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01:08 – Christina’s Background and Superpower: Multitasking and Automation
04:42 – Automation Processes: Discovery and Reconnaissance, and When Human Judgement and Input is Necessary
10:03 – Multitasking Timescales and Context Switching
16:39 – Decision-making Functions
23:28 – Being Kind to Your Busy Self and Choosing What NOT To Do
32:03 – Making Accomplishments Visible to Yourself and Having a Culture of Acknowledgement
For more discussion on congressive/ingressive behavior, see also:
GTC Episode 038: Category Theory for Normal Humans with Dr. Eugenia Cheng
Operant Conditioning Chamber (Skinner Box)
Rein: Being self-aware of how much is on your plate, how you’re feeling about it, and then being able to say no, which is really saying yes to what YOU want to do, what YOU want to spend time on, and how YOU want to live YOUR life.
Janelle: Taking the time to remember and that remembering takes time.
Jessica: Choosing the group that you’re being generative with.
Christina: UX is everything and everywhere.
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REIN: Welcome to Episode 57 of Greater Than Code. I’m your co-panelist, Rein Henrichs and I am happy to introduce Janelle Klein.
JANELLE: Hi and I’d like to introduce Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA: Good morning and I’m really excited to introduce our guest today. She is Christina Morillo. Christina is an information security and tech nerd with a background in enterprise identity and access management, network administration and information security. By day, she works as a senior program manager at the Azure Information Protection Cloud & Engineering Team at Microsoft. You might know her as the co-founder of a community for women of color in tech, which produced some wonderful stock photos of women of color on computers, which was remarkably lacking in the world and it’s a great resource. Thank you for that, Christina.
CHRISTINA: You’re welcome.
JESSICA: But today, we’re here to talk about many things, starting with what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
CHRISTINA: My superpower is multitasking.
CHRISTINA: Yeah and how did I require it? Just being in the struggle, not by choice.
JESSICA: You are a mother.
CHRISTINA: Yeah, among many other things. It came about before I was a mother. Back in my college days, I was actually working on two degrees simultaneously while I work in the full time. That’s where my ability to multitask came about.
JESSICA: How do you define multitasking?
CHRISTINA: I think for me, it’s the ability to shift your focus or slice up your focus and priorities into different chunks like a pizza. You have a full pie of things to do and being able to accomplish pretty much all of those things. A real world example would be like working full time, studying for professional development, so to speak, having more than one child, a husband, a household and having to do everything in between that comes along with that and only having one you. Unfortunately, I don’t have a [inaudible] yet to help me out so I just have to figure that out on my own.
JESSICA: You are into automation, though.
CHRISTINA: Yeah. I love to automate things or processes that don’t need to be manual. For example, if I can automate emails or even use Alexa to remind me of things. I love those things just because there’s so much to do. One of my positions, my job was to deploy an identity and access management application globally across an enterprise. Part of that was automating their on-boarding, off-boarding and access request processes like taking them from phonecall to helpdesk, helpdesk to data entry, taking that from that to click, approve, done, which saves time, more productive and saves money in the end.
JESSICA: Yeah, totally. I like it at enterprise scale when a task is repeated so many times that obviously should automate it. But I also like your examples of things that only you do and yet, automating helps you be able to do more things.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. I think it’s important when you think about establishing a new process or revising a process to start from the beginning of your thought process and think, “Can this become a repeatable a process?” or, “Is this a repeatable process?” and that’s how you know you can automate it or not. It doesn’t apply everywhere and to all the things but where it applies, I think it’s extremely helpful.
JESSICA: That ties in to the last show. Kronda is talking about making systems for herself and the first step is writing down what she does and making it repeatable, even if she’s the one who’s repeating it and then she can ask someone else to repeat it for her.
CHRISTINA: Right and I would say that’s a form of automation. I think we like to tie these words to systematic processes or applications but that’s a form of automation. As long as I am not doing it and someone else is doing it for me, I’m automating my processes.
REIN: Delegation is a form of automation. That’s interesting.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. Why not?
REIN: In my mind, when it comes automation, I’m curious of what are your processes. In my mind, you start it with writing a script for a human to do and then the human does the things in the script and then you make a computer do some of those things and the human now tells a computer to do the things and then eventually, the computer does all of the things and then you can just have a computer do the thing automatically somehow. What process do you go through, from start to finish when you have some manual task that no one really knows how to do and when you want to turn it into a thing that a computer does for you?
CHRISTINA: From experience at that company where I had to automate the processes, I first try to understand what the process is today, like what is the current state? How do you do this today, whoever the human is that’s actually doing it? I look at all the stops. Step 1, the stops. Step 2, the stops, then three, the stops and what is required from a manual perspective. I try to understand what systems we have in place today that can help me clean this manual process up.
It’s pretty much like doing discovery. I learned this new word last week — reconnaissance — so I’m going to start using that in my vocabulary because I think it’s awesome. In doing that, you have to do that recon. You have to first understand how is this thing done to then, being able to give the computer instructions. I always like to say, “You don’t understand what you’re doing.” The tech is not going to help you. It’s pretty much the people that like to throw a technical solution on top of a broken process. To try to fix something, you just end up getting garbage-in/garbage-out. The tech doesn’t fix it. I think it’s a combination of both. That’s actually is my process. I do a lot of the discovery first to understand the problem, understand how I can fix the problem. First, manually and then, how I can fix it via automating.
REIN: It’s interesting that you were talking about if you don’t know what the process is and try to tell a computer to do it, the computer will just do the wrong thing. The greatest blessing and curse of computers is they do exactly what you tell them to do.
JESSICA: Yeah and the hard part of programming is figuring out what you want the computer to do. Telling it is easy after that, possibly.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. I think that’s the hardest part — understanding and then translating that. Not to say that coding it is not difficult because it can be in certain situations but depending on how intense a solution is, it shouldn’t be but it can be. But I feel like using our human brain to think these things out or through, that’s hard.
JANELLE: I think that’s beautiful. Just me talking about the first step is to understand the problem, figure out what problem are you trying to solve and then come up with a way to first solve it manually and then automate it. If you jump too fast in implementing the solution, it’s really easy to miss the problem altogether.
CHRISTINA: Yep and we see this often, even today.
JESSICA: Yeah and if nothing else, if you threaten down the repeatable process, even if you still do it, every one of those things you wrote down as a decision, you don’t have to make again.
REIN: Yeah. It’s also interesting to me how valuable human judgment still is despite computers being able to do things a million times faster than us.
JESSICA: They can do the wrong thing over and over and over.
CHRISTINA: Yeah, exactly. I think we’re not there yet with artificial intelligence, where computers can make some judgment. I think we will be and I know they’re working on this but we’re just not there yet.
REIN: One of the hardest things for me is trying to automate processes that require human judgment. Usually, when that’s the case it’s because there is something that you can’t tell a computer to do, which there’s a lot of factors that go into making that judgment. It might be hard to just say, “Here’s a checkpoint. Talk to a human.”
JESSICA: Yeah but one thing that we forget sometimes about automation is it is totally fine to use humans to do what they’re good at like, “I’m ready to do this deployment. Somebody watch these graphs for me,” and let the human make the decision that people need to.
CHRISTINA: It’s not to say that you may not automate an entire lifecycle. It could be that there may need to be human input at some point or maybe like first stop human, then Steps 2 to 10, computer and then Step 11 maybe, output human like go pick up that paper at the printer. I don’t know. Just an example.
JESSICA: Yeah and then the automation becomes about supplying the human with the reminder like Alexa will do. Also, if it’s a decision that we need to make all these supporting information.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. Sometimes, that’s what it takes. You can take that type of shape where it’s like half-human, half-machine, like in stages. Stage 1, it can be human and machine and then Stage 2, maybe all machine, no human. It can take different shapes, I guess.
JESSICA: Yeah because we can work best when we do it together. I want to get back to the multitasking as humans thing. I had a question, when you talk about multitasking, you’re talking about doing a lot of different things in a one life. What time scale are you multitasking in? Are you doing a lot of things in a week? In a day? In a minute?
CHRISTINA: I would say, all of the above. If we’re going to break it down granularly, it’s in a day and by hour. I rely heavily on my calendars. I try to merge, instead of keeping a personal and a business. A lot of people like to separate it but I like to see my full day at a glance so what I do is I just input both of my personal to-dos tasks and reminders in my work calendar so that I can see my entire day and plan it out by hours.
I’m not extremely like one of these people that has planned every second of their day but I try to do it in half-hour to 60 minutes slots so I know that I have allotted two hours for, let say this conversation to me. But I know that at three, I have a meeting and I know that at 3:30, I have to pay a bill. Then I know that at five, I have to remember to book that appointment. That’s my process and flow and that’s what allows me to multitask so I can do a little bit of personal and some business throughout the day so that I can focus and be productive and then sprinkle some more personal around my afternoon, evening and stuff like that.
REIN: Do you have any suggestions for becoming better at context switching?
JANELLE: I was going to ask that same thing. Essentially, I was just sitting here listening to this thinking, “Wow, this is a major superpower,” because I imagine if I try to apply what you just described to my life, I would explode because I’m so not used to operating that way with larger task that require a lot more focus. I’m just curious what type of impacts you’ve seen from shifting focus specifically on restarting a task and refreshing your brain with that context? Are there things that you do to make that brain-refresh easier?
CHRISTINA: I wouldn’t say that it’s all easy. I think it is difficult. I had grown used to it. I think at times, I make sure that I do take a break. I think that’s super important to me. I actually taking my time for lunch because what I notice is that when I try to multitask too much and let’s say I’m eating while I’m working, I just get burned out. My goal every day is to try to avoid getting burned out because I feel it. It really takes a toll. I try to take a break. I work at my own pace.
I think it’s important to understand that you have this schedule but you may not accomplish everything that you plan today and that’s okay, unless you have a deadline, where you may have to pay your credit card bill today because they’re going to charge you with late fee, then get that them today. But if it’s something that can wait until Friday or maybe you’re free to do it on Sunday because you have more time on Sunday, then be flexible. I just think it’s important to be flexible and not be so hard on yourself. That’s what works for me. It doesn’t make me feel like a failure if I can’t accomplish everything on my to-do.
A friend of mine is actually doing it and she went analog. She’s doing it on notebook and she carves out her day in squares, like by priority level. That’s a lot for me. I’m not there yet. She’s very, very strict and disciplined. I just try to play it by ear and see how am I flow with the day, so to speak by just keeping my top priority items, top of mind.
REIN: It’s interesting for me because when I was younger, I used to think that making a reminder for myself was a sign of weakness like my brain should just remember all the things at all times. As I’ve grown older, I realize that I need that help. I need the assistance to be able to keep everything all the plates spinning at the same time. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve come from a meeting directly into another meeting and I’m the one owning the agenda for the meeting but I don’t remember what the meeting supposed to be about because I didn’t take good notes or there wasn’t a clear agenda set and I just floundered for the first five minutes and it was a really bad meeting.
CHRISTINA: Yeah. That’s difficult. First of all, I never try to put back to back meetings. Sometimes it happens but what I do try is I try to take, even if it’s just bullet points. I tend to overprepare. I’m a little bit typing when it comes to stuff like that. I don’t like to get caught. I try to prepare as best as I can. For some reason, I don’t like to wing it. Do you know what I mean? I like a little bit more structure. I can wing it but it just takes too much energy so I like to be a little bit more set up but I totally understand what you’re saying. It’s difficult, especially when it’s a meeting that this could have been accomplished in four bullet points.
REIN: One tip that I’ve learned is always try to keep a five-minute buffer in between meetings so when meetings end at 55 till and not on the hour.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. I agree. I’ll be [inaudible] to 10 minutes. I try at least 30 minutes but I need to do decompress a little bit more.
REIN: Whenever there’s a meeting that really runs on and I show up a minute late, I’m just completely frazzled so I’m learning that I just have to not do that.
CHRISTINA: Yeah, that’s a good point.
JESSICA: Sometime you have to pee.
CHRISTINA: There you go. You know, if I’m feeling like that, I actually walk out and excuse myself from meeting, go to the restroom and pee, wash my hands, stand there and then just to decompressed and then go back.
JESSICA: Totally. I do that.
REIN: One thing I have learned that may be helpful to other people and if you’re in that situation, where you forgot what you’re doing and you’re trying to pick up the pieces. Stop and take the time to actually remember and don’t just try to muddle through it. It will only end up worse.
JESSICA: Oh, yeah. It’s like in public speaking. It’s fine to pause and be silent for a little while. It’s much better than saying, “Umm,” or using filler words. Somebody told me once.
REIN: — Where I come in a minute later because I just got out of a meeting and it was late and everyone was stressed out. I just have to say, “Look, I need to take three minutes to review my notes and then we can get started,” and apologize but if I don’t do that, if I just said, “Try to build the bridge as I’m crossing the river,” that kind of thing is a disaster.
CHRISTINA: Yep, I agree. That’s a good point.
REIN: One thing that I was thinking about is a lot of the times when we are building out automation systems, we think of ourselves as the part of the system that’s in control and what I’m sort of realizing with those systems where the computer does a bunch of things and then it needs a human to help, like a human has to go look at this dashboard or a human needs to make a decision. It’s better to think of it as the automation system is the thing in command and the human is just a decision point because then, I think for a variety of reasons, it helps prevent the human from having to feel like they have to own the entire process and lets the person just take an action and then go back to their day.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. A perfect example of that is in identity access management, it encompasses like when you start a new job and you have to get your log-in and your email set up and all of that stuff, it’s that process. Back in the day, people would have like a helpdesk or system administrator to manually set up your credentials and maybe get a ticket from the helpdesk ticketing system and then close it and get an email approve and all that stuff.
When I say automated on-boarding, it’s leveraging systems API and when I enter these details and I click this submit, what’s going to happen is that the service economy system will automatically go to the system to create the credential using the information that it has and then it’s going to pass an email or a notification to the approver listed based on some tables and complexity and say, “Jane Smith, is it okay for Bob to have access?” and Jane does says, “Sure.” She just clicks on a button that says, “Yes,” or, “No,” and that either let the workflow continue or stops the workflow in its track. Jane doesn’t really have to type anything in. There’s a stopping point where her interaction is necessary. The process is still automated but still with human interaction.
REIN: This is really cool because I think it ties in a little bit to multitasking context switching and how do you present the context you need to make a decision or to switch on to a new task as efficiently as possible.
CHRISTINA: Yeah and I think that one of the techniques that I use is asking in the form of a question. If I say, what do I need Jane Smith to do? What is her involvement? “Jane, I need you to approve this person having access to this resource.”
REIN: We’re literally talking about user experiences on here. We’re talking about, “What does Jane need as a user to do Jane’s job? What should their experience be of doing this in performing this task?”
CHRISTINA: Exactly. I never knew that it was that. See, that’s [inaudible]. That’s in my bio and now I just —
REIN: This falls into my, ‘everything is UI philosophy,’ so I’m happy about that.
JANELLE: I’ve been thinking about this like a chain of decision making functions. For each decision I need to make, I’ve got inputs for that decision and I may need to do some tasks in order to create these inputs that go into that decision I have to make. When I decide something, then I end up with these outputs and I need to make sense of those outputs. I think of this workflow of decision making functions and you’re basically designing this workflow system based on breaking down all these human component parts and stuff. It’s just a brilliant insight. I’m really loving this.
CHRISTINA: Right. It can get complicate quickly or it can look super simple. Let’s say you ordered a pair of sneakers at Nike.com, I’m sure thought that’s easy for them. It look so easy for us, the process is super simple: you pick your size, you add to cart, you check out, input your credit card or your PayPal or whatever and then your order is done. Voila. It’s magic. But imagine the processes that are happening in the background that we never see, where the warehouse gets notification or whatever it takes away from the inventory. It’s just amazing. It’s so fascinating.
JESSICA: Have you ever bought customs sneakers from Nike.com? They are so awesome. I kind of pair it with stars on one side and stripes on the inside. It’s a really impressive UI.
CHRISTINA: No, I haven’t but I think I’m going to have to. I actually ordered a custom sneakers for my husband and he really like them.
REIN: Talking about quality workflows and decision points and all of that, reminds me a lot of state machines and one thing that I’ve noticed is that whenever you’re building out a workflow like this, where there are decision points and you have to choose a path. Then based on where you are, choose another path and things like that. Often, we just do it in an implicit way, where we don’t model the state machine. We just think about the decisions we have to make in detail. One of the things that I found extremely helpful is to just draw out a flowchart, draw out a state machine, look at it, share that, make sure everyone agrees that this is indeed the process we’re modeling and the mental model we want to have of it.
CHRISTINA: I like that. I love flowcharts by the way, especially when you’re building these processes. I love the flowcharts. I feel like I’m a visual person so I like to see, so that I can better understand how things flow from top to bottom or end to end. I think that’s a really brilliant recommendation.
REIN: And you can make this really useful. We have an on-boarding process for a new customer and for that, the flowchart has points where we color it based on like, “This is a thing a customer needs to do so it’s blue. This is a thing engineering needs to do so it’s green.”
JESSICA: Then there’s this implicit arrow from every shape in that flowchart that says, “In case of failure, contact the human.”
CHRISTINA: I need to take a flowcharting class.
REIN: It’s so interesting to me one of the overall topics so far has been, “How can we present information so that humans can gain context well?” The color coding there just means that you can look at the flowchart and see more in five seconds than you could have otherwise.
JESSICA: I have a question about your experience. One thing you mentioned that’s something that helps you with your multitasking of doing too many things is letting yourself not accomplish everything that you hope to that day. Specifically you said, not feel you’re a bad person for that. What was your phrase?
CHRISTINA: Yes and [inaudible] that you’re a failure.
CHRISTINA: I think we’re extremely hard on ourselves. I know I am personally and I feel like I’m supposed to be doing a lot without taking into consideration the things that happen that are out of my control like one of my children are sick or something or whatever, like the monkey wrench days. Then I feel that I catch myself or I found myself feeling such a failure like, “Oh, my God. I didn’t do everything that’s on my own list,” and I’m just like I have more work to do.
I’ve been really intentional about giving myself that break or that flexibility to say like, “Listen, I didn’t do it today. It’s fine. I didn’t die. The world didn’t end. I could get it done tomorrow. Let it go,” and it worked. It’s actually working because I’m giving myself that room to maybe say, “You know what? I am not going to do A, B and C because I need to focus on this task at work,” or I want to get ahead of my schedule or ahead with this work or this project that I have. I’m going to focus on it for two days and pick other things up in three days and that’s okay.
JESSICA: That’s another thing so you’re deliberately choosing things not to do.
CHRISTINA: Yes, I have. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I, we started women of color in tech chat. We started it as a Twitter chat. We initially did it because we felt that we didn’t see representation in tech. We didn’t see this visual representation of people that who look like us. We’re both from New York City. Our family were for both first generation. Our families are from Dominican Republic and we’re both educated and we both have careers in technology.
We started on this journey and out of that came the idea for the woman of color in tech stock photoshoot project and all of that. With that, that took a life of its own. We started getting calls from journalist and to appear in newspapers and magazines and all that other stuff. At that point, I felt like, “Oh, I needed to do this.” I needed to jump into the game full force and attend as many events as possible and say yes to as many panels as possible and do all the interviews and response at every email. What happened was at the time, my job sucked so I got burned out. Extremely burned out and I just cannot function, like I was done.
Last year was a really difficult year for me. At the beginning of the year, not really a New Year’s resolution but I said, “Okay, Christina. This year, you’re going to get a new job and you need to focus on you.” You need to shift your mindset from the ‘say yes’ mindset to when you say no, you’re actually saying yes to yourself because I thought a lot of guilt. I felt like I needed to help people and mentor people that reached out to me for mentorship, like that was my duty. I started to say no. I got the job — my current company — and I said I really need to focus. I really need to get this. It’s a great opportunity. It’s my dream job. My dream come true and it just worked out. It’s a remote position. It’s beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s everything I wanted so don’t mess it up.
I just had to say no and I didn’t want my fate to be full with external things and it’s worked out great. I’ve been able to focus on my job, focus on my family and that’s it. I just said, “This year is about you,” and also, considering all the things that are happening outside like our current political climate, the world is falling apart, I don’t want to add that heavy burden but it’s been great so far. It’s working and I think it’s super important. I know everyone is like say yes to opportunity but I’m like, “No, not if it’s going to cost me my sanity and my peace of mind.” I rather be the snail — slow and steady.
REIN: Man, there are so many good things in there.
JESSICA: Yeah. It sounds like you had a time when the thing to do is default to yes and let more things into your world and then you reach the time when the thing to do is start saying no so that you could grow the things that were already in your world and most important.
CHRISTINA: And most important. Right, exactly and just inching back slowly, like being very… I want to use the word strategic but I feel like that world sound a little bit cold —
JESSICA: But it did and somebody tweeted the other day that, “I’ll know that that’s your strategy when you tell me what you are not doing.”
CHRISTINA: You know, I think it’s really easy to get caught up, especially you’re on social media and you’re in tech and everything and you think so many people are doing so much and you feel like you have to be part of this community and all that. It’s really easy to get caught up into that whirlwind of stuff. It’s easy to forget what it is that you really want to do? What is it that you love doing? What do you feel like doing? Do you feel like working on a side project? Do you feel like contributing to open source? It’s okay to say no. It’s fine.
But if you’re on social media and you’re part of the tech ecosystem, it’s not fine. It’s just like society pushes you towards like this is what you need to do, to build your skills sets. This is what you need to do. Guess what? I don’t feel like it. I actually view that attitude, being from New York City, we don’t like to be pushed around or bossed around so we kind of push back a little bit. I think it’s serving me greatly right now because I needed that.
JANELLE: I feel like there are so many people that need that. I’m sitting here thinking of how many times the story has probably echoed through time of getting to the point where you’re just completely overwhelmed and completely breaking and then you see somebody that needs your help and you’re like, “I have to help them. I have to get involved. I have to contribute my opinion. I’m needed in so many ways and if I go away, then I’ll feel bad. If I say no, I feel bad,” so you push yourself all the way to the breaking point and then it’s like, “All right. I have to hit the reset button here,” and that it’s actually the [inaudible] thing to do to say no and getting to the point of pushing back and saying no. Anyway, I’m sitting here glowing as I’m listening to you, things you’re saying that just makes me so happy to hear.
CHRISTINA: I was listening to this audiobook, not tech-related. It’s from an actress. Her name is Gabrielle Union. Sometimes, I listen and do other things like take Japanese lessons and do other things to take me out of the box, to free my mind. Listening to her audiobook, she said something that really resonated and she said, “People don’t know what to do with you if you are not trying to assimilate.” I thought that was such a great quote because I have find myself this year, having the year pushing back and saying, I’m not going to somebody. I’m not going to do what people expect. I’m not going to be that hacker with a black hoodie just because you think that’s what a hacker with the black hoodie looks like. It’s okay if I get that pushed back. It’s okay if nobody wants to be my friend. It’s okay if I’m out here in the world because I feel like it’s so much about quality over quantity.
If I have this one friend that appreciates who I am and what I bring to the table, I’m good. That’s all I need. I’m okay. If I have none or if Twitter doesn’t love me or if I don’t have followers, I don’t care about that. That’s not important to me but the five followers that engage with me are super important to me. It’s kind of like in that context.
REIN: This is a journey that I’ve definitely been on as well and there’s so much of what you’re talking about resonates with me but there are a couple of things that I have found to be really helpful. One of them is making sure that all the work you do is visible, especially to yourself because you may not always get all the stuff done that you want to but you should be able to look back and see what you did accomplish and not have it hidden. That’s why on our teams, we have a rule that if you’re working on something, there has to be a story for it because we want to make sure that all of the work that people are doing is acknowledged.
CHRISTINA: You know, that’s an interesting point and it’s great that you brought that up because I find that for some of us, it’s really difficult to pat ourselves on the back. I know that is something that I struggle with. I think there’s a thin line between the patting yourself on the back and boasting and it’s really, really hard for me to acknowledge out loud what I’ve done or what I’ve contribute or how far I’ve come. Then there are moments where I remember like just something that jumps in my head that I thought and I’m like, “Wow, I’ve really done a lot. I should be proud of myself. I’m the woman, you know?” I think I should do that more often. I guess, how do you pat yourself on the back without feeling like you’re not humble. I don’t know if that makes sense but —
REIN: It does and that brings me to my next point, which is get someone else to do it for you. We try really, really hard to have a culture of acknowledgment, where we don’t just say, “You did a thing. Thank you.” We try to say, “You did the thing and it helped me.” For instance, I had too much work on my plate last week and I was able to delegate some of it to someone else on my team and they did it better than I would have in the first place and I think that when I said specifically, “You know, I want to thank you because you really made my week better and I was able to focus on other things that I had to do and I don’t think I would have been able to do it without you.” Intentionally, trying to create a culture where you would thank people for the work they do, eventually comes back to you, is what I —
CHRISTINA: I agree and I find it easier to acknowledge and thank other people. I definitely agree with that. I like that reminder.
JANELLE: It’s like the gratitude culture, basically.
JESSICA: And I love that, Rein because it explicitly acknowledges the generativity in what the other person did.
CHRISTINA: Right and you’re kind of [inaudible] both of your cups, right?
JESSICA: Yeah, it raises that level of output of the whole team. It’s not just about what you did. It’s about how what you did helped everybody else do stuff too.
REIN: Yeah and that’s why I try not to just say thank you. I try to be specific about what it meant to be.
CHRISTINA: Yeah. On the flipside, working as part of a team that I always try to think not what would help me out but what would help the team. Not like, “Oh, I need to do this because this will going to help me get promoted.” No. Put the team first like what would make our lives easier? What are the low-hanging fruits or what is our biggest pain point? It could be creating a document or maybe automating something or creating a landing page for us to whatever, creating a new SharePoint site. It’s something that would make our lives collectively easier. I try to think from that perspective mostly. I think we tend to do that. Especially women, I mean men too, but I feel like women always put others before us. That can be good and bad but I try to take the good from there.
JESSICA: Yeah, we have words for that. It’s congressive and ingressive. Ingressive as advancing yourself and congressive as doing things together to advance in the group.
CHRISTINA: I love that.
JANELLE: I’ve just been listening to this and so much beautiful stuff has come out of this conversation. One thing that you said that really struck me of just a story of my life is that people don’t know what to do with you if you’re not trying to assimilate. I don’t never fit in. My whole life, I’m struggled with loneliness and trying to do things for people so that they would like me, so they would love me and give me that feedback, give me that gratitude. I was trying to earn their affection so that I could be seen.
I feel like that’s where a lot of that pull comes from of not wanting to say no because we need that love, we need to be seen, we need to feel like we matter and being invisible, this stuff is hard. But at the same time, eventually I got to the point of just having this rebellious energy of, “I don’t care anymore. I’m going to say no. I’m going to do what I want. I’m going to be who I want to be and screw you all!”
There’s a balance between things because I basically shifted to that mode 15 years ago and I recently got to the point in that kind of mode where I ran all the way off the cliff with essentially being kind of an antibody respond to most of my former self because I turned into this table flipper, rebellious energy, ‘I’m going to go do things my own way.’ There’s a balance in that though and I feel like if you can create this gratitude culture as a precedent of filling the love tanks of the people, it takes love energy to do our jobs. Even though it’s not something that’s necessarily easy to measure or to put metrics around, how does it ever matter?
CHRISTINA: Yeah, it absolutely does and I think that that’s just a part of being human. I think we all crave, even if we say we don’t crave attention and validation and like you mentioned, feeling like we do matter but I think it’s important to understand that when you’re feeling that you don’t matter and you’re feeling a little bit sad about that, it’s important to catch yourself and feeling this way and acknowledging and saying, “Yes, I feel this way,” but then countering it and saying like, “You know, I do matter. I am important and my voice does matter.”
That’s what I noticed and I noticed that similar to you, I also catch myself like, “Why do I care if that person doesn’t see me.” I try to drill down like, “Why is this important to me? Why isn’t what I feel from myself enough? Why do I need external validation? How does that change who I am?” I started to ask myself these questions because all my youth, I was driven by the same thing. It was important to me. What other people saw in me was important and I think with age, as I got older, I started to say, “I don’t have time for this.”
When I started to value the relationships that I do have with people and know that, “These people love me. I have only two people love me? My husband and my kids?” I’m fine with that. But I think it starts with a lot of introspection and feeling you have to feel that. You know what? My voice does matter. I don’t care what you say. I matter. I’m important to myself and that’s really all there is to it. I think even though with social media and the internet, it now really exploits our psychological weaknesses and they knew that when they did it — all the validation that is part of just social media in general: likes, loves, favorites, retweets.
REIN: Yeah. They’re a giant awful Skinner box.
CHRISTINA: Yeah, exactly.
JESSICA: What? Wait, they’re what?
REIN: Skinner boxes. You teach a monkey to press a button and get food, that kind of thing.
JESSICA: I know you are going to bring psychology into this somewhere.
JESSICA: That’s a Rein theme. An important one. I called these as puffs. They were like little puffs that push you up just a tiny bit but they come from strangers so they’re not really that deep but you can get dependent on them.
CHRISTINA: Yeah, it’s an addiction. You become addicted. Even though like swipe down to refresh or pull down to refresh. There was a really good Wired article that I read a couple weeks ago about the engineers who actually create all of these features wanting no parts of any of it. Pretty much going off the grid, hacking their phones so that they couldn’t download any social media application onto their phones, just like crazy stuff and these are the engineers that created these features. Again, these are the engineers that created these features and they see the damaging effects.
REIN: There’s one study about endorphin levels while people tweets are being liked.
CHRISTINA: You know, they should. That’s a good point. I’m sure they probably won’t talk about it and if there isn’t, there should be. It’s addictive. It’s like an addiction.
JESSICA: Hold on. I’m Googling that.
CHRISTINA: It’s actually pretty fascinating, though. What did you call it, the web box?
REIN: Skinner box.
CHRISTINA: It’s actually pretty fascinating, I guess from a psychological perspective. I don’t know anything about psychology. I would be interested in reading more about the techniques they use to convince us to do these stuff or convince us to stay on our phones for two hours straight just refreshing.
REIN: The technical term is operant conditioning chamber.
JESSICA: I learned that word the other day — operant conditioning. It’s when you get trained that you do one thing and another thing follows.
REIN: Yeah, it’s basically training or learning through word and punishment.
JESSICA: That’s very boring compared to learning through creativity.
REIN: Skinner is operant, push a button and get food. Classical is like the Pavlovian response, where you learn to associate the ringing of a bell with food, even though you’re not being rewarded for ringing a bell.
JESSICA: Oh, it’s just like correlation — this happens then this happens?
REIN: Yeah, so basically the bell is a neutral stimulus that is been associated with something positive through correlation.
JESSICA: That would be like, “Whoop!” Notification sounds?
JESSICA: And then you start to consolidate because it is going to be so tasty?
REIN: Yeah, for sure.
JESSICA: Or wake up, I hear, “Twoot! Twoot!” in the middle of the night at 3 AM and I go, “A message is going to be great. No Jess, go back to sleep.”
CHRISTINA: That’s why you need to turn all of notification off all the time.
JESSICA: Yeah, I totally do. I just forgot last night but I succeeded that I did not look at it and it was a good thing because in the morning, when I did look at it, it said, “Oh, sorry. That wasn’t for you.”
REIN: It was dopamine. I was almost right.
JESSICA: This might be a good segue to tell you that this episode is brought to you by Upside. One of DCs fastest growing tech startups. Upside is looking for innovative engineers who want to disrupt the norm and they’re always hiring. Check out Upside.com/Team to learn more.
REIN: That was amazing.
CHRISTINA: What was?
JESSICA: I love doing commercials.
REIN: This brings us to reflections, the part of the show where we reflect on things, which is why it’s called reflections. See? I think mine is really everything you’re saying about being self-aware of how much is on your plate, how you’re feeling about it and then being able to say no and how that’s really saying yes to what you want to do and what you want to spend time on and how you want to live your life. That’s huge and that’s something that I really need to spend more time working on my own life.
JANELLE: So many amazing, beautiful things in the show. I’ve just been sitting here blown away. I know I keep saying that but so many insights and things that just resonate with a lot of the struggles in my life and I’m really excited to share this with everyone because I’m just sitting here and going, “Man, everybody needs to hear this.” That’s pretty amazing.
One of the things that struck me that I haven’t gone and got all excited about already, was your comment about taking the time to remember and that remembering takes time. We talked about setting up buffers between meetings and how long of a buffer do I actually need. If I’ve got inputs that I may be prepared for, how long does it take me to prep those inputs and if I need to spend time thinking about that, don’t just rush ahead and start doing it, even if you’re running behind.
Take the time to stop and think because it’s only going to get worse and remembering that thinking takes time and the way that you manage your workflow with these human processes, it’s like there’s this implicit undercurrent realization of thought-work itself. What is the thinking that needs to happen in order to get through this process? Then once you have your process flow down your workflow of your thought-work, then you can figure out how to automate various pieces of it but first just see it. First, just understand the problem you’re trying to solve. That was just beautiful.
JESSICA: I love how this episode started talking about multitasking and Christina described how she’s good at doing a lot of things, then it got to talking about how she’s good at doing fewer things. There’s a time for inviting everything in and there’s a time for when you choose the group that you’re going to focus on. It feels selfish to say no but really, Christina isn’t saying, “I’m not going to help anyone. This is about me.” She’s saying, “I am going to help my group at work and my family and a few other specific people who are actually meaningful to me, instead of trying to help everybody a little bit in the way that they think I’m good for.” It’s about choosing the group that you’re being generative with.
JANELLE: And taking responsibility for your life and how you want to run it.
JESSICA: Yeah and it’s still congressive. It’s not about advancing her. It’s about advancing people but we can more effectively advance people when we’re not trying to advance everybody in the world who asks for mentorship or anything else.
CHRISTINA: Just a reminder that you can’t pour from an empty cup.
JESSICA: Yeah, so you matter. As a mother, that’s totally part of my philosophy of I have to be happy in order to keep you happy so yes, I’m going to travel one week a month. I know it’s not your preference but trust me, all of our worlds are better this way.
CHRISTINA: Exactly. One thing that stood out was that Rein mentioned UX and I feel that I often forget that UX is everything and everywhere. It becomes transparent to those of us that are not looking but when you really think about it, the user experience is everything, no matter what you have or no matter what fancy tech is working behind the scenes. If the user experience isn’t there, nothing is going to work pretty much. That was a good reminder to keep that top of mind all the time.
REIN: There’s a quote that I like to drop every time this comes up and I wish I could remember who it’s by but the quote is that a computer, to the people using it is not the hard drive or power system or anything like that. It’s the monitor and the keyboard and the mouse. That’s what it means to use a computer.
JESSICA: Those are representation that we interact with.
REIN: All that other stuff is not the interface. The interface, what it means to be a computer in terms of how you interact with one is it has a monitor and a keyboard and a mouse. Everything else is just an implementation detail.
JANELLE: This was so much fun. Christina you are a beautiful human. I rather [inaudible]. It brought me so much happiness being you talk about these core of things that matter about life and love and taking responsibility for being a happy whole human. It’s what I get out of the show.
CHRISTINA: Thanks. I feel that I’m working progress. I’m not all energy-producing every day but again, that’s okay. It’s part of growing and learning, I guess, just kind of discovering. I think it’s important to stay open at all times. From a mental perspective, stay open to different ideas on what makes you happy, basically or what makes you feel good because sometimes you have to do things that don’t necessarily make you happy, like wake up very early in the morning. Just follow what makes you feel good and if something doesn’t make you feel good, then you have to remove it from the equation.
REIN: I want to do another reflection just so I can name drop Chomsky and make Jessica happy.
JESSICA: Yay! Philosophers. I totally make fun of you but I actually really like that you bring philosophy and all these non-tech references into the discussion.
REIN: We were talking about Skinner. Skinner’s idea on human agency was that much more is determined by the environment, than by human agency. In terms of our ability to create the environment around us. Skinner thought that was mostly just the environment acting on us, rather than the other way around. Noam Chomsky, who I may have mentioned a couple times, reviewed Skinner’s book about verbal behavior. His argument was that if you look at how children learn language, the pace at which children learn language far outstrips their actual experience of language. He called it the lexical explosion. I think that this is a phenomena that doesn’t happen just in language acquisition. If you look at human capacity, I think in general, it far outstrips the mere behavioral concerns of what in the environment has impinge on us and we as humans, our capacity far outstrips our learning histories and that’s really interesting to me.
JESSICA: Lexical explosion.
REIN: That’s [inaudible] for the podcast. I’m now realizing.
JESSICA: Can we use that as our fake name next episode?
JESSICA: Yes. “Welcome to lexical explosion.” That’s going to be great. Christina, thank you so much for being our guest today.
CHRISTINA: Thank you. Thanks for having me. This was a lot of fun.
JESSICA: If you just can’t get enough of Greater Than Code, then donate any amount to our Patreon because we’re mostly listeners-supported and then you can join us on Slack. It’s my favorite Slack. It’s the only one besides my work Slack that I totally check all day long because people there are so nice and the discussions are really great. It’s a wonderful place to ask hard questions that you’re not sure where to ask.”
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