I just made a very hard decision. The fact that I sat on it for four days tells me it was hard. The fact that I made the decision at all tells me I’m getting smarter. Here’s what it was:

A very talented graphic designer asked me if I would trade services with her (she’ll redesign my website if I’ll make hers functional). I spent a week saying “ooh! neat! yay! probably… maybe…” And then, finally, I got honest with both of us and said “no.”

And I’m still wincing, still recoiling in self-disgust that I just turned down the opportunity to have my website redesigned by one of the most talented designers I know for free.

But it wouldn’t be free. It would cost several weeks of hard work on top of an already full tech industry workload and a professional writing course. It would cost sleep, it would cost the last remnants of my social life, it would cost a few notches of my health, and because of all these things, it would also probably cost the quality of the project, and therefore, my integrity as a professional, and maybe even my relationship with this designer. I’m not trying to be dramatic here — this is just the truth of a full plate.

And it’s kind of baffling, how much delusion can set in what such a beautiful carrot as a website makeover is dangled in front of my face. All of a sudden, I become Super Sarah! And Super Sarah doesn’t need sleep or a social life or food or balance, because Super Sarah can do anything if it’s worth it to her. Because a plate is never really full — more can always be heaped on if she’s really hungry, or if it’s really tasty. And what does it matter how awful she’ll feel before it’s done? The point is it tastes good! Ha!

That was my M.O. for a long time, and I grew considerably from it. My reckless acceptance of responsibility took me places I never dreamed, far faster than I ever should have traveled. And it got me into trouble. Too often, I had to choose between honoring my responsibilities and taking care of myself. And too often, I chose to honor my responsibilities. And then I learned the lesson: When you stop taking care of yourself, you stop being able to honor your responsibilities.

These days, doing a good job is more important to me than doing a lot of jobs. For months, I’ve been turning down new paying clients and referring them elsewhere, so what made me think I could take on a trade? A full plate is a full plate is a full plate, and I have responsibilities to honor. I chose those responsibilities carefully.

That makes them worth it.

One quiet Sunday afternoon just a few weeks ago, in a bizarre display of things-that-are-not-surprising-in-San-Francisco, groups of people on trains all over the city spontaneously burst into Christmas carols. It was August.

It was supposed to be about happy jolly fun. Then it turned into a political act about free speech. And then it turned back into happy jolly fun.

The story is covered at the SF Shenanigans blog.

And I’m only sharing this because it’s interesting. I had nothing to do with it. I swear. That isn’t me in those pictures. Really. I’m a good upstanding citizen who doesn’t create anachronistic merrymaking chaos.

Seriously.

Stop looking at me like that.

You believe me, don’t you?

If you sent me an email in the last five days, you received this autoresponse:

Subject: Autoresponse: I'm off the grid.
Hi! Thanks for your email! I'm off camping this weekend, and will be back on Tuesday night.

While I'm gone, I will not have access to phone, email, text messages, voicemail, twitter, wordpress, livejournal, linked in, facebook, myspace, cpanel, firefox, photoshop, dreamweaver, or anything else that I generally consider to be a critical lifeline. This means you can't reach me. No, really. You really can't reach me.

Frankly, I'm a little concerned that I might die without my microchips.

But we'll see what happens.

Talk to you when I return.

~Sarah

The suggestion came from my coworker while I was running around the office last Thursday, frantically trying to make sure he had all the details he needed to survive while I was gone. When I offered to twitter my entire weekend so he could know at any moment if I was swimming or not, he gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Sarah, how about you leave your cell phone at home?”

I stared at him slack-jawed and tried three times to form a complete word, but couldn’t.

He backpedaled. “I mean, do what you want to do. You can bring it if you want and that’s fine — it might be helpful. I was just thinking maybe…”

I cut him off. “No, you’re right. I should probably leave it at home. It’s just… I can’t… even imagine what that would be like.”

“All the more reason to do it,” he said.

So I did it.

And from all the recognition and back-pats I demanded from my fellow campers, you woulda thought I’d just donated a kidney to a dying seven-year-old. This was major sacrifice. This was a big deal.

As soon as I settled in, something wonderful happened. I relaxed and paid attention to where I was. The campfire smell. The gravel between my toes. The dog scavenging for food scraps by my knee. The sun starting to burn my shoulders. The cool water rippling around my skin as I did somersaults in Lake Berryessa.

For five days, I didn’t know what time it was. And with the exception of the people in my campground, I didn’t know what anyone in the world was up to, when anyone was trying to reach me, or what anyone was concerned about. And I didn’t particularly care.

It was the same peace and beauty for five full days, and miraculously, I never once felt bored.

I hate to say it, but maybe there’s more to life than the Internet.

Maybe?

Okay, just kidding. So what’d I miss?

facebook.gifThis week in PCWorld, there is a controversial article recommending that employers allow access to social networking websites like Facebook in the workplace. The recommendation comes from Britain’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), which is a federation of trade unions in the United Kingdom that lobbies for fairness in the workplace. Their primary argument is that banning Facebook is an overreaction, and will create a backlash from employees. Instead, they recommend setting policies for appropriate use. The recommendation is relevant in the United States as well.

I’m a project manager in the tech industry with a focus on social media and networking websites. Highly public recommendations like this one affect the volatile climate of my industry by further coloring public opinion and setting corporate standards. Facebook’s widespread popularity is a new phenomenon, and how people incorporate it into the workplace will likely set precedents and trends for all other Web 2.0 sites.

Personally, I agree with the recommendation, although not for the same reasons. The TUC is responding to a fear among employers that access to social networking sites will make their employees lazy, and they counter-argue that employee laziness is not a new phenomenon. As an active member of the social media development communities, however, I see a different angle to the situation. Facebook is a powerful and customizable information and networking tool. If used properly in a professional setting, it can actually make people more productive, focused, and resourceful.

Web Worker Daily published an article in July titled “12 Ways to Use Facebook Professionally.” It offers recommendations for managing industry groups within the interface, and suggests arranging your profile like you would arrange your desk – with work-appropriate items that inspire you. Between unlimited applications and granular privacy settings, users have the power to customize their experiences and how they present themselves toward whatever is most important to them – and that can absolutely be work-related.

I understand that not everyone would choose to use Facebook to augment their productivity at work, even if they understood how to. I also understand that many jobs do not easily lend themselves to a social networking presence. And in these contexts, I agree with the TUC – employees may simply be pursuing their social life at work, and it’s the employer’s responsibility to set standards, but not block it out entirely.

However, simply acknowledging that social networking sites can be used productively in the work environment opens up a whole new angle for the public’s relationship to the web. It is an evolving beast, for sure, and it will continue to change. So at the very least, let’s keep the doors open.

A few weeks ago, I found myself completely locked out of my Gmail account. My password just stopped working. This was not a matter of me misspelling my own password — two separate email programs that have my password stored in them (and that have been accessing my email just fine for years) agreed with me. I was really locked out. This meant one of two things:

  • My account got hacked.
  • Google screwed up.

I tried to recover it. The first step is to have Gmail send a link to your secondary email address. Unfortunately, my secondary email address is a three-years-dead hotmail account. No amount of negotiating with MSN could reconcile it.

They make you wait five days before you can move onto the second step, which is the security question. And my security question, apparently, is:

What is your primary frequent flyer number?

I tried all of my frequent flyer numbers. None worked. Upon further research, I’ve determined that I opened my Gmail account before I acquired my first frequent flyer number. Great. (As a sidenote, MSN also offered to let me answer a security question in the Hotmail Negotiations. It was, “Where was your mother born?” I don’t actually know where my mother was born.)

The third step, of course, is to email Google and beg for help. I tried one of my contacts “on the inside” and he directed me to the customer service address. He also didn’t offer much encouragement, reminding me that if Google can’t connect my identity with the account, they’re not going to let me back in. From the customer service address, I received an automated “We got your message!” email, with no follow-up response.

I cut my losses. It was really over — me and my Gmail. We were done. I emailed everyone who used that address, told them to use a different address from now on, and left daunting doom-ridden reminders that they should go check their email accounts NOW to make sure their secondary email addresses are functional and their security questions are current, lest they be suffer the horrors I am experiencing. I was just sayin’ is all.

A week later, I realized this is Google we’re talking about. They don’t just run my email, they run the world. In addition to losing my email login, I had also lost access to my Google Reader, Google Analytics, and Google Adsense/Adwords accounts — none of which I use too frequently, but all of which have important history logged in them. Great.

Technological detachment is a traumatic thing. I’ve been trying to take the Buddhist approach, embrace the impermanence of everything, accept that the lack of backup access is probably my fault, and get on with my life. But this voice in the back of my head occasionally keeps me awake at night, telling me that some very important email is sitting unanswered in my Gmail inbox, and that my unawareness of it is going to destroy a relationship, or kill a business deal, or ruin a small country, or cause a small puppy to die.

Today I made a new account. I don’t feel the urge to become Gmail-dependent again anytime soon, but I did miss my Google Reader, and couldn’t go another week without it. To set the system up clean from the start, I lumped all feeds into only two tags/folders: ALWAYS and SOMETIMES. This is a Gina Trapani trick that I learned at BlogHer07. Start with the ALWAYS folder every day, and make sure you see all of it. If you have more time, move to the SOMETIMES folder. If something in your ALWAYS folder starts to bore you, move it to SOMETIMES. And never, ever feel bad about hitting “Mark all as read.”

And that’s the story of my Googletrauma. It hurt, but maybe it was a good thing for me… to realize I don’t need my really organized, long-time inbox to survive in the real world. (::sniffles::) I mean, really, I haven’t died. And as far as I can tell, no small puppies have, either.

…But there is also an epilogue to this story.

I lost my Treo this weekend.

And I can’t. find. it. anywhere.

Jeesh.