Friday Feed (7/10/2020)

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Hey y’all! Here are a few things I’ve found fun or interesting in recent weeks. Enjoy, and I’ll be back next week with actual posts! Seriously!

 

In praise of simple solutions.

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Sometimes, simplicity beats sophistication.

Part of my day job involves creating, revising, and maintaining documents across different platforms, using a variety of templates. These templates often include a series of broken lines for signatures and dates.

One of my colleagues spent some time creating a specialized two-column template feature with specialized margins, lines as embedded objects, the whole nine–and plopped that into our template. It works great–as long as you don’t touch anything.

My preferred approach? Typing a line of underscores, tabbing over a couple times, and then typing a smaller line of underscores.

Sophisticated? Obviously not. But the simplified approach works for me because it’s easy to create, easy to explain, and easy to fix if you accidentally “break” it with some errant copying and pasting. I’ve lost quite a bit of time trying to un-break sophisticated template formatting over the years.

Obviously, if you have more sophisticated needs or complex procedures, you should use the tools and techniques that are appropriate. But too often, I think we assume that the most sophisticated and complex tool or approach is always the best choice for the task.

A question we should consider instead is: How complicated does this solution really need to be? And how simple could it be and still do the job I need it to do?

Midweek Odds and Ends (2/13/2019)

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Happy Wednesday, friends! What can I say, I can’t bear to stay away too long. 

I don’t have anything specific prepared for today, so I figured I’d provide a little “This is Where I Am Right Now (TIWIARN)”-style update.  Brace yourself for the hail of bullets!

  • My current season of work is uniquely challenging. There have been times when the vibe around the office has been pretty light, pretty loose. The current atmosphere is…decidedly not that. Nevertheless, we persevere. I’ve been reading Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin and have had opportunity to put their personal discipline and leadership principles into practice (thinks like “taking ownership,” “prioritize-and-execute,” and “simplify”). And if that sounds like cubicle-jargon…well, whatever, man. It’s useful to me. All this to say, work has been a beast, and my lunchbreaks have become times to shut off my brain for a bit (usually watching Youtube or reading fiction). The downstream effect of that is that I’m not writing as many posts during that mid-day break. Sorry.
  • Man, I am LOVING this #52Stories project. I’ve got notes on 5 or 6 stories that I’m going to turn into posts soonish, but just the actual reading has been a joy. Plus, as I had hoped, it’s getting my brain clicking on some short-form ideas of my own. At some point (the procrastinator said), I’ll share the fruit of that brainstorming with you. But for now, just know: this project was a great idea. (Though not an *original* idea; check out Jay’s yearly “Deal Me In” Challenge! Dude has been killing it for YEARS!)
  • Interesting and providential confluence of events: the Houston Chronicle’s heartbreaking series on sexual abuse and cover-up inside Southern Baptist churches, coming just one month after I become an elder in my Southern Baptist church. Needless to say, I see addressing this issue as a serious and urgent responsibility. While I’m not aware of any concerns in our church, I’m also not naive enough to think something awful *couldn’t* happen. We have plans and policies in place to vet our children and youth workers, but we can always do more. If you know of any good resources for churches who want to do more to prevent abuse, drop it in the comments or shoot me a message in one of my other feeds. I’m happy to read and learn so I can serve my church family well.
  • Married life is great. We’re coming up on five years in June, which itself is amazing to me–it seems so much shorter, and yet longer (in a really good way). It’s becoming harder and harder to remember daily life before marrying H. She’s so much a part of my day to day, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She has my heart.
  • Not only that, but our little baby isn’t so little anymore. She’s 18 months old, talkative, fearless (climbs on EVERYTHING!), and a sweet kid. She’s also getting a head start into the “terrible twos.” We need prayer, y’all. Kidding aside, this little girl–ugh. She’s my delight.
  • I will try to post something on Friday, but realistically, my next post may be Monday. Lots going on. Thanks for hanging with me.

Quick round-up of my “currently’s”:

  • Currently watching: Life Below Zero on Netflix — a BBC docuseries about people who live near or above the Arctic circle in Alaska. FASCINATING program about what it takes to live in such an unforgiving environment. The language is often harsh, and the footage itself can be unflinching when it comes to hunting/trapping for subsistence and survival. My wife discovered this one, and I started watching it with her pretty early on. This is the only TV show I’m watching these days. I lost interest in what’s currently on network TV–which is probably for the best, to be honest.
  • Currently Listening: My favorite Pandora channel lately is “Coffee Shop Covers” because I am a SUCKER for good covers. My favorite track on there right now is “Wish You Were Here” by the Milk Carton Kids. At work, if I’m not listening to podcasts, I’ll listen to video game soundtracks as background music–today’s selection was Assassin’s Creed, I think, but SimCity is my usual go-to.
  • Currently Reading: Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin; The Gospel and Personal Evangelism by Mark Dever; and a bunch of short stories!
  • “Currently” Playing: When I have a little bit of extra time once in a while, I fire up my SNES Classic. I’m about halfway through Super Metroid and a few hours into The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (my favorite video game of all time, I think). “Extra time,” however, is becoming more and more scarce.
  • Currently Thinking: Oh yeah! I have coffee brewed. See y’all later!

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What’s going on with you? Anything cool happening that you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments below!

 

#FridayFive: 08/31/2018

Here are 5 posts to inspire and challenge you over this long holiday weekend!

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The Secret to Networking? Stop Trying to network. — This piece by Brad Stulberg reminds us not to treat “building a network” like its a competition or game. Those contacts aren’t points on a scoreboard but people we have the opportunity to serve and bless.

The Answer is This: Give It Away for Free. — Tim Denning puts his finger on a powerful principle that I’ve seen play out in my own life: in a world of salesman, being a giver makes you unique and influential. As Seth Godin says, giving your work away produces loyalty with your audience. This is an idea I’m really trying to take to heart and implement in the coming years.

How to Use Your Tools so They Don’t Own You — Bryan Collins reminds us that getting a shiny new “tool” or gadget doesn’t mean much if we aren’t able to put the work in. Sometimes, going simple is the best way to do our best work.

The Top 4 Mistakes Every Writer Makes (And How To Avoid Them) — It feels like I can’t make one of these lists without including a Jeff Goins piece. Here, he points out four simple but powerful concepts that can help anyone write more compelling and meaningful work.

I Want to Quit. Right Now. — Jon Westenberg’s writing is visceral, searing, and insightful. This piece is a prime example, and every single word of it resonates with me. He gives us a peek into his inner battle over whether to persevere or give up on his passions, and in so doing, reminds us that all of us face that same battle. (Content warning: some strong language.)

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There you go, friends. Five posts to fuel your creative efforts on this Labor Day weekend.

May your labor be satisfying and your rest be refreshing, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Freelancer Diaries: Week 4

Closing in on one month in this side-hustle experiment. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve been learning lately:

Out of Order

When I get really excited about something new, I often dive right in, full steam ahead. Freelancing was no different. For the first 3 weeks, I was reading books, watching webinars, taking notes, and sending out bids to dozens of potential clients on a couple of websites. I was ready to grab the bull by the horns and make stuff happen!

And after 3 weeks of HUSTLE™, I was left with just one client…whom I had agreed to help for free. What began as a request to correct his document’s formatting turned into almost 7 hours over the next 2 weeks spent learning the basics of e-book publishing.

The gentleman was nice enough about it; he even gave me a 5-star review on Thumbtack and $30 for my efforts.

On the other hand, I had invested about $60 paying for client “contacts” on a freelancing site called Thumbtack, with little to show for it: my one paying client, and a few folks who promised to contact me later this year. That’s it.

Three weeks into my new part-time business, I was $30 in the hole. 

My internal pendulum suddenly swung the other way.  I just sat on my couch one night, sulking, frustrated that I wasn’t immediately successful, second-guessing the whole enterprise. I considered chucking the whole thing and forgetting it ever happened, but I had told a few people about it (along with the entire INTERNET) and felt too embarrassed to give up entirely. So I just moped about it for a few days.

[Some of you more seasoned freelancers are trying hard not to scoff openly at my newbie pity-party. I appreciate your restraint.]

I spent the weekend feeling defeated, deflated, listless. My wife kept asking if I was okay. I would just shrug in reply. I could feel that heavy-blanket funk start to press down on me.

I’ve learned over the years that my little depressive bouts are often a “check engine” light of sorts. When these moods hit, I need to pause and consider what’s out of balance in my life.

I finally realized that part of the reason I was so downcast was that I wasn’t taking care of myself (sleep, hydration, exercise), I wasn’t creating anything for myself (blog posts, short stories, poetry), and I wasn’t keeping freelance work in its proper place (this is a side-project and not my life).

A specific example of how things were getting out of hand: In my eagerness (desperation?) to drum up work, I was even sending out bids between services at church, rather than interacting with my church family. I was late walking into the corporate worship time last weekend because I was busy tapping away at my phone, firing off just a few more bids so I didn’t miss out on work. My wise and patient wife had to call me out on it later that day. She rightly reminded me that I was at church to (duh) worship God, not hustle for work.

If nothing else, this incident demonstrated that I needed to build firmer boundaries so that work (the “anxious toil” the Psalmist warns about) doesn’t drift into my worship time.

This past week has taught me that I can’t keep going full-tilt like this. When these different spheres of life are out of balance, I feel miserable and become ineffective. What this means practically is that I’m going to pull back on the hustling, spending less time on trying to drum up work and more time on what is most important: my relationship with God, with my family, and with my circle of friends and fellow Christians.

Is It Worth It? Should I Work It? Put My Bid Down, Flip It, and Reverse It?

It’s amusing how much people value their own time and how little they value the time and efforts of others. I shouldn’t be shocked by this; it’s no mystery that people are naturally selfish. However, I didn’t expect to see it demonstrated so clearly in fee negotiation.

A hypothetical but not-at-all unrealistic example: I’ve seen more than a few job postings that say something to the effect of, “Developmental editing and proofreading needed for a novel. 80-100K words. Only professional editors wanted. Total project budget: $150.”

Considering that a book of that size would take even the most seasoned editor about 30-40 hours to complete, not counting post-edit follow-up with the author, we’re talking about a paltry $4-5 an hour. (Fun fact: Industry standard for freelance developmental editing is around 10 times that, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association.)

In Side Hustle, Chris Gillebeau writes that people who perform service-based side-work should make sure that they’re making about as much as they would in their day job. After all, our evening hours are just as valuable to us as our morning hours, aren’t they?

When I thought about it that way, it only made sense that expert editors should get paid like…um, experts. When a client sets such a low-ball budget for a project, it means either they haven’t done their homework to find out how much things cost, or they just don’t think your services are worth much. In both cases, that may not be a great client to have.

Considering my newbie status as a freelancer, I’ve been dialing my rates down below the industry average, but there is definitely a “floor” rate I won’t go below, because I value my time. No matter how slowly the jobs come in right now, I need to take my own time seriously. If I don’t, no one else will.

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Your Turn: Have you ever gotten so excited about a new project that it suddenly takes over you life? What do you do to maintain balance?

Let me know in the comments below!

 

The4thDave Reads: “God at Work” by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

God at Work

“What am I supposed to do with my life? What is my calling? Is there a specific path I’m supposed to follow?”

These questions plague us. They first creep into our minds as adolescents when we are forced to consider life outside of our family’s home. They nag at us when we begin our first part-time job or when we plan for university education. They scream at us as soon as we complete graduation exercises or walk into our first day of “grown-up” employment, staring down the barrel of adulthood.

There are stacks of books published every year full of bromides and aphorisms about “finding your path” and “being true to yourself.” There’s a cottage publishing industry devoted to helping people pursue their dream/destiny. Of the writing of books about purpose and self-fulfillment, there is no end, even (especially?) in Christian publishing circles.

Perhaps a better question is, “Does each of us have a set of common roles we must fulfill or callings we can pursue?” One very helpful answer to these questions can be found in Gene Veith’s excellent volume, God at Work.

In God at Work, Veith discusses the often-ignored doctrine of vocation, or the callings that God puts on our lives as believers. It’s important to note that callings here is plural; Veith explains that every Christian has several roles to fulfill throughout their lives, and that these may change through different seasons and situations.

Veith begins by discussing how Christians have considered the doctrine of vocation throughout the history of the church. He contrasts the medieval attitude of “calling” being restricted to holy orders with the Reformers’ teaching that all people are called by God to do good, to serve and love their neighbors, and to honor God in any station of life. This, then, becomes the lens through which the rest of the book is discussed: How do we as Christians honor God and love and serve our neighbors in all the vocations of our life?

The first arena of vocation that Veith discusses is the one most often associated with the doctrine of vocation: the workplace. Here, he explores the nature of work in the aftermath of the Fall of Man, and how the Gospel of Jesus redeems and renews work for Christians. Next, Veith looks at our roles in the family unit, and the nature of our calling as spouses, parents, and children. The next two chapters examine our callings as citizens of a secular nation and citizens of a heavenly kingdom (expressed on earth in the local church), and how we should embrace and not shrink from both of these roles.

Veith closes out this slim volume by considering the difficult questions of vocation, including standing firm in ethical challenges, bearing up under hardship, and stepping away from vocation when it is appropriate.

I must admit, I have had an uninformed understanding of the doctrine of vocation for most of my life. While my thoughts on vocation were not necessarily limited to the workplace, they certainly weren’t as fleshed out as they ought to have been. Veith’s approachable and engaging examination of the subject challenged me to consider with new eyes my roles in the world as a follower of Jesus and ambassador of the Gospel. I heartily commend God at Work to you and hope that you will be as encouraged and challenged as I was in reading it.