Giving and Giving Back

Originally posted here.

A lot of people have given me and NWC so much to get us to where we are today. Hundreds of people have poured their time, money, blog posts, tweets, car rides, manual labor, expertise, advice, spare belongings, weekends, emotion, energy, and so much more into something that they believe in.

For many, this is an investment into something that they intend to continue to participate in and benefit from. We’re now a much bigger group of people who all have a shared interest in making NWC succeed. For some, the help they’ve given NWC has been purely out of an interest in seeing it become a success– even if, because of geographic, professional, or other circumstances, they might never be able to participate in or benefit from it directly themselves.

People have done things that I’ve barely had a chance to thank them for. There are emails in my inbox waiting for responses that just have to wait.

I don’t really know how to properly repay or even acknowledge the people who deserve it. I’m certain, actually, that I can’t.

This frustrates me a lot.

One thing I know I can do is to continue to do everything in my power to make NWC what we all want and need it to be. It will never be perfect, but it will always be ours, and I’ll always be working on making it a better and better.

We open for business on Wednesday. A lot of the space won’t be pretty, and a lot of it won’t be finished. But it will improve every single day.

Starting Wednesday, I will be setting out to give back. Not just to the people who have helped to date, but to people just discovering us for the first time. The best thing I can do, I think, is to pay it forward and try my best to be what everyone expects me to be.

Thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done for me and for NWC. I’m humbled by your overwhelming love and support. I can’t say I’m convinced that I deserve it all, but I’m going to do my best to earn it.


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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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Every Town has a Public Library

Originally posted here.

Public libraries are everywhere, all over the world. Odds are, wherever you are, you’re within a short distance of one… perhaps even walking or biking distance.

When one thinks of a library, one might immediately think of stacks of books— still useful, but becoming increasingly marginalized in today’s digital world.

But libraries serve all sorts of functions. They organize free events. They let you host your events. They almost universally have free internet. They even have computers to connect to that internet, in case you don’t own one (and millions of Americans don’t).

Any town of a decent size in America has a public library, and they’re all paid for with tax dollars.

Why do we pay taxes to keep library doors open? Paying taxes to things like police and fire stations, transportation, infrastructure, security, all make obvious sense— but what critical function does a library serve that makes it such a staple of every city?

It’s historically played an important part in bridging literacy gaps, and has helped make information more accessible to the masses. While not formally part of a public school system which has its own buildings and libraries, the public library seems to exist as an optional, open public service for those who elect to learn more on their own. The non-compulsory part of public education.

The discussion on the future of the library is a fascinating one, for certain. What I am more curious about, personally, is the potential of new constructs which might follow in this path.

If it weren’t yet obvious, I’m thinking about where this intersects with coworking.

Right now, countless coworking spaces are popping up all over the world. They’re not publicly funded, but they do exist because of the largely altruistic ambitions of their founders— independent, passionate individuals who, for the most part, don’t expect or seek to take personal profit from their efforts.

One of the challenges for coworking space owners is finding a sustainable model for the future. Without the ability to generate enough revenue to pay people to run the space, spaces must continually depend on the good will of someone willing to donate their time to keep things running and breaking even.

This may be a sustainable model unto itself, if we presume that a good healthy coworking community should be predicated upon a minimum amount of passion and good will.

But for many it’s a struggle. Coworking spaces need to generate enough revenue to, at the very least, pay the bills, and that means a significant amount of work has to be put into marketing, accounting, management, maintenance, and more. A coworking space that had enough money to pay for those services, I believe, would be truly sustainable.

Getting a coworking space to the point where it generates enough revenue to pay the salaries of the people who run it, however, is a high bar to set— perhaps requiring a size or price point high enough that it compromises the needs of the community.

Where, then, might coworking spaces find a sustainable model to follow?

What if we started thinking about the public service coworking spaces provide to their area? The economic development they facilitate, the flexible, affordable workspace they provide, the community events they host (often for free), the sanity they provide for lonely people working form home— these are a true public good, and increasingly important in our current world.

What would a coworking space look like if it were publicly funded? What if it were thought of as serving a similarly critical public service as a public library?

Could they be free? Could they help underserved and unserved communities? Could they be established in suburbs to encourage people to telecommute and save on carbon, gas, traffic, and aggravation?

These and so many more questions are still outstanding. I’m looking forward to figuring out how to answer some of these questions.

Libraries are changing, the workplace is changing, and education is changing. How and when and how much for the better they change is up to us to figure out.


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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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Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs

Brad Neuberg started coworking in part because he wanted more structure and balance in his life.

As much as he wanted a place where he could work with other people, he also wanted to have a place where he could leave his work behind at 5:45pm every day.

Most coworking spaces since then have not adopted that emphasis on balance and structure.

Surely, for many spaces, imposing a uniform time of day when everyone stops working just won’t work, and shouldn’t be implemented— everyone works differently.

But what makes coworking really compelling is that it represents a set of needs for a new group of people who reside ahead of the curve in the workplace— people who have much more autonomy and control over their work lives than what we’re used to accepting as the standard.

And one need those people are going to have is help managing that newfound autonomy.

Because without some constraints, even self-imposed, complete autonomy can become unhealthy.

I just worked 16 hours straight, mostly because I’ve taken on more responsibilities than I should— but did I really need to work those 16 hours, or did I simply work those 16 hours because nobody told me it’s time to go home?

Workaholism is a threat that grows as the number of people working independently grows. Similarly, the threat of information addiction grows as the Internet grows as well— the more unfettered access we get to increasingly relevant information, via Twitter and SMS and RSS and the like, the more tempted we will be to let these things take over.

More on that later.

In both instances, we are encountering a challenge not dissimilar from what society dealt with in the early 1900’s with cereal.

Without getting into too much detail, here’s what happened: one cereal company decided to put a little hint of cane sugar in their cereal, which for some reason they weren’t already doing. People loved it, so somebody else made a cereal with a little more sugar.

People liked the cereal with more sugar, so they bought that one.

Before you knew it, you had Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

It’s too much of a good thing. A little sugar in your cereal? Harmless and nice to have. A little more sugar in your cereal? Mostly harmless and an even better experience.

But Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs? Now you’ve gone too far.

Twitter, if not carefully managed properly, could be the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs of information: a constant heavy barrage of bits of data that leave you distracted, unable to think straight, and downright jittery.

Same with finding yourself in control of your work life and, further, finding something you’re really passionate about.

The only thing I do that I’m not really that passionate about is my day job. Everything else— managing NWC, writing I’m Outta Here, starting the Runway Project, running a panel at SXSW, helping run BarCampNYC4, building the CoSP coalition, how could I resist? Each one of these things gets me so excited that I couldn’t imagine going home at 5:45pm and watching TV with my roommates.

Dedicating a lot of time to these things is great, but without restraints, without some sort of counterbalance, it’s not healthy.

It’s workaholism. And I know I’m not alone.

Brad’s coworking group at the Spiral Muse was as much about not working as it was about working. It put work in it’s place.

I’d like to revisit this, so we can all lead healthier, happier, more balanced lives.

What do you think? Are you in the same boat as me? What shall we do about it?

Look at that; I created myself another project 🙂


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