Separating Work & Life

This is something we know, we hear about, we’re reminded about, but we rarely do. After all, contrary to stereotype, we’re the hard working millennial who don’t know how to quit.

One of the many parts of preventing chronic burn out is to properly separate work and life, with no exceptions. For me personally, I found the most impactful method to separating the two was by untethering my devices from each other and silencing almost all notifications.

I’m not going to go into the obvious here, but reading work emails during dinner, takes you away from life around you. Getting a text message notification from a friend while you’re in the middle of writing an email to your manager takes you away from work. Each app on your respective device is prying for your attention with notifications of messages, new posts, upgrades, releases, etc. It’s distracting and disruptive, it weighs on you mentally to respond sooner than later or take action.

After reading the article linked to above, I realized yes, I must have something like chronic burn out. I needed to start behaviors to correct the course I’ve been on for a decade now. The biggest impact for me was having two devices, for two different purposes: one for work, one for life. With little to no conflicting overlap. This physically forces me to ‘quit’ when I don’t know how to myself.

To separate like this, I needed to think of “work” as more than my 9-5, I need to think of work as my “career” since in our generation, building our personal “brand” and a social presence (like this blog post, or contributing to open source) is part of the expectations in our careers. I’ve also bundled in household “admin” tasks like bills and research (for things like purchasing appliances) into “work”. It’s admin work and it’s actually ‘work’, to do it effectively you need concentration and alone time (things life doesn’t usually offer).

Separating devices was a bit of a hurtle to undo as over the last 5 or so years, Apple has designed their ecosystem to be seamless between devices. Everything on all devices. This was a selling feature and I ate this up with a spoon and loved it! SMS Text messages on my macbook? Sold! Check out the homepage of any modern app, their first selling feature is it works both on smart watches and desktop. This was and is such a mistake, and only now am I realizing how problematic and damaging this meshing of work and life is.

To stop this, I first made a clear list of what goes where:

Laptop (career)

  • Things (todos)
  • Bear (notes)
  • Slack
  • Email
  • Documents
  • Firefox
  • Other work Apps

Phone (life)

  • Reminders (hubbydo, grocery lists)
  • Notes.app (life notes)
  • Messages / Texts
  • Photos
  • Safari
  • Email
  • Slack

Each device gets it’s a seperate app for the same thing. I used to belive in having “everything in one place”, but having two Todo list apps, one for each device, has been a game changer.

I then visited each devices iCloud settings I disabled almost all of the device sync settings (Contacts being the one exception).

I took this steps further by disabling all notifications for both devices, turning each apps notifications to “none”. I then did a second pass, turning on things that were truly actionable or urgent: Calendar events (for important calendars only), Phone Calls from family members, Slack messages on desktop. That’s it. No pings for new emails, no pings for updates, releases, new features, new posts, no text messages during work. Everything besides direct real-time requests that require immediate action, is silent and asynchronous. I check my emails when I want to, not when my devices tells me to.

This is contrary to what these devices offer us, but this is how life was only like a decade ago, and honestly, it’s so much better. This makes these rules in my life so much more manageable:

  • When I’m working, I’m working.
  • When I’m “offline”, I’m living my life.
  • The only notification I receive are related to what I’m currently doing, and are actually critically important, and actually require immediate action.

Since implementing this, my phone is now terribly boring, I rarely pick it up – but now I’m not thinking about work first thing in the morning during breakfast like I used to. I’m not brushing my teeth at night mentally preparing my next-steps for an email I just received. This change makes me feel so much more energized and refreshment for my work day, and allows me to be more present and enjoy small things in life a little more.

This isn’t a miracle ‘fix all’ post that suggests if you do this all problems disappear – this is just something that worked for me and has me feeling healthier, balanced, and more productive at work.

My Journey as a WordPress.com VIP Intern

For a decade I’ve been building WordPress websites, as both a freelancer and at a digital marketing agency. In that time I had built nearly 200 custom WordPress themes and plugins for just as many sites. I had worked alone (on a small team of marketers, but never with other developers). I was self taught, self driven, and was a guru of my stack, my platform, and a master to the 100 or so sites that were actively hosted with us. I created intricate solutions to complex problems. I knew the clients, I knew the code, I always had a fix and solution to any issue. I saw problems before they occurred. I got paid well enough, was constantly busy, worked remotely, was good friends with the owner, had benefits, bonus’s, flexible hours, and on and on. For a long time, I had a very comfortable and stable life.

However, in early 2018 a sort of perfect storm started brewing:

  • My wife and I started planning our future with more children, a bigger house, more property, a second car, savings, retirement planning, investments, college savings. We needed much more than my current employer could possibly provide.
  • I was growing tired of working alone, I wanted to be in a team. I pushed myself to go outside of my comfort zone to my first WordPress Meetup, and a month later at the next one, I was giving my first ever presentation on Gutenberg.
  • I had begun answering developer questions on Stack Exchange, it became my hobby, my passion. I was enjoying it more than building sites, solving the little problems developers and talking with them was the best part of my work day.
  • The agency I worked for was having some legal turbulence which created some doubts in my long term future there.
  • I was getting into my late 20s, nervous about my growth and skills getting stagnant in the industry. I worried I would be designing and building small business websites for another decade, until I became low hanging fruit replaced by the next generation of WYSIWYG builders.

This combo of factors, mixed with encouragement from employees of Automattic from the Meetups, lead to me looking for new opportunities.

Now, jumping ships may be normal to some people, but this was a big deal for me, I never saw myself anywhere else, doing anything else. I had worked at the same place for 8 years, done the same thing for 10+ years. After three months of internal debate, some interviews at various agencies, and preparing myself, my portfolio, and my resume, I decided to apply to WordPress.com VIP as a Developer. I chose this role as it focused around the maintaining of websites and solving developer problems, which is “my thing“.

After a nerve-wrecking interview, I was turned down and given suggestions to improve some specific areas and re-apply in a years time. I was devastated, but remained motivated. So, like in any good story, I pushed on through adversary and I self-boot-camped my skills, doubled down on learning, gave myself sort of a years course on what to learn and when.

However, to my surprise, a few months later I was approached and made aware of an opening in the VIP Internship program. It was an honour to even be remembered or considered! My wife and I had to weigh the options though: stay at my job where employment and perks were known, or, take a chance on an internship which offered no benefits, no vacation, and would only last 4 – 12 months with no guarantee of employment. At this time, we had a new mortgage, a one year old daughter. A lot to think about. After a day of deliberation, it was clear to us that being part of WordPress.com VIP and Automattic would be the best move for my career, my happiness, and our future.

With a heavy heart I quit my job. Four months in now I know that joining the VIP Internship Mentorship program was the best decision I have ever made in my life.


The first month of the mentorship was a blur. In the first half hour or so of the movie Goodfellas, there’s a scene were Henry walks Karen through the back door of an exclusive club. They go through a maze of loud and exciting rooms and activities, start greeting and exchanging with people, then a table and lamp are brought to them as they approach the performer on stage, giving them the best seat in the house. This is what my first month was like, I felt like Karen. Here I was, accustom to building small business websites, and suddenly I’m greeted by an incredible team, given all these tools and access, then put to work on websites for huge companies. I was so excited and dizzy with all the knowledge I had to take in, all the things I had to sort out and work on. I was a big fish that just left my small pond and found myself in an incredible lake.

I quickly confirmed my suspicion that Automattic / WordPress.com VIP was an amazing place to work. It is truly wonderful how the distributed company works so efficiently and well. The team demonstrated themselves as being the hardest working, most dedicated, passionate, and helpful group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Working along side them has been an honour and a privilege. Everyone shares the same unified goals and visions and helps each other to get there as a single entity. I was where I needed to be, where I wanted to be.

After the haze of the first month cleared, my second and third months were, in contrast, hectic, and the most mentally exhausting span of my life. I spent my days both learning best practices, as well as handling website performance issues. I was giving 100% every day, and was totally wiped by 5pm. It was hard, really hard, but I knew this was what I signed up for. This program isn’t a shallow-end of the pool deal. It is a program for those who want to grow, and grow fast. Again, this is a big lake, and you are thrown into it – but in the best possible way.

The learning encompassed many factors, it wasn’t just raw technical info. I’ve learned how to work in a strong team, how to handle big clients, how to use sustainable workflows, communicate more effectively, document properly, and how to provide true white glove service. For the technical side, I learned how to build WordPress sites for maintainability, security, performance, and for scale.

As I hit the fourth month mark, suddenly everything “clicked” and the mayhem slowed down. I was able to keep on top of things, able to filter out irrelevant info. I knew my role, my coworkers, my purpose, how to start charting my own course. I felt more like a part of the team and started acting more like it. I found my footing.


In a short fraction of a year, I can now confidently audit code and point out security and performance concerns (the type of code that I used to write!). I feel the mentorship program has sanded off all of my rough edges, shown me a clear path to being a VIP level Developer, and has overall turned me into a better developer and person. It has upgraded me.

With my first term complete, moving forward I’ve decided to continue my mentorship for another four months. I will be focused on helping new mentees acclimate to the program, while further improving and refining my skills. Once ready, I plan on applying for the VIP Developer role. Working for VIP and Automattic is my dream job, and I can’t wait to call it home and my coworkers family.

Do great things: Apply to VIP or the mentorship program today!

Home Made Pizza Recipe

🍕 My famous pizza dough recipe. Anyone who knows me knows I‘m legend for my home made pizza. If you’re over for dinner you best know you’re getting pizza. This recipe is tweaked from over 6 years of Pizza Friday’s.

Makes a 16″ pie:

  • 1 CUP warm water
  • 1 TSP yeast
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1 TSP garlic powder
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 TBSP italian seasoning blend
  • 1 1/4 TBSP melted butter
  • 2 2/3 CUPs white flour
  • 2 TBSP cornmeal

Dough:

  1. Activate yeast in the warm water for 10min until frothy. Stir/shake occasionally
  2. In separate bowl mix salt, garlic, sugar, seasoning, butter, and flour
  3. Mix yeast water into the dry ingredients
  4. Kneed as needed (about 10min or until your hands start cramping up)
  5. Add tablespoon of water or flour as needed if too sticky or dry. Should be somewhat sticky but shouldn’t actually stick to your hand.
  6. Roll into ball, add few drops of oil, roll ball around bowl coating sides with oil.
  7. leave in bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit for 2 hour in somewhat warm area.

Assembly:

  1. Roll dough on pizza stone (if you don’t have one, don’t bother, just call Dominos).
  2. coat bottom in cornmeal
  3. Cut all favorite ingredients, tiny, dice it all.
  4. Sauce with Hunts Chunky Original pasta sauce (my personal choice)
  5. Thin layer of cheddar cheese and parm
  6. Sprinkle dryer toppings (onion, spinach, garlic)
  7. Layer of mozzarella cheese
  8. Add wetter toppings (olives, peppers), add meat
    • Italian sausage is a must
  9. Final layer of mozzarella cheese
  10. Bacon bits and cherry tomato slices on top

Bake at 400 for 17min. Broil for 2 min until golden bubbly cheese goodness.

☕️ PC coffee Maker Annoying Beeping

This isn’t related to this website, this is just a PSA:

I bought a PC coffee maker, it was more expensive then it should of been, but it looked good in my new kitchen and I knew it would pay for itself eventually.

Worked fine, did the job for months – then about 8 months in, after the brew cycle (4-5minutes) the most annoying, loud beeping would occur. It was as if the danm machine was whining for attention.

Turns out it was, in the manual that I obviously threw out because who keeps stuff like that, it mentions a cleaning reminder setting, that beeps until you hold down the “Auto” button for three seconds to acknowledge “yes I’ve cleaned you”. From the Manual

Your coffee maker is equipped with a cleaning reminder alarm. When your coffee maker has been used 200 times, it will beep to remind you to clean it. To turn off the beeping simply press the AUTO button for 3 seconds. The sound will stop and the coffee makers internal counter will reset to zero,

Kudos to the makers for installing a feature to prevent people from getting sick or keep the coffee at it’s best – but shame on you for not writting it on the machine itself and expecting everyone to keep the box+manual.