Revisiting transparency

The scene: a Friday night happy hour at New Work City. We have happy hours every Friday, but this one was particularly special, because we were sending off one of our most steadfast and supportive members who had recently decided to move on.

A group of familiar faces gathered for the occasion. Each of them, in their own way, had themselves already moved on, but on this night they came together for their friend.

We toasted to the end of an era. We talked about what we’d be doing next. We laughed.

Then we went our separate ways.

That night, which took place a few weeks ago, marked a major shift for me in how I approach New Work City and its community.

Up to that point, I was operating with an all-in-one strategy that for years I’d wanted so badly to work. It was a strategy that envisioned the coworking space as the place where people do their work in the daytime, but then also gather socially in the evenings for movie nights and card games. It was a strategy that envisioned my circle of closest friends and the circle of NWC’s most active members as being one and the same.

I’d seen it done successfully in other coworking spaces, at least as far as I could tell. More importantly, it was what I’d wanted: a place where my friends were my coworkers and the line between the two was nonexistent.

The strategy worked for a while. At its peak, it was something really special. We were playing volleyball together; we had a weekly late night “therapy” session at my favorite local pub; we were collaborating on projects.

But it didn’t last. It started with one of the big teams in our space moving out (for the best reason possible—they were so successful that they outgrew us), removing from our daily routine a couple of people who were cornerstones of our cadre. Shortly thereafter, one after another started dropping off. By the time we got to this special happy hour, there was no denying that the circle was no more.

What happened? Certainly, each person had their own story and their own reasons. New York City is a place of transition. Few New Yorkers I know are people who are exactly where they want to be and seek to stay put for a long time. People come to New York to get to somewhere else.

Our location feeds into that sense of transience. The fact that New Work City is on Broadway & Canal Street makes it convenient to just about everyone, but it’s not exactly a neighborhood people want to hang out in.  While our neighborhood has for a long time been home to a vibrant community of independent workers, those workers trade in knockoff bags and watches. Most NWC members live far from the space and from each other in every direction. Gathering, then, is always somewhat of a stretch for everyone.

There were a lot of factors at play, but ultimately, it fell on me. I placed myself at the center of the group, then disappeared for weeks at a time. One might assume my falling for a wonderful woman who lives in another part of the country had something to do with it, but I’ve done this in the past when there wasn’t a long-distance relationship to focus on as the reason. Eventually, one way or another, I find a way to detach. The reality is that I could have taken everyone along for that journey and I didn’t. For long stretches, I just fell off. That’s on me.

That wouldn’t have been as big of an issue if I’d architected something that didn’t depend on me so much, but from the very start I had set an expectation that I’d be around to keep things rolling. When I wasn’t there, things didn’t feel quite the same.

Seeing what had happened for what it was, I toasted that night knowing I had to go a different way from now on. I had no desire to repeat this cycle again. I certainly had no desire to disappoint people I cared about. Rebuilding was going to require taking what I’d experienced, learning from it, and adjusting.

The following Monday, I came into work and started to rebuild.

I quickly realized I had narrowed so much of my focus to the relatively small group of friends I was cultivating. Zooming out, I was able to better see the entire community of 150+ people who were all in their own ways finding each other and forming their own bonds and sub-communities. I had no direct involvement in this happening; I didn’t even know a lot of these people. But here they were, under my nose, befriending each other and conducting business together and going out to lunch with each other. Letting go of the smaller group let me see the bigger group for the wonderful ecosystem that it is.

I shifted my focus to facilitating connections between members without getting too directly involved myself. I still play an active role, but as more of a coach than a player. I meet with members and the people who have stepped up to play larger roles at NWC with the intention of figuring out how to best empower them to use the thing we’ve built to their best benefit, without making me a linchpin any moreso than necessary.

It’s only been a short time, but already I am finding myself much more comfortable in this role. I find I’m less afraid that the work I do now will end up overloading me later. I feel like the work I’m doing is helping build something more sustainable.

One example: this past Friday, we held the first of what will be a monthly series of Welcome Aboard Member Meetings (WAMMs). Sarah, our Space Captain, did a tremendous job recruiting for it, so we ended up having two separate meetings totaling 26 coworkers, some who’d joined as recently as that day and others who’d been members for years. We learned more about each other, why we joined, what we’re working on, what we need help with, and even our favorite snack. We took it as an opportunity to educate people as to how they could use the tools NWC provides to achieve what they’re going for.

A monthly meeting like that is something that I can work on and be present for that doesn’t foster lots dependence upon me but instead can act as a clearinghouse for empowering and emboldening people to connect with each other without the constant need for a middleman.

It’s only been one meeting, but it’s left me hopeful for the potential in this new direction.

As for me, I realized that I can go further to change my own story. I wonder: What would it look like for me to be unafraid of taking on too much and shutting down when I get overwhelmed? Being open and transparent with people got me so far when I practiced it naturally. When New Work City was just getting started, my fastidious inclusion of everyone in every step of the process of getting it off the ground gave people an opportunity to buy in and feel like they were a part of it.

The less I shared as time went on, the less opportunities people had to connect to me and to it. This invited greater dependence on me as the provider who’s holding all of the cards.

Shutting down and closing people out can be an effective defense against being overwhelmed with input, but the collateral damage is too great. At this point, I think there are far greater risks in not sharing than there are in sharing. Why not flip things over and see what happens?

As for cultivating friendships, I can now start to focus on what that looks like outside the context of my coworking community. I can and do still have friends who are members, of course, but what does it look like for me to think of my network of friends as something distinct and separate from my business? This is something I now make myself free to explore.

Posting something like this is scary to me. I feel vulnerable exposing myself.

I don’t have all the answers. I’m just someone trying to figure it all out. That can be insanely hard for a leader to say, but it’s the reality whether you face it or not.

I’m working to face it.

There are still so many people whose lives would be so much better if they had better ways to connect with each other. There are still so many people suffering who don’t have to be. There’s still a lot of work to do.

If sharing more of my vulnerable, imperfect self helps me be a better vehicle for helping those people, then it’s time to open up and let it flow.

If I’ve let you down, I’m sorry. I want to do my part to support you and invite you to support me, imperfections and all, out of love for ourselves and each other.

Thanks for reading this. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to connect with you.


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Achieving better focus, by way of Kevin Durant

I often find myself sucked into the typical distractions of our over-connected lives, surrendering my focus to email, social media, and open browser tabs. I’m always looking for new ways to combat this, and am experimenting with a new strategy.

Firstly, I try to set two or three high-priority things I need to work on in a given day. I know these are things that feed into larger narratives that are important in my life. I know that the day will attempt to distract me from these things as it plays out, so when I find myself drifting away from the important stuff, I wait for a break in the action, close my eyes, and shut the lid to my laptop.

I try to release everything that’s clouded my mind, and I ask myself one question: What Would Kevin Durant Do?

Kevin Durant, if you’re not familiar, is the star basketball player of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Aside from being a scoring machine and one of the best players in the NBA, he is notable for something that’s particularly rare for people of his stature: he carries a distinct lack of ego.

There is no chip on his shoulder. He is not out trying to show off. He shows up every night and kicks ass all day, and doesn’t bullshit. He just works.

So when I ask What Would Kevin Durant Do, the answer is always the same: he’d shut up and work. He’d head to the courts and practice 1,000 free throws. He’d work out in the gym. He’d do what he had to do and cut out all the crap.

He’d not belabor the tedium of practice and workouts.

He’d focus on being awesome.

And when the time came, he’d drop 40 points and dunk over everyone.

And he’d love it.

My idealistic vision of Kevin Durant helps me focus. Perhaps he can help you too.


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You can’t pull the plant out of the seed.

I’ve been journaling on Buster Benson’s incredible site, 750 Words, for the past few weeks, and found it to be an immensely effective way to get things out of my head and into a form where I can understand it and organize it. It’s downright therapeutic. What follows is today’s entry, which is not a typical entry, but one which I feel comfortable sharing.

“You got your passion, you got your pride
But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied
Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize Vienna waits for you?”

You can’t pull the plant out of the seed. You can work hard to prepare the soil, provide water, sunlight, warmth, but in the end, the plant will come out when it is damn well ready.

I have been battling lately between two tendencies. One is my tendency to overthink and overplan something. The counter voice in my head shouts, “JFDI!” — knowing I all too often think and think and think and never eventually produce.

That collides, however, with another tendency– the tendency to rush. To feel like everything has to be done now. Time is of the essence. Pressure. Go go go.

Well, that doesn’t work so well either. It’s not healthy and doesn’t produce the best results.

So what’s the balance? What’s the right thing that satisfies both of these issues?

The farming analogy is apt. It’s an elegant thing to go back to.

You can’t force a plant out of a seed. You can’t force yourself to launch into something you’re not ready to launch into yet. But if you rest on your laurels, you won’t get anywhere either.

So prepare the soil. Provide ample water and warmth and sunlight. Focus on aligning the necessary conditions. This stuff isn’t simple or easy or obvious. It’s not a matter of just throwing a lot of work at something until it sticks. It’s not about working hard, it’s about working smart.

My first philosophy class in college frustrated the hell out of me. I wasn’t the type to talk to professors after class, especially when it was a 100-level stadium-seating 100+ student lecture. But I was so frustrated by the lack of answers the various philosophical approaches we studied were providing that I felt compelled to challenge my professor on the point of studying this stuff at all.

What’s the point of studying all of these things if none of them prove to be correct? Are there never any answers?

My professor, who had no idea who I was, who didn’t particularly care, who was on his way to something that was certainly more important to him, stopped for a moment and gave me his attention and said something to me that I’ll never forget.

“There are answers,” he said. “But it takes time.”

I don’t remember the rest, but what I took away from it was clear: the answers aren’t simply going to manifest in the form of words on paper. It’s not something you can approach using simple low-level activity like reading and writing and talking. Real, high-level answers require high-level thinking. It requires transcending the details and the distractions of the immediate circumstances and synthesizing concepts in a way that might be easily described but not so easily understood.

Answers to a philosophy of life aren’t going to come by you reading them in a book. They’re going to come when you stop thinking that the answers are in the words and start thinking that the answers are in what you do with those words.

Hacking away at success is too often the M.O. and it usually has to be that way– real life progress is inherently horribly inefficient. It can take years or decades or a lifetime to learn a simple lesson. But we shouldn’t accept that as the best way to approach doing things. It’s a tendency we have as people to fumble around trying stuff as we work our way towards actually figuring something out, but we should be focusing on minimizing that approach in favor of something more efficient and effective.

Silent Bob speaks only when he has something to say that he knows is worth saying. Otherwise he doesn’t bother. He accomplishes with a few words as much if not more than those who spout thousands of words in the same span of time, with far less effort expended.

That’s a stupid analogy, but this is a stream of consciousness, so we’re just going to have to roll with it.

688 words and about 60 more to go. There’s more on the to-do list than there are things which will get done. We know this. It’s okay. I don’t want to run out of things to do. If I do, I’ll just manufacture more. It need not all be done today. What’s more important is that I approach the work that I will do today with a mindset of strength and focus.

Preparing the soil. Providing the water, the warmth, the sunlight.

Time to get to farming.

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My 2012 Themeword: Love.

2011 was a tough year for me. Most of it was spent focused on stabilizing New Work City, as the initial financing to get the space open was really just enough to do that– get the space open. We stil had a long, hard battle ahead of us to overcome some massive financial barriers. Massive, at least, to a grassroots community.

I eventually got in the rhythm of pulling off “miracles,” which was my term for the magical ways we were able to get through seemingly impossible situations. Sometimes it was a new sponsor or a well-paying event; sometimes I honestly still don’t know how we did it.

The best example was the dance party, where we managed to make some pretty decent money– and it got gobbled up by bills almost immediately. I barely even saw it.

Bewildered at how fast the money disappeared, I remarked to Peter: what would have happened if I didn’t throw this party? No point in dwelling on that one; we made it another month.

The good news is that we survived. We made it through the summer doldrums and were rewarded with an incredible fall, with a bunch of amazing new members and a fab new sponsor helping us finally achieve the stability we were seeking.

The bad news is that the long journey took a toll. I spent many days in conference rooms on whiteboards, trying to figure out how the hell we were going to make it past the first of the month again, locked away from the community I sought to protect.

The effect of being in a constant state of emergency is immeasurable. The stress and the long hours put strain on my relationships with close friends and loved ones. It’s dampened my normally sunny demeanor. Recently, more than one person has remarked that I was acting like “me” again– as if, for the past year, I hadn’t been.

Business can be tough. I’ve seen good people lose their humanity in pursuit of somebody’s definition of success. It takes careful, deliberate effort to navigate the world of business, where we create non-human entities that must turn a financial profit to survive, while maintaining the fundamental humanity that makes those entities worth building.

But if you’re doing it right, you can feel it. You can recognize it in others instantly. Listen to a song like “What a Wonderful World.” You can hear Louis Armstrong smiling. Could you imagine him singing that without a smile on his face?

Companies like Photojojo and LooseCubes and Freckle simply radiate the love that Amit, Campbell, Amy and Thomas have for what they are doing.

Every time I’ve tried to do something any other way, I’ve failed. Every time I’ve tried to do something that I deeply believed in, I’ve found success.

Love for New Work City and everything it represented got me through nearly impossible times.

In 2012, I have a chance to approach everything I do in the best way possible, and it starts in the heart.


Choosing a themeword for yourself for the upcoming year is a powerful introspective exercise. It can also be far more powerful than resolutions, which are prone to failure and despair. You can never be disappointed by your themeword; it’s always there for you to check back with periodically throughout the year. It was first conceived at a LifeCamp in 2008.

As the year winds down, you will likely find some time to pause and reflect.

What’s your themeword for 2012?


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Coworking in Tokyo, Shanghai, and Hong Kong

Well, that was awesome.

Below are my brief reports on the spaces I visited, along with a few thoughts along the way. I will set your expectations now: I did not take photos with the explicit purpose of completely documenting each space, and in some cases, I could only snap a few photos.

My first stop was Tokyo, Japan, and the first guy I met up with was none other than Hiroyasu Ichikawa. Ichi runs a social media consultancy in Tokyo, which over there is not nearly as overrun by faux professionals as it is here. His work is focused on not just helping people use social media to do marketing, but to understand what this stuff is and how it can be used for good. My kind of guy.

Ichi visited New Work City over two years ago and has been writing about coworking and similar community business for a long time, so when we first met we had a great conversation.

He was the first person I contacted once my travel plans were in place, and upon hearing of my trip promptly proceeded to do what he does: organize, promote, and get people excited.

But before the events started, we grabbed some sushi and stopped by a fascinating space that predates the coworking movement:

Stop #1: Academy Hills, Tokyo

At 8:00pm on the first night I arrived in town, Ichi and I popped into one of two Academy Hills locations in Tokyo. They are the boldest attempt I’ve seen at merging library with coworking. And the location we visited is perched on the 49th floor of a big office tower. And they’re huge.

They have a giant open area that’s a combination of a cafe and a library lounge, and a bunch of big and small semi-private and private areas for silent work and meetings. They have creatively named rooms like “collaboration rooms” and “brainstorm rooms.”

The people behind the space are heavily involved in real estate development and art. Different people from a different world, bearing down upon some of the same things we coworking folks are.





Stop #2: Kokuyo, Tokyo

Ichi organized a meetup event and lined up some awesome speakers from other coworking spaces around town. To hold the hundred person sellout crowd, Ichi turned to Kokuyo.

Kokuyo makes office products, but has expanded into design and even collaboration space. They’ve not only opened a space of their own, pictured below, but they’ve also consulted with Catalyst BA, the next spot I’ll talk about, to design their space as well.

Located in the middle of a big office tower in a very corporate area (that still manages to hide a great bar and karaoke place among the skyscrapers), this space features tiered levels that make for a natural stage, folding rolling tables that make the space extra flexible, and an outdoor lounge space that’s ideal for working or taking phone calls while getting a little taste of nature.

The furniture and design are all state of the art, and the environment is very curvy and open. It’s a really great example of what you can do with a traditional office building to make it more compatible with the needs of a new generation of worker.

Ichi put together a tremendously useful Storify post, incuding videos, photos, tweets, his own commentary and more right here. Check it out!


Stop #3: Catalyst BA, Tokyo

Located in what I heard described as the “Westchester of Tokyo,” Catalyst BA is on top of a high-end shopping mall in a semi-suburban outskirt of the city. I was fortunate to be able to attend and speak at their grand opening event, which featured some of the participants as speakers.

A partnership between several large and medium organizations in Tokyo, Catalyst BA brings together groups from the worlds of technology, design, and consulting in what seems to me to be something of an all-star concoction of cool projects. Case in point: After our talks, food was catered by a group that specializes in healthy and sustainable food sources, and two different artistic projects were on display: one which involved a camera pointed at a fish tank with a blue screen behind it, and the other a mind-blowing light show that involves a tiny model train running along a track with a spotlight mounted on it, casting huge moving shadows on the walls as it rolled past miniature toys and other everyday objects. It’s hard to describe, but the experience was perhaps my most mind-blowing of the trip. There was too little light to capture decent photos and video to illustrate.

The vibe is extremely similar to Kokuyo, thanks in no small part to the fact that the same people were behind the design and implementation.

The project seems similar in origin to that of La Cantine, where a variety of established organizations were brought together in the mutual interest of promoting their city’s innovations.

This space and the others I’ve discussed so far have been generally on one end of the coworking spectrum: the high-end, possibly more corporate-based, sometimes application-only kinds of spaces. More popular in Tokyo, unsurprisingly, given the culture, but they aren’t the only game in town.

Stop #4: Paxi House, Tokyo

If the spaces I’ve visited so far occupy one end of the spectrum, Paxi House is holding it down at the other end. Paxi House is beautiful and unique, most notably because it is both a restaurant (on the second floor) and a coworking space (on the third floor). Owner Kyo Satani met us there on a whim at around 10:00pm, when the restaurant was surprisingly completely packed. We ate and drank while standing around some barrels in the middle of the restaurant, which seemed to be designed as overflow space when all the tables are taken.

Before I knew what was happening, Kyo had three giant mugs of beer ready for us.


This place was undoubtedly the closest thing to New Work City in Tokyo. Except they serve amazing food.

The upstairs space was warm, casual, and cozy. There were lots of whiteboards, art, and cool random things laying around. The space stood in stark contrast to the carefully planned and meticulously implemented spaces I had visited so far.

Nobody was working in the space upstairs this late in the evening, but I got the distinct impression that most if not all of the people eating at the restaurant were regulars in the community.

Seeing Paxi House combine restaurant and coworking space was an eye opening experience. To succeed and compete with their franchise chain counterparts, small cafes and restaurants must develop a strong following and a healthy community around their spaces. When we were coworking at Gramstand, I learned firsthand how Richard, the owner, had found success in developing a robust culture around his cafe. He lamented seeing fellow small businessowners on his block struggling to get anyone in the door, pointing out that they failed to understand that really getting customers meant more than putting an ad in the paper.

It was a very Cluetrain conversation, and the principle pervades in coworking spaces as well. Coworking space owners would do well to pay close attention to how these existing businessowners find success, not to mention how they cope with their small scale.

Paxi House takes this analogy to the extreme by actually being both a small restaurant and coworking space. I would love to see more places like this popping up and succeeding.

I almost didn’t make it to Paxi House and am so glad Ichi and Kyo made it happen!


Stop #5: Xinchejian, Shanghai

Shanghai is a rich, beautiful, well-manicured city. My hotel was right in the middle of a touristy shopping district which exemplified Shanghai’s polish.

Xinchejian, Shanghai’s hackerspace, was nowhere near this part of town. Appropriately, Xinchejian is in a far more “real” part of town, away from the rich expats and the manicured shopping experiences.

That also meant narrow roads not designed for two way traffic, a hard-to-find location hidden away in an ancient warehouse, and a parking situation that required negotiation with locals. In other words, not too dissimliar from the usual neighborhoods one might find a hackerspace nested away in.

I walked into Xinchejian and might as well have walked into NYC Resistor. Gadgets and witty signage everywhere. A Makerbot in the house. Some kind of agriculture project involving running water between two potted plants through a fish tank. And don’t miss the freelance beehive in the slide show.

Founder Ricky was an engineer at Google and is working on some awesome projects while running the space, which is naturally a very loose and community-driven operation. What appeared to be an emergency glass box on the wall was actually a donation box into which people put money for just about anything.

I felt right at home here. I sat on a couch made of spare bamboo with Ricky as he talked with Liu Yan, owner of Xindanwei described below, as they discussed business and local things.

Stop #6: Xindanwei, Shanghai

As I quickly learned when I first visited Indy Hall way back in September 2007, coworking communities tend to find some really remarkable, unusual spaces to occupy. Walking into 32 Strawberry Street in Philadelphia, in a back alley of a wonderfully fun part of town, I was awestruck at the massive ceilings and provocative architecture that defined IndyHall’s first space.

Xindanwei, located in a historic and beautiful part of town called the French Concession, occupies all of a split-level six story building, with a giant winding staircase taking you from the ground floor cafe through various kinds of workspaces, conference rooms and couch areas all the way to the roof deck.

Yeah, I was jealous.

Once again, a retail space, this time a cafe, is combined with a coworking space to combine two community-driven businesses. The panel I participated in included local space owners and researchers from Berlin and Europe, all of whom were awesome. I have a lot of thoughts from this panel, some of which I will attempt to summarize in my next post. In the meantime, you can check out a great post from An Xiao on the discussion. My favorite quote:

“Ultimately, if the space is driven more by the community than the the organizers, then it’s safe to say the space is successful.”

An Xiao

Stop #7: Boot HK, Hong Kong

“This is big for Hong Kong,” is what founder and awesome dude Jonathan Buford said to me almost immediately upon my arrival at their lovely little space, seemingly anticipating my first reaction.

Boot HK may be a little cramped, but I’ve seen places like this before. I’ve run places like this before. In a city where the startup / meetup / independent cultures seem to be rather nascent, the hub of the coworking scene, the hackerspace scene, and maybe even the whole startup scene can fit into about 750 square feet. At one point in its life, a whole tree can fit into a seed.

I thought I knew better than to underestimate a space’s size, but when Jon told me about a 50 person Meetup they held, I asked what venue they used for the event, assuming it had to be elsewhere.

“We did the event here,” he said.

I looked around in disbelief. If there were any fire marshalls in the room, their eyes would have popped out of their heads.

“If you put the guest speaker in this spot, people can see from all the way back there and there,” Jon continued, pointing out exactly how they managed to maximize their space so well.

And maximize well they do– a big communal table, two private rooms, a couch, a kitchen, and even a workbench area for hardware hacking all manage to fit comfortably within the space.

And, as is pretty typical of coworking spaces, they had a whiteboard with the wifi password and other details on it, like a gig board.

One unique thing they did have, however, that I intend to steal and encourage other coworking spaces to steal, is a to-do list for newcomers with an all-important first step:




Jon and I talked a lot about the state of things in Hong Kong and how he has been working to grow the startup scene, while also juggling running his space and a load of other really exciting side projects. If his execution continues to follow his ambition, his impact on Hong Kong and the world will be very noticeable in the not too distant future.

So many of his efforts exemplify the potential of doing more with less. In a city with an infrastructure and socioeconomic background that’s not particularly friendly to funky indie projects and things like Meetup groups, Jon and Boot, like nature in Chaos Theory, find a way. When planning a major event called Startup Saturday, Jon needed an event venue for a large audience, far more than even he could craftily cram into their existing space.

Meetup-friendly spaces for large groups aren’t easy to come by anywhere, but options seem particularly sparse in Hong Kong. So how’d they find an affordable, central, beautiful space?

They went to church. In particular, an evangelical church that just so happens to house a huge, modern event space that would be perfect for a one day conference.

Chaos theory at work.

One day I’d like to write a whole post about what coworking communities could learn from churches, but that’s for another time.

After visiting the space, Jon and I met John Erik Metcalf, cofounder of Austin’s Conjunctured, for beers and deep fried things at an awesome cafe / restaurant / bar nearby. Three coworking space owners from three different cities, always a good time.

Tomorrow, I will be diving headfirst into some conclusions I’ve drawn from my experiences.

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Fixing the structure vacuum

Snapshot of a not so unusual day in the life of Tony, circa May 2011:

8:00: Alarm.
9:00: Stop hitting the snooze button.
9:00:03: Check email.
9:02: Check twitter.
9:03: Click on an enticing looking blog post.
10:15: Realize I just spent over an hour reading about how the iPad is influencing the French elections, and that I was planning on already having gotten to New Work City by now.
10:16: Jump out of bed.
10:18: Shower / cleanup / dress / leave.
10:25: Pick up breakfast.
10:30: Eat breakfast on the train to save time, filling the car with the smell of bacon and likely ruining everyone’s morning. As I eat, I email myself notes about the things I really need to accomplish today.
11:00: Arrive at NWC, long after I intended to.
11:05: Sit down and check my email again, and immediately start working on whatever grabs my attention first. Probably not any of the things I had just emailed myself.
7:30pm-ish: Look up, bleary eyed, and realize that for the past eight hours, I have done some combination of meetings, email, Real Business Stuff, talking to members, eating, talking on the phone, and reading Twitter while trying not to read Twitter. And I’ve made almost no progress on the things I deemed important when I started my day.

I’m bleary-eyed, mentally exhausted, and frustrated. Defeated, I go out or go home, promising myself that tomorrow I’ll focus on getting the important stuff done.

I aim to be in bed by 1:00. I actually go to bed at 2:30.

This sucks.

I’ve spent far more days like this than I’d care to admit. It isn’t fun, and I don’t think it’s all that unusual either. When I worked in an office, I still experienced some of these things, but they were contained. I still pretty much showed up and left around the same time, took a lunch break, and got weekends off.

Now, though, I have nothing but my own personal discipline to keep me in order. As you might have guessed, relying entirely on that is just not going to cut it for me. I’ve been a big believer in independent careers for a long time now, but managing all this stuff effectively is no obvious task. If I don’t change something, this working for myself thing is going to kill me.

Time to devise a solution.

So how do I do something about it? I could, of course, get a job.

Okay, enough of that talk. A job would give me the structure and accountability that I needed, but it would come at the expense of the freedom I had fought to earn. I’ll assume this to be a last resort.

So what if I were able to substitute the good parts of having a job, without actually getting a job? I have a thriving community of independent people all around me. I’m sure most of them are better at managing this stuff than I am, so maybe I can learn from them. Along the way, maybe they can learn from each other too! It is time to start experimenting with that.

Also. Beer Belly.

While we’re at it, I’m out of shape. Not grossly so, but enough that I can feel it. And sometime between “post-college” and “pre-30” my body started telling me it was time to start taking better care of myself. If I’m going to be working on my brain, maybe along the way I can find a way to work on my body too.

It’s time to run a tighter ship. I’m not going to do it alone, so I’m recruiting help.

Do you hit the structure vacuum sometimes? What do you do to try and fix this problem?

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Asia Trip!

After turning down years of invitations in favor of focusing on work, I will finally be joining my dad on a business trip to Asia! My itinerary is as follows:

August 2-5: Tokyo

August 5-9: Shanghai

August 10-14: Hong Kong

I’ve never been anywhere near any of these places, so the trip will be a huge cultural experience. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to be immersed in a completely different world.

Right now, my agenda is wide open. If you or someone you know is in one of these three cities and we should meet, let’s talk! I have three interests while abroad:

1. Talking coworking and related future-of-work goodness

If you’re building or running a coworking community or something similar, I’d love to meet up and learn how things work where you are. I’m currently working on a Meetup in Hong Kong; more details on that soon!

2. Raising interest in Girl Develop It

If you’re in one of these cities and want to start a chapter of Girl Develop It, which offers low-cost classes geared toward giving women a friendly environment to learn software development, let me know!

3. Sightseeing & learning the culture

When it comes to being a tourist, I’m more interested in something a little more “Three Sheets” than “Rick Steves.” So while seeing the sights would be great, I’d also love to get off the beaten path, away from the touristy areas, and get immersed in some real local culture.

4. Japan’s recovery

We’ve all been touched by what’s happened in Japan, and Tokyo is not far from the epicenter. I’m hoping to learn more about the effects of the disaster on the ground in Japan, as well as how we can be of help back at home.

This trip is a unique chance to explore a whole new world. I hope to be able to bring what I’ve learned here in NY with me, and hope to come back having learned and experienced some amazing things in exchange.

Let me know if you want to meet up!

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Originally posted here.

Photo on 2011-01-18 at 23.18

I find myself alone in the space again tonight, which is up there with Saturday mornings and showers as being among the best times to contemplate. And write blog posts.

I’m sitting on the most comfortable couch in the space which, despite its new brown cover, is still referred to as the “blue couch.”

I took this couch with me when I moved out of House 2.0, the birthplace ofJelly– the East Coast’s first coworking community.

I’ve slept on this couch in two different locations now. I first coworked on this couch almost four years ago. So did countless brilliantsuccessful people.

From this couch, I can view most of New Work City’s space. Last week, while on a long phone call, I managed to identify no less than a dozen things that needed fixing or improving. A newly installed sprinkler line that needed painting. An egregiously uneven part of the floor. An open pipe randomly sticking out of a wall that need only be painted green to look like something straight out of Super Mario Bros.

I’m damn proud of the space we put together. For something we had just a few months and a nonexistent budget to put together, the place looks amazingly awesome. But details like these are enough to drive one mad. If New Work City were in the business of selling pristine workspace, it probably would.

Luckily, that’s not what this place is about. For all the attention that goes into the “space” part of a coworking space, it’s really just a medium that allows people to gather and get the things they really want: Collaboration. Inspiration. Friends. Productivity. Coziness.

Nobody likes chicken. What makes chicken great is how you prepare it.

Improvements, of course, must always be made. Complacency is death. We’re going to keep iterating on NWC and making it better and better forever.

But when we make those improvements, we’re making them together, one bit at a time, as we are able. When somebody finds a good deal on something we need, we get it. When someone’s moving and they have a nice spare futon, we grab it.

Does it make for the most coherent, unified interior design? Hell no.

Does it make this place something that’s truly ours? Hell yes.

This place is beautiful not in spite of its little flaws and imperfections, but because of them.

Because it makes the place real.

Nothing was commissioned, ordered brand new in a giant purchase order as part of a giant budget. When you sit in a chair at a desk, you don’t worry that you’re going to scratch it. You settle in and feel comfortable getting right to work.

I recently got to visit a coworking space in another city that had the exact furniture I had dreamed of buying for NWC 2.0. It was super modern, with bright, bold colors, and high-quality materials.

I didn’t like it. Maybe I was rationalizing, but it all just seemed too nice.

If I won the lottery and had tons of cash, I’d make a lot of improvements— but if the place started to feel less like our collective work spot and more like a rich guy’s fantasy, I don’t know that the same kind of amazing people would want to keep coming.

The imperfections and secondhand furniture act as a fantastic filter. If someone’s priorities are focused on the quality of the stuff over the quality of the people, they likely belong elsewhere.

If the Jets play the Patriots, I’m rooting for the Jets every time.

The bleachers are more fun than the fifty yard line.

Below deck is more fun than above deck.

And the people on the blue couch are nothing but smiles.


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I Have More Control Over My Time Than I Realize (And You Probably Do Too)

Originally posted here.

I’m taking a keen interest in mapping out my week. I’ve avoided trying to impose more structure in my week in the past because I believed there were too many extrenal variables outside of my control that would preclude me from doing so.

But when I sat down today and sketched out what my weeks look like, I realized that’s not nearly as true as I believed.

In a given week, I might do a dozen meetings, mostly over the phone, at widely varying times of day. Sometimes the conflict, sometimes they are stacked right on top of one another, and sometimes they’re just inconvenient.

But I accept those times when they’re proposed, or, worse, I set the times myself with only a passing evaluation of how it might affect my day’s flow. If I don’t agree to a meeting time that isn’t optimal for me, then the meeting doesn’t happen.

It takes two to make a meeting.

There are, of course, many external forces that impose things upon us. The most obvious external forces are usually the ones that pay our bills, whether a single employer or many clients. Myself and others have used this big external force as an excuse to not try to better structure our time, because we perceive ourselves as having very little control.

But it’s often not as true as we lead ourselves to believe. When I took a critical look at how my time gets scheduled, I found that I had much more control over what happens when than I realized– not total control, mind you, not even close– but more control than I was giving myself credit for.

Identify the external forces

I realized, too, that my days follow a fairly consistent pattern– the mornings are quieter, when not a lot of people are at New Work City yet and I’ve only received a fraction of the emails I’m destined to receive for the day. After lunchtime, more people show up, more emails arrive, and more tabs are open on the browser. I can say with near certainty that my ability to think and work lucidly on creative “maker” tasks at 9am is far better than it is at 4pm.

I can work on changing that dynamic, but I can also learn to work with that dynamic. If I know I’m going to end up distracted after lunch, then that’s when I should be setting my meetings– when I know I’m going to be dealing with communicating with other people anyway. It’s probably not that hard to do, either, because shifting suggested meetings to the afternoon from the morning is rarely a problem for others.

And it’s not about absoultes– if half of my 12-ish meetings are currently in morning time slots in a given week, reducing that from 6 to 2 would open up my creative pre-lunch time considerably.

Speculative meetings

As described in Paul Graham’s great post, speculative meetings are those which aren’t directly related to things on your critical path. Usually the phrase “grab a coffee” or a drink is involved. These meetings, while useful in aggregate and in the long term, can be a terrible distraction from your day-to-day obligations, when not scheduled properly.

So often I’ve had a call or meeting with someone, just to get to know them better, at a time when it was horribly inconvenient and I felt that I could not give that person my full attention. Same goes with catching up with a friend. I hate feeling like I want to avoid hanging out with friends simply for fear of being too distracted when the time comes because of the events unfolding that day.

So I either avoid setting speculative meetings, which makes them pile up, or I schedule those meetings and hope it works out. If, instead, I can identify an ideal time to have these meetings, and schedule everything I can into those slots, I might be able to improve this situation.

I’ve noticed that, once I hit 5pm, odds are that whatever anyone is expecting of me is going to be able to wait until tomorrow– so a lot of built up pressure from the day is relieved. I may likely not be able to return to a creative mode, however, so right at this point is an ideal time to schedule low-priority meetings and calls.

Make a plan

Given my evaluation of my week’s structure, my plan is as follows:

– Creative “maker” work before lunch. Aim to accomplish 6 Pomodoros before lunch, and be happy if I actually pull off 4 or more.
– Meetings after lunch. If it’s up to me to decide, the meeting will be at 2pm.
– Do speculative and personal phone calls and meetings at 5 or 6pm, when I am in full social/”manager” mode and the pressure is off.

I’m starting with this, and I’m accepting that I’m not going to be able to stick to it 100%. If I try to do that, I’ll fail and give up.

I’m aiming for 80%. If I can enforce the above structure with 80% efficacy, then I have to conclude I’ll have a much more efficient, manageable daily life.


Posted via web from CoStructureComment »


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Pent up

Originally posted here.

I’m seeing it show up more and more. In the voices of people who are bright, young, talented, and motivated.

People want to make the world a better place. They want to feel like the work they are doing contributes to a higher purpose– something more emotionally and morally satisfying than simply having produced something that makes money.

The problem is that most people don’t know how to act on that inclination and still pay their bills. Truth be told, there’s no shortage of unpaid ways to help people. Given the philanthropic nature of organizations dedicated to making the world better, they are inevitably focused on purpose over money.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get paid to change the world.

Some of the largest, most successful nonprofits pay tons of employees full salaries, and the people at the top aren’t hurting either. But do you think of nonprofits as places where you could make a living? I don’t.

That’s in part because corporations do their part to make it clear that they’re the ones with the money. They’re the ones with recruitment programs hooked into the universities from which impressionable young adults spill into the real world.

But they don’t have all the money, and they don’t ultimately have control over the direction of their businesses.

In Saving the World at Work, Tim Sanders posits that the millennial generation is increasingly demanding jobs that involve creating a positive impact on the world, even if it means working for less money. My generation, for all its faults, seems to be highly motivated to make the world a better place– and might even be willing to give up some extra money to do it.

But the infrastructure isn’t in place to show these people where to go and how to make a difference. Countless friends work in gigs that pay the bills but don’t satisfy their need for something more.

This is a problem.

So how do we go about solving it?

Do you want to do more than what you’re doing now?


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