The Way I Work (November 2009)

At precisely 7:30 am, the alarm on my iPhone fires. Lately I've been waking to the start of Still D.R.E. by Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, picked for the great background riff more than for any particular appeal of rap music. I reach over and turn off the alarm and also switch off the white-noise generator that helps me sleep. Too many years of loud music has stricken me with moderate to severe tinnitus. It doesn't bother me too much during the day, since ambient noise masks the high-pitched tone in my ears, but in the silence of the night it can be deafening.

I have a habit of checking email and twitter for anything interesting, while still blinking the sleep out of my eyes. I've read Jason Fried and others advise against starting off your day that way. Whatever. If there's not much mail or twitter activity to hold my attention, I'll see if there's anything interesting on or Andrew Sullivan's blog.

Eventually, I get up and stretch and walk out of my bedroom to take in the view out the windows of the living room. Fall weather in Jacksonville Beach is unpredictable, but unless it's very foggy I'm guaranteed an impressive vista over the ocean. Inspiring, the charmed life I lead. Whenever I need a reminder I just look out the window.

I'm one of those people who rarely deviates from my morning ritual. I try to get the grooming over by  8:30 so I have time to have my usual oatmeal and latte at Coffee Bistro, a quick 2 blocks away.

I stopped drinking caffeine at least six months ago, because I felt like it was giving me mood swings and keeping me from sleeping well. I had gotten into the habit of waking up and cracking open a large Rockstar energy drink and sipping on it for the next hour or two, but when I drank it too quickly it'd make me feel like I had done a few lines of speed. My eyes would jitter and my skin would feel clammy. Not good, so I stopped the caffeine altogether.

Hashrocket's company-wide standup meeting is at 9 am sharp. Unless I'm on the road, I never miss a standup meeting and I never, ever arrive late. It's a "lead by example" thing. Standup doesn't last more than 5 minutes or so, really it's more of a ritual than anything else, and then Sal and I usually discuss resource allocation for the day. In other words, we talk about who is going to be pairing with who that day. I've known Sal for almost 10 years, since working for him as a professional services guy at SilverStream Software. I love that he was my boss then, but I'm his boss now. We've worked together at another company since and become close personal friends, so I know he's got my back. It's great to know that the people that are running your company love you and have your best interests at heart.

So Sal is primarily responsible for assignments, but I like to have a say when I'm in the office. Juggling project assignments, particularly when you pair "promiscuously" like Hashrocket, can be challenging. If an odd number of people are in the office, it gives me a good excuse to spend the day programming instead of doing the semi-structured management activities that usually comprise my day.

Those activities primarily have to do with another member of my management team, Ben McDonald, who was our fifth hire at Hashrocket and very quickly turned into my executive assistant. His official title nowadays is "Director of Business Development," which takes way too many letters to type out, but seems to have a positive impression on clients. By business development I mean following up with the sales leads that pop up during the week. Ben is not as ADD as I am, so he's well suited to make sure we don't drop the ball on any potential new business. I still rely on him to keep me abreast of appointments and phone calls, plus he manages our finances and has the pulse on our money situation.

Consultancies are a "feast or famine" business, or so I've been told. We've suffered exactly one prolonged period of famine, during which our utilization, the measure of how many hours we billed clients vs. hours in the week, dropped to around 40%. At the rates we charge, we need more than 50% to break even, and around 70% to generate a satisfactory profit. For the last few months we've been enjoying a big feast period, with close to 95% utilization. Being so busy brings its own challenges, such as problems starting new clients and projects because there is nobody available to work on them. You also need the discipline to sock away part of the profits for the next time we have a famine period. The more famous we get and the more positive word-of-mouth we generate, the less famine we'll have to deal with in the future, but some macroeconomic events, such as the recession of 2008/9 affect everyone.