Developing Perspective

#224: Unplanned Absence.


00:00:00   Hello and welcome to Developing Perspective. Developing Perspective is a podcast discussing

00:00:04   news and note in iOS development, Apple and the like. I'm your host, David Smith. I'm

00:00:08   an independent iOS developer based in Herndon, Virginia. This is show number 224, and today

00:00:13   is Friday, July 31st. Developing Perspective is never longer than 15 minutes, so let's

00:00:18   get started.

00:00:19   All right, first, just a kind of a minor note that I thought was interesting. I realized

00:00:24   that Developing Perspective is now four years old.

00:00:28   The first episode was on July 13th, 2011,

00:00:32   so about 210 weeks ago, and like I just said,

00:00:35   this is episode 224, so that is quite something.

00:00:39   All right, the main topic I'm gonna be talking about today,

00:00:44   that, and it's also probably, you may have noticed,

00:00:47   there's been a pretty large gap

00:00:49   between this episode and the previous one.

00:00:52   The actual topic is going to be talking about what

00:00:55   the implications are when you run your own business,

00:00:57   when you're a dependent, whether that's

00:00:59   doing consulting or otherwise, when you are forced to take

00:01:03   an unexpected break from work.

00:01:06   I recently, for the last few weeks,

00:01:07   have been navigating kind of a tricky, difficult, personal

00:01:10   situation, the details of which I won't really go into.

00:01:12   But suffice to say, I was unable to do a lot of work

00:01:17   over the last couple of weeks.

00:01:18   And as a result, it's had some interesting sort

00:01:20   knock-on effects on my work in terms of what I do, and it's a kind of a situation that

00:01:26   doesn't happen very often, thankfully. And so I wanted to make sure, like, whenever I

00:01:30   hit something in my work that is kind of unique, kind of new, I want to talk about it, because

00:01:36   those are often, I think, the experiences that other people can learn from the most,

00:01:40   because they're not run-of-the-mill, they're not things that happen every day, and so they're

00:01:44   hopefully helpful. So first, one of the interesting things about being, when you're running into

00:01:49   situation like this when you are self-employed is like on the positive side, you know, you

00:01:54   don't have to worry about some of the things that you would have to at a normal, typical

00:01:58   job. I didn't have like a PTO balance, you know, a Paytime Off Balance that I have to

00:02:02   worry about. I didn't have to like apply for like the Family Medical Leave Act or things

00:02:07   like that or worry about, you know, the politics of how do I interact with my boss? Do I have

00:02:12   to get approval for this? How much approval can I get? How like those types of things

00:02:16   like are kind of things that you would normally have to worry about in a typical job. And

00:02:20   thankfully, by being self-employed, you just kind of stop working, which I'll get to in

00:02:26   a minute is kind of tricky. But isn't in a plus side is kind of cool. Like, it is interesting

00:02:31   to think about if I'd had to take, you know, pay time off for some of these things, like

00:02:35   that would have been really tricky or leave without pay or those types of things like

00:02:38   it's kind of nice to just not have those those hurdles to work through. And on the plus side,

00:02:43   else, I don't have quite the same situation around letting people down.

00:02:48   And by that, I mean, I remember when I used to spend a long time now, but back in the

00:02:53   day when I had a more traditional job, I'd go into the internet.

00:02:57   I'd be working on teams.

00:02:58   I'd have people who were depending on me to do a job.

00:03:02   For the last job I had, we did the agile method thing, so you're working on sprints and you're

00:03:06   making commitments to that.

00:03:09   And in that situation, if I just suddenly had to take a break, that would have been

00:03:14   problematic in a lot of ways.

00:03:15   And obviously it would have worked out fine.

00:03:17   People I worked with were always awesome, but it still would have been something that

00:03:21   would have felt great to be letting these people that I work with day in and day out,

00:03:27   these are my friends, my colleagues, to sort of let them down and break some commitments

00:03:32   that I would have been meeting with them at the previous sprint planning meeting or something.

00:03:37   Another sort of last kind of really cool thing that I discovered, which I guess I always

00:03:42   knew, but it's kind of fun to really be able to see, is one of the nice things about being

00:03:46   self-employed and being independent is that when I need to, I can truly and completely

00:03:52   prioritize non-work activities. Like, it is always, I am able to make that choice. It

00:03:59   is entirely up to me the degree to which I focus and put my attention onto my work, and

00:04:03   the degree to which I put my time and attention into things that are non-work activities.

00:04:08   And so it was really kind of nice to be able to say like, you know what,

00:04:12   I'm not going to worry about work right now. I'm going to focus on other things,

00:04:15   the things that are more important to me, and I'm going to work on that and just, you know,

00:04:20   work will sort itself out. So now I'm sort of switching over into some of the maybe not so

00:04:25   great parts of this situation that are kind of interesting to think about is obviously when I

00:04:30   I did this, I wasn't getting anything done. And that is interesting. Like, the funny thing

00:04:35   about being self-employed is you find, at least to the kind of work I do, your business's

00:04:41   sort of success in health is very much a trailing indicator. And by that, I mean, you know,

00:04:47   the work I do today, I don't really see the benefits of for a substantial period of time.

00:04:52   You know, it's like, when I look back six months from now, I'll probably be able to

00:04:55   tell a difference, but at the moment, in the meantime, you don't really see it.

00:05:01   And so that's kind of tricky.

00:05:03   And I'm very thankful in the situation that I'm not a contractor doing that kind of work,

00:05:07   where it would have been really problematic if I was hourly and suddenly my income just

00:05:12   stops precipitously.

00:05:13   One of the things that has been really awesome about spending the last seven years building

00:05:18   a business that is more hands-off and more passive, I guess you could say, is things

00:05:24   continued to sort of hum along as I was. And that's certainly not to say that things didn't

00:05:29   fall through the tracks. A lot of things did, you know, in terms of, you know, there's things

00:05:33   I missed and there's things that I should have done that I probably didn't. That's just

00:05:37   the reality and I'm okay with that. You know, it was it was a choice that I made. But overall,

00:05:41   it was kind of, you know, it was a tricky balance to feel like there's this amorphous

00:05:46   fear that I was feeling that I didn't really know what that would mean to just like stop

00:05:49   working for a couple of weeks and focus on something else. And so I'll see, I suppose.

00:05:55   Like, maybe in six months I'll be doing an episode talking about the overall impact.

00:05:59   My gut says that overall the impact will be fairly minor insofar as, you know, maybe I'll

00:06:06   launch one less app this fall, which is funny to say, but maybe I'll launch two rather than

00:06:11   three this fall. Or maybe there'll be this very minor and kind of amorphous change in

00:06:16   my business income, but more likely than not, it won't have that kind of an effect, because

00:06:21   that's not really the kind of business I'm in.

00:06:22   I'm not really in a very one-to-one business that, honestly, is like one of the motivation

00:06:28   challenges I have doing the kind of work I do is that there is no direct connection between

00:06:34   the work I do and the outcome of that work.

00:06:37   And so sometimes that's really hard from a motivation perspective, because this feedback

00:06:44   loop is very amorphous and generic. So you kind of just have this like, "Well, I should

00:06:48   work because I should work." And that's kind of, you know, not necessarily very satisfying,

00:06:55   but it is what it is. But so that's kind of some of the high-level notes that I thought

00:07:00   would be interesting to talk about. And the other thing that I kind of want to shift to

00:07:03   focus for the rest of the episode is some of the things that I noticed from this experience

00:07:09   that I thought would be more transferable, which is hopefully, you know, the things that

00:07:12   that would really be helpful to you, the listener, if you're ever in the situation or if you

00:07:16   want to prepare honestly for the situation. Because while these things don't typically

00:07:20   happen very often, thankfully, they can happen and they do happen. And when they do, you

00:07:26   want to at least have some kind of preparation. You want to have some kind of thoughtfulness

00:07:30   around it, to be proactive rather than reactive. And so one of the first things that I noticed

00:07:37   It's just how glad I am that I don't do my own help desk and customer support.

00:07:43   This is, I think, something I have to mention time and time again.

00:07:45   For the last probably five or six years, it is something that I've had someone else do

00:07:49   for me.

00:07:50   And there's a bunch of primary reasons for that, and the most significant of which is

00:07:54   just the emotional toll that when I did my own help desk, it took on me.

00:07:58   Because while sometimes you just hear the positive or the neutral, every now and then

00:08:02   you'll hear somebody who is just kind of being mean.

00:08:05   And that just was tearing, sort of really demotivating and really painful for me.

00:08:12   And so I have someone else do that, which I guess, because for them it's not as personal.

00:08:15   It's not quite the same thing as when someone talks about your product that you made.

00:08:20   It's more of a job for them.

00:08:21   And so that also has meant that when I take breaks away from work, from most of my customers'

00:08:27   perspectives, that is fairly transparent to them.

00:08:31   The apps are still in the store, the servers are up and running, which I'll get to in a

00:08:35   And if they reach out and they contact, someone will get back to them probably.

00:08:38   You know, things will certainly fall down.

00:08:39   There's only some things that only I can do, which is a bit tricky.

00:08:42   But by and large, that was a really powerful thing.

00:08:45   Because if I hadn't done that, and there was just this like queue of email piling up that

00:08:49   I was expected to be able to work on, that would have been really awkward and really

00:08:53   problematic and made me feel worse about things getting missed.

00:08:58   You know, like the reality that's nice is if something crazy and significant had happened

00:09:02   while I was gone, then I would have been noted.

00:09:05   The person who does my help desk would have just reached out to me and told me, and that

00:09:07   would have been fine.

00:09:08   And I would have been able to make the decision of, "How significant is it?

00:09:13   Do I really need to drop everything and go fix that?"

00:09:15   Whatever it is.

00:09:17   And along those lines, definitely a situation like this is where you really get to test

00:09:23   the effectiveness of the notification systems and monitoring and things that you have in

00:09:27   place.

00:09:28   always say, if you don't test your backups, you don't really have a backup. In some ways,

00:09:32   it's kind of nice to be able to—I had a few little things, minor glitches happened

00:09:35   here and there, and I was aware of them. I was aware of them at the appropriate time,

00:09:38   and I was aware of them at the appropriate level. The thing that you all start to really

00:09:44   notice in a situation like this, when you have very limited attention to focus on to

00:09:48   something like work, is are your notification and thresholds for everything appropriate?

00:09:56   one thing when you say you--

00:09:58   I'm not one of these people I used to be,

00:10:00   but where you have a lot of Twitter notifications,

00:10:02   for example, or email notifications,

00:10:04   like your phone buzzes every time something comes in.

00:10:07   If you have a lot of time and energy and focus

00:10:09   for those types of things, the tiny little distraction

00:10:13   that that is every day--

00:10:14   it's probably not great in general,

00:10:15   but you can pay for that in a tangible way

00:10:19   if you have a lot of attention available.

00:10:21   And you don't really notice it in some ways.

00:10:22   And that's the insidious part, that you

00:10:24   have a tiny, you know, like a thousand micro-distractions a day, you can kind of work through. But if

00:10:30   you don't have—if you just have no time or energy or attention, force, that kind of

00:10:33   a thing, you really notice if something's notifying you too much, or your threshold

00:10:36   for something is too low, because you come back to your phone and it's like, there's

00:10:42   50 things, and you know you've done something wrong at that point, and it's nice to be

00:10:45   able to kind of experience that and kind of know that.

00:10:49   One other thing—I mentioned this before, but it's something that I was able to kind

00:10:53   of really feel was the importance of having a variety and a varied income in your business.

00:11:00   This applies for, I think, everything, but it was really, it's very comforting to know

00:11:05   that it's taken a lot of work to get here, but I have a variety of products and I have

00:11:08   a variety of income sources. And in aggregate, it means that if I feel like I'm not putting

00:11:13   all my eggs in one basket and if one thing kind of falls away, like there's a point

00:11:17   on my app, my recipe book, which has really kind of been having some trouble recently

00:11:21   in terms of some of the recipe import stuff that it has.

00:11:24   And it's like, that was kind of hurting me a little bit.

00:11:26   But I could be like, okay, that's not my only app.

00:11:29   If something's going wrong there and I don't have the energy to fix it, that's okay, because

00:11:33   I can just know that my other products will probably pick up the slack, at least for a

00:11:37   while until I was able to get it fixed yesterday.

00:11:41   And lastly, one of the things that I noticed, and this is something that you'll hear many,

00:11:45   many times, but is the importance of avoiding making deadlines commitments or otherwise

00:11:49   committing to something externally to your clients and your customers. The degree to

00:11:54   which you can avoid that is really powerful. Like if I had said, "Hey, I'm going to ship

00:11:57   something July 31st," if I had said I'd committed publicly that I was going to ship something

00:12:02   or an update was going to be available by a particular date, that would have been really

00:12:06   problematic when things outside my control mean that I can't do that. And so it's important

00:12:11   to be really, really, really, really careful about making commitments about anything publicly.

00:12:15   Like you can sort of get high level guidance or let people know and privately, you know,

00:12:19   maybe in one-on-one interactions that may be appropriate, but be very careful about

00:12:23   making a public commitment about a timeline or a feature set or anything like that.

00:12:27   And then lastly, kind of a meta point, but something that I want, that was definitely

00:12:33   noticeable on this, that it's something that I've seen before but wanted to mention, is

00:12:38   you aren't nearly as important as you think you are.

00:12:40   And this is just applies just as much to like a traditional jobby job kind of a situation

00:12:45   as it is to being self-employed.

00:12:48   I remember when I used to have a more traditional job,

00:12:51   and I'd go on vacation for like a week or like 10 days,

00:12:54   like a big proper vacation.

00:12:57   And I'd come back, and just reeling up to it,

00:12:59   I'd be so nervous.

00:13:00   Something that only I can do or I'm so responsible for

00:13:03   would fall apart while I was gone.

00:13:05   And I'd go on vacation, and I'd come back,

00:13:07   and everything was fine.

00:13:08   And the same thing happens, honestly,

00:13:10   when I left the company, the last place I left, I worked.

00:13:13   I left.

00:13:14   I was like, there's all these things that I was responsible for.

00:13:17   That's like, well, then I left.

00:13:18   What were they going to do?

00:13:19   And I like, I was kept in touch with those people.

00:13:21   It's like, well, everything was fine.

00:13:22   They just worked it out.

00:13:23   Like, and it's important to keep that in mind when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel like

00:13:27   things are overly important, where there's like, you're putting all this pressure and

00:13:30   intensity on yourself, to remember that you're probably replaceable.

00:13:35   And that's probably a good thing to feel that way.

00:13:37   Not like in the negative sense, but to understand that it's not as important as you think it

00:13:41   is.

00:13:42   things in your life that are more important and more deserving of your attention than the little,

00:13:47   like, whatever that minor task, whatever that thing is that you're putting this pressure on.

00:13:51   And obviously, everyone's different, and it may not be for you, but for me, that was an important

00:13:56   thing and a reminder to keep in mind that, like, my work is not the most important thing that I do.

00:14:00   My work is by no means that thing, and so I'm kind of replaceable in it, and so that's a good thing

00:14:06   to remember. And lastly, like, minor note, one thing that I thought of is it's kind of funny

00:14:11   funny when you are out there on the outside looking in at all the little dramas and kerfuffles

00:14:15   that happen in the news or whatever it is, like the little things that we all can get

00:14:19   so worked up about during the normal news cycle. All the little dramas, all the little

00:14:23   things, like when you're coming at it and you just barely have enough attention to dip

00:14:27   your toe into it, you look at those things and you feel like, "That's just silly." And

00:14:31   it's always good to guess to develop that perspective, to really think about, "Is this

00:14:34   important? If I didn't get my feathers in a ruffle about this today, would it make any

00:14:40   difference. And it probably, oftentimes it won't. And sometimes it does, but, you know,

00:14:45   just have some perspective about it. And it's definitely something I've learned.

00:14:48   All right, that's it for today's show. As always, questions, comments, concerns, complaints,

00:14:50   I'm on Twitter @_davidsmith, david@developingperspective.com. Otherwise, you have a great week, happy coding,

00:14:55   and I'll hopefully talk to you soon. Bye.