Moments of Gratitude

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of chili? Please squint and pretend this is it. Photo by Naim Benjelloun from Pexels

I made chili the other night in my Instant Pot. It’s a pretty easy meal, and I get a lot of good press from the kids when I make it, so chili shows up in the Douglas house often for dinner. I’ll play with the types of beans I use, but on Tuesday I used all kidney beans. The kids like their chili topped with cheese and chopped raw onions (I am as flabbergasted as you are about this. Raw onions? They’ve been known to turn up their noses at bananas that are the wrong shade of yellow) so the chili was a very pretty deep red with dots of yellow and white.

Part way through chopping the onions my eye started itching. My hand twitched toward the vicinity of my eye, but as is so often the case these days with all of us, I reflexively squashed the urge to touch my face.  

I was busy loading chili into bowls while stopping the kids from eating the cornbread before I put it on plates, so it took a minute for me to realize that social distancing saved me from rubbing onion juice straight into my eyeball.

We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, but I’ll take all the opportunities for gratitude I can get. I had a few good ones this week.

Flame Thrower Store

On Wednesday the entire family went for a walk in the afternoon sunshine. This sounds idyllic, but as any parent can tell you, you have five seconds of peace before the children start fighting, complaining, or fighting and complaining while trying to crawl all over things that don’t belong to them. Or one tries to run ahead while the other walks as slow as possible. At one point I threatened to give my son extra pages of math to do if he didn’t straighten up. He replied that he would just go to the flame thrower store and get a flame thrower to burn up all of his math.

The entire family had a good laugh over the idea that someone would open up a flame thrower store at all, let alone one that was open to children. My son didn’t even seem to mind the gentle ribbing. He’s an extrovert and any attention is better than no attention.

I won’t lie; trying to work and parent and home school all at the same time is tough. But in the middle of the stress, there are golden moments of relaxation that I wouldn’t access without kids. None of the adults I know want to talk about how to turn wood into weapons that Ewoks can use. I’m not sure I do either, but I love getting a sneak peak at how my child’s mind works.

Free eBook

I was also pretty excited that the ebook version of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams is free through April 21st in both the US and Canadian Amazon stores.

My book is traditionally published. This means that I’m not fully in charge of what can be done with it. My publisher is great, and I get royalties every time someone buys a book, but I can’t decide to make it free unless my publisher agrees. Not only did my publisher agree, they asked me if we wanted to make the book free before I got up the nerve to ask them. Feel free to download a copy, and tell your friends. I’m glad to help folks who may need some pointers during this crazy time.

The Writing Well Isn’t Dry, But It’s Slow Flow

In his book Creative Quest, Questlove describes his creativity as the state of cultivating openness vs trying to pull something up from the depths. For me, creativity is a little bit of both. I have to be open and notice things, but then I have to let whatever it is percolate through me before trying to write about it.

This process requires a certain amount of solitude and silence. Both of these have been in short supply during the pandemic. I’ve been trying to work within my constraints–I wake up early and read in bed, and go running as often as I can–but it’s hard to notice things when someone wants to talk to me every moment of my day.

It was such a gift to sit down last Friday and decide to write, and to actually have my creativity cooperate. I wrote half of a story in a few hours, and then finished it on Saturday with very little fanfare. I hope some day soon I’ll get to show it to you.

There are a lot of things to be upset about these days. Sometimes though, it’s good to act like artists of our own lives, and choose to focus on the small good things that surround the bad. What are you grateful for? I’d love to hear about it.

Remote Book Relaunch

A Peak Behind the book publishing curtain

You need a lot of fuel to get a rocket into space. You need nearly the same amount of caffeine to launch a book. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.com

My book for remote employees is going to launch with Simon Schuster in January 2020. I’ve known about this for some time, but we had to hit a certain point in the book launch process before I could share details with you. Today, as a thank you for sticking with me during the great blog post slowdown of October/November 2019, I want to give you a peak behind the book launch curtain.

The Book is Getting a New Title

My co-authors and I signed a book contract that says our publisher has the right to change the title if necessary. This is The Way Things Go in traditional publishing, and I have no problem with it. Titles aren’t my forte. I don’t know how a person can write a book and post articles (nearly) every week for more than a year and still have trouble coming up with good titles, but that’s me in a nutshell.

We’re really lucky that our original indie publisher 750 is committed to keeping its authors looped in as much as possible. Instead, they gave us Simon Schuster’s feedback and let us propose another title.

If you or anyone you know is thinking of writing a business book, Simon Schuster thinks that the best business book titles are clear. The title should not only tell you what the book is about, but who it’s for. I love our old title ‘Secrets of the Remote Workforce,’ but that doesn’t tell you who the book is for. We fixed that with the new title.

Is the title of the book sexy? No. But it does tell you what you’re going to get and I like that.

May I present Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams. Holly, Mike and I came up with this title the same way we wrote the book. We proposed different titles, talked through what we liked and disliked, and came up with something together.

For those who aren’t familiar with the book, we discuss how to survive and thrive as a remote employee. We cover how to set up your office, how to combat loneliness, and how go grow in your career when you work from an office of one.

The Team Has a Publicist

Publishing a book is a little surreal. Most people have opinions about the things they’ve done. Some of us decide to write a book about what we know. We believe we wrote a book with a lot of useful information to share with remote employees. We spent a lot of time making sure we covered remote-specific topics. On some level, though, it’s still surprising that a traditional publisher agreed to release our book out into the world.

Getting a publicist brings the surreal feeling to another level. We have access to an expert to help us get the word out about our book. That’s pretty neat. I collect skills the way crazy cat ladies collect cats, and I can’t wait to see what I learn from this experience. We’re working on a few things that aren’t quite ready to talk about yet, but I look forward to sharing them with you in due course.

While you CAN have too many cats, you can’t have too many skills. Anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Photo by Pixabay from Pexels.com

Did you like this sneak peak? Leave me a comment to let me know either way. Is there anything about book publishing you would love to know about? Leave that question in the comments. If there’s enough interest in the business side of book publishing I’ll post other tidbits as we gear up to launch the book.

On to the Next Book

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Greetings from Autumnal Vancouver! It was 8 c Tuesday morning (that’s 47 f for the Americans), and if I could bottle the buttery light that poured through the branches of the Douglas Fir trees near my house, I would have sent it to you.

The rain will be back–I live in a temperate rain forest–but for now we’re in shorts with sweaters weather. Is this a Pacific Northwest specific thing? It’s not the most fashionable way to handle this transitional season, but I support wearing hand-knit sweaters.

And speaking of transitions, and slowing down, the cadence of this blog is going to slow down for the month of October. I have a second book to write. I know my topic, and the research I need to conduct. I’ve known for months. The only problem is that I’m not doing it. This blog will come out every other week instead of every week so I can dedicate solid chunks of time to writing.

Once I get rolling on my research, I’ll have plenty of material for both the blog and the book. So (for now) I plan to go back to weekly blog posts in November.

So What’s the Book About?

I’m so glad you asked. I’m looking at psychological safety in the remote workforce. There’s a lot of good research out there about the benefits of psychological safety in uncertain times. There’s even research on creating a sense of safety inside a company. I want to discuss how we might do this in the remote work context.

There’s more to what I’m going to write but I’m not going to outline it here. If I talk about my book in too much detail, it makes it harder to write. Some people write books by plotting everything out. Others write by the seat of their pants. The writing world calls these two groups plotters and pantsers. I am a plantster. I outline a bit, then write, then outline a little bit more and write.

Writing a book is like hiking. I like to pick my destination point but let the research tell me which pathways I should use to get through the woods. The blog will be the place where I drop little breadcrumbs along the way.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy the view.

What I learned in a Year of Blogging

Add in a cup of chai and some open browser tabs and this is how I write my blog posts. Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Today is pretty special at Livin la Vida Remota HQ. As of today I have written at least one blog post a week, every week, for an entire year. I thought about all the things I could say about this momentous event and I scrapped most of them as self indulgent. 

Instead I want to share two things. First, my thanks. Thank you, dear reader, for being here. Throwing a party is only fun if people show up. I had no idea if anybody would. I’m not a celebrity—I’m just an opinionated woman with a lot to say about remote work and distributed teams.Thanks for coming. I appreciate each and every one of you. 

Second, I want to share some of what a I learned writing this blog. I write how-to articles because I want to help people and I see no reason to change things up on my blogiversary. (Incidentally my iPad wanted to change that last word to blog overstayer, which I shall try to avoid even as I suspect that my iPad just made that phrase up.) 

Lesson One: Find an angle that is specific and deep

I actually tried to start a blog twice before I settled on this one. The first time I had a vague idea that a I would write about the funny things I saw and thought of during the day. I wrote exactly one blog post. It’s really hard to write a blog if you haven’t answered the ‘why would anyone read this?’ question. 

The second time I tried to start my blog I thought I would talk about running and knitting. Turns out I don’t actually have much to say about these things other than ‘I really like to do them.’ This is not scintillating reading. If you’re looking for a great knitting blog, my favourite is the Yarn Harlot. She doesn’t always talk about knitting, but everything is yarn adjacent and I love it.

Those last two bits were the key to finding my blogging groove. I talk about work and management through a remote lens. And because remote work is most often done inside the home, that means I also talk about how remote work affects our personal lives. If you are struggling to find a topic to write about, try to think of a shared experience that you have strong opinions about. I have wrestled with a lot of remote work issues, and I love to help others shorten their learning curve. This one is a win win for me. 

Lesson Two: Know your boundaries 

That sub title almost read ‘this isn’t about you.’ The fact is, I don’t actually know that. For some, blogging is a way to process their thoughts and feelings in public. I don’t write that kind of blog. You’ll hear—occasionally—about my kids, my knitting and my running. You won’t ever get a blow by blow account of the last time I fought with my husband. 

My boundaries won’t be the same as yours. But it’s important to be clear on what those boundaries are. When I’ve struggled to find something to write about, sometimes it’s because I’m violating one of my boundaries. Either I’m too wrapped up in an issue and I can’t yet find the teachable moment, or I don’t know how to talk about something without violating someone’s privacy. If I didn’t have a clear sense of my boundaries, I wouldn’t know why I was blocked. The same might be true for you. 

Lesson Three: Treat your posts as important appointments

There have been times during this year of blogging when I thought about skipping the blog for a week. I didn’t because I worried that a week would turn into a month, and then guilt might keep me from starting up again at all. It’s like picking up my kids from school. I can’t just skip it because I get busy at work. Child services has strong feelings about that. And you know what? I always manage to get my children. 

When you treat your blog like an event you can’t ditch, the posts get easier to finish. They may not be perfect—I should have posted this Thursday morning—but done is better than perfect. And the whole writing process gets faster. It takes me half as long to write a post now compared to when I began this party last year. I still sweat over every word, but it’s way more efficient sweat.

Writing a blog isn’t for everyone. But if you’re considering taking the plunge (again or for the first time) then keep these lessons in mind. It can take time to find your subject. Your first idea may not work out—but if you stick with your blog, you WILL find your groove. And then you’ll meet great people and learn interesting things. I know I have. Thanks for being one of those interesting people. I’ll talk with you again next week.

Public Speaking Fed My Creativity

Writing is my go-to solution for presenting information, but the instant feedback that comes from a live audience can jump start all sorts of things.

North Carolina on my mind

Hands hold a tray. Three sprouts in three small pots sit on the tray.
Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson on Unsplash

I came back Sunday from my latest (and last) work-ish trip for the summer. I say ‘work-ish’ because while I was definitely at the MBA@UNC alumni weekend in a professional capacity to speak about remote work, I also got to enjoy the event as an alum of the program.

My first talk was ‘How to Survive and Thrive as a Remote Manager,’ and I already know that I need to turn this into a blog post, or a YouTube video or something. Maybe several somethings. I had people come up to me throughout the weekend to ask follow up questions and share their experiences managing remote employees. My talk—both my talks—tapped into a need.

Public Speaking is Scary and Awesome

Have I mentioned that I enjoy public speaking? I get nervous, but back when I sang in my college choir I learned how to harness the nerves and use it to energize my performance. I had one moment right at the beginning of the first talk where I had to stop and take a deep breath, but just like singing, after that the rhythm of the words I put together stepped in and carried me through to the end.

With writing, you assemble your argument, polish your prose, and then send it out into the air. Hopefully it lands well. Talking (or singing) in front of an audience forces me to know my material well enough to change it on the fly if I’m losing them.

Public Speaking is Performance

I deliberately use the term ‘performance’ to describe these talks. Anytime you’re delivering something in front of a group, it’s a performance. And if you think of it that way, you’re more likely to be an engaging speaker.

Each live performance is a conversation between me and whoever is in that room. I scripted out my talk, then changed it as I spoke it out loud. I revised it again when I found the slides I wanted to pair with my performance. It morphed a third time when I converted my script into an outline. The actual talk bore a strong resemblance to my final outline, but it wasn’t exact. I kept a few different jokes in my back pocket, and left room to incorporate the audience into my delivery.

Departures as Compost

Writing is my go-to solution for presenting information, but I love the instant feedback that comes from a live audience. And it’s been a long time since I’ve performed something in front of a collocated group. I’ve forgotten how it can jump start all sorts of things.

In his book ‘Creative Quest,’ Questlove describes these sorts of artistic departures as powerful fertilizers. This rings true. I feel like this weekend fed that part of me that makes things. I don’t know quite what will come out of it, but I have the seeds of several ideas, and I can feel them trying to sprout.