) is at the top of the list.
Maybe it is because I was a scout for 11 years, and I am trying to reproduce the conditions of my youth. But perhaps it is because I am a human being, and this is the environment where humanity was thriving in for millennia.

My Wife, recognizing the importance of trees and taking a walk.

I try to plan my life accordingly, but as you probably know – it intervenes sometimes. Deadlines pile up, work has to be done, and I forget what restorative effect a walk has on my thinking.
I forget that it clears my head and allows me to get a fresh perspective.
I tell myself: “Tomorrow, I don’t have time today.”

What does the science say?

The science says that I’m dumb.

“To improve your thinking skills, move.”

Chris Medina, “Brain Rules”

Moving can help our brains via several mechanisms:

  1. Moving means more cardiovascular action, which means more oxygen. Our brains REALLY like oxygen. Brains like oxygen how I like the georgian meat pies. Often and in any quantity.
  2. Moving means neurons firing in the brain. Think of it as a bit of a rhythm. By making the body move, the brain gets into a groove of action, and any cognitive tasks get accomplished easier.

“Your lifetime risk for general dementia is cut in half if you participate in physical activity. Aerobic exercise seems to be the key. With Alzheimer’s, the effect is even greater: Such exercise reduces your odds of getting the disease by more than 60 percent.”

John Medina, Brain Rules

Before you embark on spending an exciting 60 minutes on a treadmill, consider the messy outside world. Moving helps but to get the best results, combine it with spending time outdoors.

“People living near more green space reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment”

This is your brain on nature, National Geographic

What could you do to combine the amazing effects of moving with restorative effects of spending time in the green? Guess what! Take a walk in the forest!

Would it help to convince you, if you knew Steve Jobs was pretty insistent on walking meetings?

Check out Outside Magazine amazing feature “The Nature Cure

Artur, but this is basic! DUH!

I clicked on your link expecting some insightful comment, and I don’t want to be lectured about such basic things!

I hear ya. But this advice needs repeating.

Intellectually knowing something is not enough. As Derek Sivers says, “If knowledge was the problem, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs.” We can know something is true and still act totally irrationally.
By all means, I am guilty of this as well. I sometimes discard this advice as “not serious enough” and “this is fine for those wellness people, but I have serious work to do.”
Intellectualizing is not the answer. If you care about doing something, you need to build a habit around it.

The Outside Challenge ™️

Do a test! Check if going outside is really for you.

  1. Get your ass outside first thing in the morning, for a week.
  2. Just walk around, notice things. DO NOT STARE AT YOUR PHONE.
  3. After 30 minutes, go back home.
  4. Be awesome!
  5. Crush your day.

Subscribe to learn more about remote work

Remote work helps again.

I know not everybody has a nice green space near home.
But… If you worked remotely, what precludes you from living near a forest?
You could even have a view on the trees, getting the benefits of surrounding yourself in nature while you work.

Have you noticed that I post lots of pictures of my laptop opened somewhere in the wilderness?

Because for me, there is no better place to work than surrounded by tress, with wind on my face.

You don’t have to be in exotic place, or wait till the weekend to enjoy time in nature.

You can pick your laptop, hop on a bike (or into a car) and after an hour, you will most likely be in the forest. Yes, I’m pretty certain that they will have LTE coverage.

Now go outside and take a walk!


Is remote work hurting the environment?

No, it does not. This is a clickbait title.

Remote work helps me see the world, contribute more to our products and lets me enjoy life to the fullest. From the stereotypical Thai Beach office to escaping open space, it’s a clear benefit for my employer and me.

Hard work

But what gets me most excited about remote work is the environmental impact. If people don’t have to move to big cities, they can stay in their home towns, close to friends and family. Outside of metropolis, it is possible to consume locally grown food, eradicating the need for transport and packaging of perishables.
With a smaller density, the housing can be cheaper, and living conditions improve considerably. People working remotely from areas like Kentucky, Idaho or Ukraine can spend their fat tech salaries locally, raising the living standards for the entire community, providing new jobs and example for future generations.
According to WWF, the commuters in the USA alone are generating 1786 metric tonnes of CO2. That is 26% of all US emissions that remote work can help curb.

But of course – there is an element of hypocrisy in that grand vision of remote work saving the environment.

Producing CO2 in Cape Town

I fly a few times a year to meet my coworkers in person, and air travel is a contributor to greenhouse emissions.

Haunted by this fact, I decided to count how much harm did I do. I added up my flights for each year:

  • 2016: 4.4 tonnes
  • 2017: 8.11 tonnes
  • 2018: 5.51 tonnes

That makes a total of 18.02metric tonnes of CO2 emitted due to me flying over the past three years. I do not feel happy about this, but I found a way to ease the impact of lugging my ass all over the world.

CarbonFootprint.com lets you contribute to carbon offsetting projects around the globe. Their air travel calculator will help you figure out how much harm did you do while getting these Instagram photos:


I decided to fund tree planting in Kenya since it will both plant trees and provide work for the local community. I happily shelled out 280 EUR to buy the land, plant trees and help them grow. The trees should consume 20 tonnes of CO2 caused by my air travel, helping me sleep better.

Carbon emissions due to flying is a downside of working for a globally distributed company, but I still can do something about it.
I also believe that long-term remote work can be the answer to the climate crisis we are experiencing right now.

The Garden Route – Cape Town Road Trip

For the past 3 years, my fiancée kept on telling me how amazing South Africa is. We’ve had an amazing road trip in western Canada together, spent a month jumping into Yucatan cenotes, and worked from the beaches of Thailand like proper remote employees, so I felt a little bit insulted. While we were enjoying these amazing places, she extolled the virtues of a city that has both the ocean and mountains, and teased me with waterfalls, wineyards and the perfect steak.

Fortunately, the opportunity has come to say “I call”.

Maria’s team had to gather in April for some on-site R&R in Cape Town. This is a traditional practice for remote employees. Since you see your coworkers only on Slack or Zoom calls – its good to remind yourself that these are real human beings that like to eat and have fun. And that was the plan for that trip – I would sit tight and work from fabulous Cape Town coffee shops and Maria would eat, drink and have fun with her coworkers.

Afterwards, we would go for a 6-day road trip.

Garden Route

We picked an 800 km long route on the coast, west of Cape Town. Known as the “Garden Route”, it is home to multiple national parks and charming coastal cities. This is where Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and nature decides to show us the good stuff.

1 Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park has “Elephant” in the name. Nuff said. These gracious creatures are impressive not only in size – you should read more on Maria’s blog.

This is the furthest point of our trip, so we decided to hit it first and to do most of the driving up front. Cape Town is 830 km from Addo, so we spent 2 days on the road, arriving at about 1 PM.

Our second night would be in the park itself. We scored a lovely “Cottage” on the park premises, which would allow us to take advantage of early morning animal spotting. The cottages are available on SAN parks website.

Addo Main Camp is located close to a waterhole, which you can observe from an underground hide. And… oh boy! That came in handy when a Lion (I had no intention of seeing a lion, but he showed up regardless) killed a Kudu antelope right next to the hide. We could all see him resting for a while before he dragged the prey away from our prying eyes.

I managed to record a video before he vanished:

The park itself is a DIY safari. You take your car and drive around, spotting different animals and enjoying life. Safari was #128 on my personal bucketlist and I can proudly cross it off having seen:

  • Wild Pig AKA Pumba
  • Kudu
  • Elephant
  • Zebra
  • Ostrich
  • Buffalo
  • Antelope
  • Different birds
  • Hiena
  • Jackal
  • Dung beetle. Lots of them! The biggest challenge in the park was not to crush them when they were crossing the road. I guess this is how elephants feel about us humans.
  • And the aforementioned Lion

2 Storms River Mouth / Tsitsikamma

My sneaky fiancée lured me to this country promising waterfalls. I am kind of a Waterfall afficionado junkie, so visiting Storms River was a must.

Unfortunately, on the day both the weather turned bad and I started having ankle problems, so we gave up on waterfall hike (3-4 hrs) :(. We will have to do it another time.

3 Nature’s Valley

Even though you can sleep in the park itself (Storms River has cottages), we spent 2 nights in the nearby town called Nature’s Valley. The Otter Trail connects it to Storms River and apparently we are the only 2 people in the world that have not heard about The Otter Trail. Everything in Nature’s Valley is named after an Otter, and I mean EVERYTHING. We stayed at a placed called Kamma Otter and I counted at least 5 other B&Bs named after an Otter (and this city has only 50 houses). If you see how many times I used the word “Otter” in the last paragraph, you’ll start to get a feel of Nature’s Valley.

Believe it or not, an Otter-based naming scheme is not the only charming thing about the lovely town. It is located between the lagoon and the ocean, has 1 restaurant, 1 shop and a very tight-knit community of bird lovers.

I think they throw you out if you don’t love birds.

4 Knysna

The view was amazing and the eggs benedict even better.

Do you see the white building just on the edge of the left “head”? This is Easthead Cafe. We had breakfast there. You should too.

5 Map of Africa paragliding spot

DCIM\100GOPRO\G0023958.

On the way back to Cape Town, we decided to check out the spot called “Map of Africa”. It’s a piece of land shaped like an African continent, surrounded by river.

My fiancée had dreamt of paragliding for few years now (this trip is all about the stuff she wants to do, isn’t it?). Every time we noticed people in the air, she would point them out and make sure I knew she is up for it 🙂

And there they were, running from the cliff and soaring in the air!

So how does this work?

  1. You drive to the “Map of Africa” viewpoint, expecting to see something vaguely resembling African continent,
  2. A random guy walks up to you, offering to strap you onto a contraption that puts you a hundred meters in the air. No reservation was necessary,
  3. Naturally, you say yes to the random dude,
  4. You pay 800 ZAR per person,
  5. This is a tandem flight so you are actually tied to an instructor who hopefully knows what he is doing,
  6. You run awkwardly a few steps,
  7. You start soaring like a sack of potatoes,
  8. You fly for about 15-20 minutes having the best time ever,
  9. If the instructor catches a wind current, you land where you started, with smooth grass and sheep to soften your fall. If not, he will drop you in the ocean land on the beach and they’ll pick you up in a car.

6 Kaaimans Bridge

While paragliding, you can get a glimpse of this decommissioned railway bridge. If you are not paragliding, you can stop at “The Dolphins Viewpoint” to have a look:

7 The Oude Post

This is a gas station and a sandwich shop. Which has Mini Goats, a turtle and the most delicious sandwiches imaginable. They serve traditional Roosterkoeken – a sandwich/pastry that is baked on the barbecue during traditional Braai.

Braai is to South Africa what Barbecue is to Texas. A human right.

8 Hermanus

Our trip had an end right on the airport, where we would return the car. But since we had extra few hours, we stopped in Hermanus.

Hermanus is a coastal city that is famous for one thing: Whales.

It is one of the best cities in the world for Whale Watching. The cliff offers great views on the ocean and these big sea mammals come close by so you can watch them from the shore.

The season is from July till November, so a whale watching trip in April was a bit of a gamble, but it paid of tremendously! A whale was doing whale things in the bay and standing on Gearings Point, we could see the back and tail popping up from the water here and there.

I tried to take drone photos, but birds attacked my drone, so I had to count on the return-to-home feature.

Map

Here are all these spots – and more on the map:

I have to admit that now I understand why my fiancée wanted to share immense beauty of South Africa with me. I will definitely come back here. I the meantime – you can check out Job’s post with much better photos. Or subscribe to my newsletter!

Cheap ski weekend in Zurich. How much is it?

In February I found myself in Zurich.
You know, the go-to destination for cheap travel.

One of the advantages of remote work is that I don’t need to take time off to enjoy another part of the world. I can work somewhere and just take in the local culture, food and experience the change of scenery. I can pick a cheap flight at an unpopular hour and have a regular workday without skipping a beat.

My Fiancee was in Costa Rica at this time, so I decided to visit my friends in Switzerland. Not that I needed an excuse – Switzerland is a gorgeous country that has the things I love the most: mountains, forests, lakes, and waterfalls.


But since we spent last winter in Thailand and India, my main focus was to get a chance to practice my amazing snowboarding skills.

By amazing I mean perfectly average.

During the weekend I would ski, and on the workdays, I would roam around the city, have a nice walk and work from their home, maybe a coffee shop. Or a fondue parlor, since what you really need on your keyboard is not crumbs nor spilled coffee, but melted cheese.

OH MY GOD, THERE IS SO MUCH CHEESE HERE.

Me.

All this is cheese.
Just kidding. It’s cocaine.

Yes, this is a pot of cheese. You know that French trick where they put a little cheese in your soup? The do the same in Switzerland. Minus the soup.

Ok, enough about cheese.

There are plenty of ski areas nearby, so we decided on the closest one.

Here is the guide to Zurich Ski areas



Flumserberg


Flumserberg is the easiest one to get to. The train from Zurich HB takes 1 hour to get there, and the lift starts 20 meters from the train station.
Swiss locals come into the train wearing their ski boots and with the gear on. It is perfect for a 1-day or a weekend trip.


It is also gorgeous. The city of Unterterzen is by the lake, surrounded by almost vertical walls of Fjord-like peaks

We came here with a 7am train, arriving at 8am and returned on Sunday at 5pm and were at Zurich HB at 6PM.

Ski Passes

Swiss rail runs a special promo that gives you:

  • 10% reduction on the 1-, 2- or 6-day ski pass for the entire Flumserberg region.
  • Free baggage transport for the outward and return journeys worth CHF 12 each.
  • 15% reduction at Intersport Rent.


You cannot purchase it online though. You have to use a machine at the station.
Here are the details

I paid 156,80 for a 2-day ski pass and transport to Flumserberg and back.
Once you arrive in Flums, you have to exchange the coupon from SBB into the actual ski pass at the counter.


Juhui Flumserberg:

Theoretically, on these 2-day tickets, we could have gone back to our place in Zurich on Saturday evening and return Sunday morning. But since Switzerland is such a cheap country, we decided to live like kings and splurge on accommodation.
Which means that we got the cheapest option available on Booking and we stayed overnight.
And what a fantastic decision it was! We got to sleep in a 120-year old wooden hotel.

Don’t get me wrong, restrooms were not in the room, and it was very cramped, but we passed out almost immediately anyway.
We got sheets, towels and a big breakfast with fantastic views. We were happy.
We paid 149 CHF (including beers) for 2 people in a 4-person room. I would be very surprised if in 4 people would indeed fit there comfortably.
But it was 74 CHF after splitting between 2 people.

Rental

I had my Snowboard boots with me, but I had to rent the Snowboard and a helmet.
The passes from SBB should have given us a 15% discount on Intersport rental. But because of a misunderstanding with our friends, we rented in a place just by the gondola.
I paid 101 CHF for a helmet and a snowboard for 2 days.
My friend paid 65 for skis + boots etc., for 1 day.

Flights

I have Star Alliance Gold status, which entitles me to a piece of free luggage on all star alliance flights except „light” tariffs on Lufthansa and Swiss. But I found a cheap ticket on LOT (PL national airline, Star Alliance), also in the „light” pricing.
But because of my Star Alliance status – I got luggage for my snowboard shoes and drone for free.
Zurich is a peculiar place. It is a place of employment many expats, and they want to fly home for the weekend. Which means that if you come here FOR the weekend, you pay less.
I arrived Saturday morning and flew back Sunday. I paid about 55 CHF for all of that.

If you want to read some tips on how to get to Star Alliance Gold cheaper and faster – do sign up! ?

Totals


So there you have it. I paid 331 CHF for the whole trip. If you want to include the flight to Zurich, that is an additional 55 CHF. So for 380 CHF, you can enjoy a weekend of skiing in Swiss Alps.
But then again, if you want it to be cheaper, then you probably should not choose Switzerland. ?


And here is Michał who organized all of this. Thanks Michał!


So you want to work at Automattic.

Today, in April 2016, it’s been precisely 6 months since I joined Automattic as JavaScript wrangler. All you’ve heard about how awesome this company is in fact an understatement!

It is out of this world!

IMG_0951
Working from out of this world.

One of the things you have to know about me is, that I fit right in with the whole `Tim Ferriss fanclub` type of crowd. It is not religious in any way, I just like the content he exposes me to and I enjoy tips, tricks and `weird shit from the world of esoteric he digs up`, as he himself puts it so eloquently. Some of my friends don’t share this enthusiasm, but it’s beside the point 🙂

Tim Ferriss in the 4-hour workweek introduced me to this idea of “Geo-arbitrage”. Basically, he says: for Americans it is extremely easy to travel, because the money they make in US can go a long way in other, cheaper spots on the map, so it would be a good idea to become a remote employee, travel the world, all while living a good life abroad.

Awesome! Work that allows you to travel AND save compared to your usual expenses? Where do I sign up?
Except, there’s one problem with that: I live in Poland. The only place that our salaries let you live on a decent level is Romania. And cheaper parts of Poland.

Nevertheless, I tried to make this happen. With one of my friends I started an e-marketing agency (Netivo) which I helped run while studying in Sweden. Turns out it’s pretty hard to travel, run a business and make enough money in Poland to live decently in Sweden (that plan is an example of reverse geoarbitrage and is generally a challenge stupid idea). But in that line of business I had to work A LOT with WordPress and became quite fascinated with it to be honest. I decided to become kind of an “WordPress” expert since.

Then the crash of 2008 made everything more difficult. I switched to JavaScript and found a career in safer, bigger companies as a JavaScript engineer.

I was quite happy, but in 2015 I started to crave greater things in life. I felt that world is moving forward, all these startups are sprouting all over and people get to change the world. In Silicon Valley, or even in Western Europe people could be proud of the stuff they build, all while working with the newest technologies or programming paradygms. In Poland, it felt like an “IT Callcenter”. We are good, reliable and cheap, but we were not on the bleeding edge of the innovation razor.

Then, I stumbled upon Automattic job offer.
They were hiring in JAVASCRIPT!
Not only in PHP, but also in JavaScript – the technology I became pretty decent in. On top of that, it turned out, that working in Automattic would let me:

  • Work with React, Redux, NPM, node and all the ‘fresh and hip’ JavaScript technologies;
  • Work with amazing engineers from all over the world and be a part of Silicon Valley;
  • Instead of reading articles about what ‘cool kids’ do, I could have an opportunity to join them!
  • I could travel quite a bit, or even live wherever I wanted! Automattic is a distributed company (or, as we put it: location-agnostic) which lets you see the world without taking a day of vacation (which you have unlimited amount);
  • Because of the whole remoteness, I could be in Poland whenever I wanted to, without skipping work. This is important to me, because I have very old grandparents and sometimes they really need help;
  • I was very excited with the product – I loved WordPress!
  • Tim Ferriss’s site is hosted with this company! (along with Time.com, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Guardian, but I find Ferriss more influential 🙂 ),
  • It was never about money, but geo-arbitrage is finally working in my favor;
  • Overall, this really looked like my “Dream Job”. I became determined to get it and to do it right.

To help in your remote job search, I recorded this video:

Getting there

Well, you probably got pretty annoyed by the long lead-in. But this is my blog, my rules and I can write here whatever I want :).
But here comes the meaty part:

Reading

I was determined to do it right, so I dug up everything I could on Automattic and their hiring process:

IMG_1446
All I’ve read about Automattic hiring process

Polishing the resume

At this point I knew they must be getting a lot of resumes, so I decided to make mine one-page and make every word count. I reviewed it over and over, asked friends to review it and obsessed about it a lot.
Since I did my reading right, I threw in some “nice touches” about my core competence constituting off-the-charts-sandwich making ability and one of my hobbies being barbecue. All true. Putting that in a resume felt good.

The wait.

G0073526-ANIMATION

After sending that resume I waited. And waited. And waited some more, all while questioning myself.

  • Did they get it?
  • Did they read it?
  • Did they reject me?
  • WHO PUTS SANDWICHES AS A COMPETENCE?! Why did I do that?!

Moar wait.

After 1,5 months I needed to do something constructive. So I booked a ticket to “WordCamp Europe” in Seville, where I was sure I’ll find an Automattician. That was the extent of my plan.
I actually met a bunch of them and they turned out to be very cool people. I even “pinged” them to get my resume reviewed and got back home.

Moar wait

Just after WordCamp Europe, a lot of Automatticians went to React Europe where they ran a coding competition for the attendees. They made a mistake of tweeting the URL, so I promptly joined in.
As you can see, I came in second, after “Moarhaus”, who (despite me trying really hard) had a huge advantage over me.
I have no idea who he is. I only have a vague notion as to where his soul may reside.

reurope.png

Actual Hiring Process

Artur, can you please get to the point? This story is becoming longer and more convoluted that “Pirates of the Caribbean IV” plot and we didn’t get to the hiring process description yet!
I hear ya, but to be honest, Pirates of the Caribbean IV plot is just /dev/random…

1. Chat

First, I was invited to a text-based Skype chat. It lasted about an hour and was quite fun. It was way less technical than I expected.

2. ‘Simple’ coding challenge

After the chat I got a coding challenge to solve. It was not in JavaScript.
The instructions were very open – ended, without any deadline and only with vague description of problems to solve. I assume my drive and ability to self-direct my work were also tested.

I later learned that it was designed to take 6-8 hours of my time.
I devoted about 35 to that project making sure it was perfect.
I may have taken it too far.

3. Chat + Challenge feedback

It took 40 minutes.
I am in for a trial! Wohoo!

4. Trial

What can be a best way to make sure you fit in a company? Ask you questions about JavaScript context execution, new ES6 syntax and what would `”potato” + {} ` evaluate to? Brain teasers about roundness of sewage covers?
Turns out, that the best way to see how an employee would perform is to well, employ them.
This is how trial works. I was working on my trial project, communicating with other coworkers just how I would If I was already working there.
You can do trial “after hours”, keeping your previous job. I decided to throw everything at it and take no chances. For me, it felt more risky to approach this opportunity tired, after hours of my usual work than to quit my safe spot at a huge company. I quit my previous position at Samsung and decided to do the trial full time.
I got paid 25$/hr, which was way more than I was actually making before.
The project was similarly open-ended as the previous one, just much, much bigger. I had to research proper technologies, communicate my progress and design my tasks.

The trial took me ~1,5 months.

5. Matt chat

The final stage of the process is a chat with CEO, Matt Mullenweg. It is a unusual opportunity, as he is a “celebrity” in IT world and frequents the Forbes and other such magazines.
The chat itself also isn’t a mere formality – mine lasted 4-5 hours and I felt that Matt wanted to know me at a personal level. He seems to take this hiring thing very seriously. It is great!
Because of his schedule, sometimes you have to wait quite a bit until he finds time. He caught me in a movie theater, but fortunately I had a good excuse to postpone the chat.
I was watching “The Martian”. It was pretty neat.

I started my job 2 days after that. It was my 30th birthday.
Most awesome gift ever!

Grand Meetup

IMG_0150

GM is a yearly event where all employes meet in person. Because our company is completely distributed, we don’t see each other face-to-face. During this one week a year, we get to shake hands, do some awesome activities, party, geek out, eat together, hug, have a meal, have a walk, eat together, try Polish vodka I brought from home and eat some more.

Naturally, being a relentless badger as I am, during my trial I tracked down other Polish Automatticians and pumped them for information when the Grand Meetup may be.
Knowing the date, I tried to expedite my hiring process so I can “make it” to this years GM. 9 days after my “Matt chat” I was on a plane to Salt Lake City to meet the rest of my new coworkers.

It was a whirlwind!

My team is bunch of the coolest, funniest, most awesome people around!

Automattic Benefits

IMG_1864
Working very hard for those benefits from a Whiskey distillery in Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Sign up if you want to know more about getting hired in a remote company ?

Contacting our pigeons in other timezones...

Thank you for signing up! Now please head to your inbox to confirm the email address. I do not want to send anyone spam.

  • You get to work with really awesome people,
  • The product you work on has 100 000 000 (yep, that’s MILIONZ!) users. The stuff you do matters,
  • You work from wherever you want. Seriously,
  • You want WHENever you feel like it. If you have flow, you can work 12 hours, and the next day – you don’t have to do much. It’s up to you (at the beginning, it was hard to me to understand it),
  • No distractions, meetings and corporate b***t to slow you down,
  • You can spend time with your kid when you need to, walk your dog, set you laundry,
  • You get unlimited vacation,
  • They fly you to awesome places to meet your cool coworkers,
  • Friends all over the globe,
  • A lot of other stuff, listed on benefits page 🙂

And that’s me, Cognitive Engineer, Artur Piszek. One of the cool kids.
Who would have thought.

And yes, we’re hiring.