Serenity and the Art of Microsoft Serfdom

I've been taking a short timeout to look forward to the year ahead and just to let some thoughts percolate a little. Most companies encourage their employees to set down some commitments or objectives for the year ahead on a professional level, and this is a good thing, right? It helps to focus the mind, prioritise and manage conflicts and measure performance at an end-of-year review. But we rarely take the time to do the same for our personal life. I truly want to set time aside on a regular basis for a little self-appraisal. To look at who I am and who I want to be. To be intentional about my life and not have life simply be something that happens to me.

As I took a quick lunchtime walk around the campus here in Redmond and enjoyed the brisk air and mountain views, it reminded me how much of a rush everyone is in. In just a few short minutes, I saw several drivers speeding around campus in a mad dash to get to the next meeting, someone reading a book on work/life balance whilst they sped-walk to their next building, the general hubbub of people speed-talking their way through lunchtime meetings, and literally nobody else taking time out. This is a campus filled with people in the prime years of their life, and everyone is speeding through their 20s/30s in the mad race to work hard / play hard. The upshot is that I know too many people who have been burnt out by this lifestyle, and even more who are tetchy, stressed and exhausted by the unsurmountable workload.

I wish I had some straightforward answers to this - I could then write the next self-help book that would sell by the truckload and retire early to some luxury yacht moored just within WiFi range of beautiful coastline. In the meantime, I've put together a much more humble set of personal objectives that I'm going to try to live by.

  • Work Smarter / Play Smarter. The antithesis of work hard / play hard. I want to create space in my life for the important things: my family, church, friends. I don't want to miss out on seeing my daughters grow and change. I want to spend less time firefighting and more time being impactful about the work I do. I want to be more creative in planning time at both work and home, doing more with less, leaving new unfilled spaces.
  • Serenity. This doesn't come naturally to me - I'm the classic archetypal personality profile for the rushing lifestyle I mentioned earlier. But when I'm forced to create space and time for self-reflection (and it usually takes someone or something to force me), I find the time more effective and impactful than any active task I could actually be doing. I come away refreshed, calmer and much more able to give an earthed view rather than simply a knee-jerk reaction.
  • Clear the Decks. I'm yet another Microsoft person who's been reading Getting Things Done, a personal effectiveness book by David Allen. One of the things that really resonated with me is how all the undone tasks at the end of the day eat away at your mental wellbeing. Clearing the decks, or at least the very act of listing undone tasks, has a huge impact on my inner sense of peace, so I intend to be better at doing this. I'm going to keep a notepad or something by my side and note down tasks rather than keep my weak brain occupied with maintaining a mental list.
  • The Big Questions. I want to spend more time thinking about the big questions of life. I'm on something of a spiritual journey; as to belief, I'm a Christian, but I don't claim to have all the answers or everything neatly sewn up. I'm truly aware of the vulnerable areas and gaps in my life and the need to show and be shown grace. I want to become wiser, more kind, more aware of others. I won't go any further on this subject on a work blog, but I don't want to reach the end of my life without understanding its purpose.

Comments (4)

  1. Anonymous says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Tim. I love my Web/.Net work BUT it is important to look at the overall picture. Do not let it rule your life. Do not feel guilty if you have time off (talking from experience here)! In fact MAKE TIME to have some time off with friends and family. My wife and I have just had a baby boy (our first, 12 days old) and this kinda puts things into perspective… Keep up the good work – hope you pop to the UK sometime for an MSDN session or something. Let us all know.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Per "Showstopper!", they don’t call it the Velvet Sweatshop for nothin’

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well said Tim. I realisd my three daughters were growing up so fast that I decided it was better to spend more quality time with them and less on reading up about the latest technology. Not easy to do sometimes but very rewarding.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I usually refrain from commenting on people’s blogs but reading this one specially in regards to ‘The big question’ I felt it would be wrong of me not to share something with you.

    I enjoy your blog and found the letters from america very interesting..would love to read more on that topic

    I just wanted to share that as a Baha’i ( I myself am on a spiritual journey as well, one that I believe we all are…in my mind beeing able to understand the purpose of our existence here according to the teachings of Baha’u’llah has enriched my life and given me a serenity, perpective and understanding that makes a life very precious and purposeful.

    Best wishes to you and your family.

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