How to Choose

I’m overwhelmed.

You are probably overwhelmed also.

The last week, it’s been my inbox. I’ve got so many requests. Coffee and advice. A conference to speak at. An article to write. A meeting to take. Yes, these are quality problems, I know. I could have an inbox full of Algerian exiles and hair growth products.  But I felt horrible saying no and I felt horrible saying yes. I chatted with my coach about it, and in her clever way, she asked me what I’d say to my students if they asked me.

I knew this one. The most common conversation I have with seniors is, what job should I take? And I always walk them through their values, and then ask them what they are optimizing for: Money? Learning? Culture? Prestige? Community? After listing all the things they want from a job, then picking the top 3-5, they could rate each opportunity based on their own values.

I now have a criteria for how I spend my time.

Right Work: About a year ago, I create a new personal mission. I believe personal missions, like corporate missions, probably need to change or evolve every five to ten years. Mine is now “Give people tools to achieve their goals.” It’s a bit of story of how I landed on that, but believe it, each word has meaning for me.  So the right work, for me is training in the form of workshops in which I teach techniques that apply to a variety of goals, from innovation to execution.

Right Pay: I already do so much for so little in my “day job” as a professor, I can’t “give back” any further.  I feel guilty even writing this, but damn.

Right People: One day I woke up and realize preaching to the choir wasn’t getting me anything but hugs. Which, admittedly, I do enjoy. But if I want to make change in the world, I need to talk to folks to whom these are new ideas. So, fewer talks at UX conference, and way more talks at product ones.

Right Place: If the place is gorgeous and exciting and my costs are covered, some of these rules can be bent. Because I do like me a boondoggle every once in a while.

Right Timing: I’ve done crazy things like fly to Prague to speak after dropping my daughter off on Wednesday, and flying back Sunday  to pick her up from school Monday.  I’d like to enjoy the places I go a bit.  So I now want time to adjust to the new time zone, and site-see!
Timing applies to coffee-advice sessions too. If you want to come to where I already am and ask advice in a time frame I have free, I’ll slide it in. No driving to a coffee shop in the middle of what should be a writing session. No more!

So once I had this figured out, I wrote it up and stuck it on my monitor, where I see it while doing email.  This way I remember the promise I made myself.

Now that I have articulated what matters to me, I can face my inbox with a clear mind. Sorry if you got caught in the no-storm, but at least you know why!

Serendipitously, this came across my Twitter stream just as I was previewing this post: Conquering Complexity With Simple Rules