Monday, December 09, 2013

How To Work From Home With Kids

When I work from home, I sit on the corner of the kitchen table, which means that I'm right in the thick of the action.  The living room is about 10 feet to my left, including the main television that the kids use for watching television and playing Wii.  They also tend to keep the volume on our tablets turned up pretty high, and Marissa takes after her father's verbosity, so the kitchen table isn't exactly a quiet sanctum.

Yet I still prefer to work from my favorite spot, noisy though it might be.  From here, all I have to do is turn my head to the left to see what the kids are doing, and I can easily hear when someone needs me, when someone calls our home telephone (yes, we still have a landline, though I suspect it's mostly out of habit), or when one of the endless stream of UPS delivery people comes to the door to drop off yet another package from Amazon (darn you, Prime!).

That being said, all that noise and activity can be a distraction, especially when I need to do some deep thinking.  That's where my secret comes in.

The first part is easy--listen to music on your headphones, so that you can more easily ignore the noise of the outside world (but snap back into focus at the sound of a scream or other red alert noise).  The secret lies in what kind of music.

The trick is to listen to music that is extremely old and familiar.  I'll actually dig out old cassette tapes (!) that I made back when I was an undergrad at Stanford.  I spent many an hour with the trusty Aiwa boombox, making mixtapes by recording to tape from CD. (That last sentence was one of the most old-guy sentences you can right, by the way.)  When those aren't available, I set up a Pandora channel based on fogey songs from the 1980s that I've heard hundreds of times.

The familiar music has a number of positives.

First, it puts me in a good mood.

Second, the heavy synthesizer rhythm keeps me working at a good pace.

Third, the lyrics are so nonsensical that they're essentially white noise.  Seriously, what exactly are they singing about in "Africa?"

Finally, studies have shown that listening to the music of your youth actually makes you think, feel, and act younger.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find my Member's Only jacket.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

People Never Completely Agree

Inexperienced entrepreneurs seem to believe that they need their team to agree.  "Get everyone on the same page," is a common mantra I hear from teams I work with.

The problem is, anyone who develops the expectations that all the members of a group (even a group of two) will completely agree about anything is doomed to disappointment.

I've been working on a secret project for some time (don't worry, all will be revealed in the next few months).  My two collaborators are incredibly smart and accomplished, and I have the utmost respect for them (as I hope they have for me).  Yet we often see things differently.

The solution to this dilemma is to reset your expectations, and have a plan for how to resolve disagreements.

My collaborators and I don't expect to agree on everything--that's why we're working together: To produce a better final result that leverages all our brains and experiences.  But we do agree on how resolve issues.

Our general process is to respect one another's ideas, try out every idea that someone passionately believes in, and review the evidence and draw final conclusions as a team.

Each of us knows that we won't always get our way...but we also know that this is a good thing.  The evidence is clear that collective knowledge is almost always superior to individual knowledge.  You just have to be willing to accept and resolve disagreement to tap that collective.