Our 2017 Geeks of the Week offer their best tips and tricks for managing everyday work and life

Beyond telling us what their favorite app is or what type of phone they’re currently using, which Star Trek captain they’d follow or what kind of startup they’d fund with $1 million, the tech personalities featured in GeekWire’sGeek of the Week have solid advice for navigating life.

In fact, one of the standing questions on ourquestionnaire reads, “Best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life?”

We rounded up some of our favorite answers to that question from throughout the year. Perhaps there’s something someone is doing in the industry that you can clip and save for your own life headed into 2018.

Leslie Alexandre.

Leslie Alexandre, Life Science Washington president and CEO: “I recommend keeping your priorities in check, knowing what is most important in your life and allocating your time accordingly. Schedule time off well in advance and make that time sacred, particularly when it involves family and friends. Most importantly, make sure you love what you do; if you don’t, nothing will create good work-life balance.”

Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, senior data scientist at Groupon: “It depends on what I am working on. At my office I like open spaces with easy access to other folks for quick feedback. For my research work which is more of a late hours and weekend thing I prefer roaming around with my laptop. Lastly my artwork is a solitary endeavor.”

Susan Preston, angel investor: “I’m not the best person to answer this question. Rumor has it that regular exercise, yoga, and downtime are all helpful. I just make scads of lists.”

Michael Royzen. (Courtesy of Michael Royzen)

Michael Royzen, Mlab Technologies, Inc., founder and CEO: “Whenever there is something I need to get done, I just sit down and do it. Excuses and procrastination only add unnecessary stress. The right amount of stress, however, can be very helpful for productivity in my experience.”

Binnur Al-Kazily, Atlas Informatics senior program manager, robotics mentor: “I am still looking for that magic bullet! For me, it works best when I just let life and work flow, without fighting it. I have learned to tune in to my body, treat myself to good chocolate, and listen to 2Cellos when I need focus. I do keep a weekly online journal (Bullet Journal style) to track my activities, and also depend on a calendar and Slack for reminders.”

MoPOP senior curator Jacob McMurray in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame exhibit. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Jacob McMurray, MoPOP senior curator: “Email is a scourge. I try and mitigate it by using things like Slack, but it still is overwhelming. I spend an hour each weekday morning, from 9 to 10am, solely focusing on getting my emails down. The rest of the day is then devoted to individual exhibitions and projects. It’s not a perfect solution, as I still get inundated, but my daily, focused chunk helps me keep email within manageable limits.”

Omri Kohl, Pyramid Analytics co-founder and CEO: “Hire people smarter than you and let them do their job. If you can’t do that, you’re not a leader.”

Michel Feaster, co-founder and CEO of Usermind in Seattle. (Usermind Photo)

Michel Feaster, Usermind co-founder and CEO: “Get a therapist. Also, unplug on the weekends (or whenever your off time is). Giving myself that mental space allows me to be my fullest self when I’m plugged in.”

Cedric Ross, Amazon senior manager of fulfillment center relations and tours: “Have perspective. On the real tough times, slow your roll. Stop and think about it.”

Dana Lewis. (Courtesy of Dana Lewis)

Dana Lewis, creator of the Do-It-Yourself Pancreas System: “Automate everything. Use IFTTT, or your own tools, to automate yourself out of mundane tasks that aren’t worth the brain power of remembering or doing over and over again. You’d be surprised at the kinds of things you can link and hack together. Also, write down and share what you’ve done. Because I do a lot of support/troubleshooting in the #OpenAPS community, I’m especially dedicated to documenting everything. Once we’ve answered a question 2-3x that’s not in the docs, I document it because I know it’ll come up again later and it’s a lot easier to post a link in Gitter than it is to re-type information on my phone over and over again when I’m on the go.”

John Aitchison, Center for Infectious Disease Research president: “The key is to exercise, but there are too many times I don’t do it. But every day that I fit it in is a better day. Working out around lunchtime is ideal, but it doesn’t always happen.”

What’s on tap? Ryan Corder hangs out near the beer at ExtraHop in Seattle. (Courtesy of Ryan Corder)

Ryan Corder, ExtraHop technical marketing engineer: “I once had a job where I had to be on call, and it was a real turning point for me. One night, we had a large data center migration happening, and my pager was going off every 30 seconds in the middle of the night. I realized at that point in time that there’s no paycheck worth that. Ever since then, my mantra has been: When you leave work, you leave work. Obviously, that’s not always possible, but I try to live by that as much as I can, and it allows me to clear my head and have greater work-life balance.”

Iris Carrera, Base2 Solutions infrastructure engineer: “Practice mindfulness and be more conscious in your actions. Make time for friends, music, art, and learning. Reflect. Make time for compassion, solidarity.”

Matt Hayes poses with an intact Apollo-era F1 rocket engine at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. (Courtesy of Matt Hayes)

Matt Hayes, Museum of Flight executive vice president: “Remember that people are at the heart of it all, and they are individuals. Remember not to let the urgent get in the way of the important. Remember to learn and grow and change, but never to stop being yourself. Changing your core is not worth it, regardless of what ‘it’ is.”

Byron Rakitzis, Igneous Systems co-founder and architect: “Build in routines to unplug. I reduce the hours where I’m actually chained to a desk and work more opportunistically. It’s hard for me to stop thinking about work so I just let that happen but I make sure I’m always home for dinner and I make breakfast for my kids. Spending quality time with my family is priceless.”

Monika Sengul-Jones, Online Computer Library Center’s Wikipedian-in-Residence: “ I have a couple of life-work maxims: Have a plan and be open to change; set the coffee the night before and wake up early; leave things better than you found them; don’t wait for someone to give you permission; listen, be kind, be bold, be OK with ambiguity.”

Luke Smith, Bungie’s game director for “Destiny 2.” (Bungie Photo)

Luke Smith, Bungie game director: “Having an amazing partner in my project lead Mark Noseworthy. Everyone should try to get a Mark Noseworthy. He’s my closest working partner, one of my dearest friends.”

Shyam Gollakota, Jeeva Wireless co-founder and UW assistant professor: “I am still learning how to best manage my work. The one thing I try to do however is avoid formal meetings that are a drain on time, as much as possible.”

Todd Humphrey, League co-founder: “Put your phone down for a period of time every day. Seriously, try it! Read a book, think, get some fresh air, have a conversation, and most definitely exercise. I bought a Peloton bike that allows me to work out any time, and has been an awesome addition to our house.”

Keith Smith, IT manager at Seattle International Film Festival. Courtesy of Keith Smith)

Keith Smith, SIFF manager of information technology: “Silence is very important. I’ve come up with many ideas while sleeping or while spending time alone without tech around me. We all need to allow the silence into our lives; there is so much noise around us day to day.”

Beth Marcus, Amazon Robotics senior principal technologist: “Family and health first and then try to do fun things like cooking classes, Djembe drumming circles and painting whenever possible to offer balance. Regularly take a day to do nothing or next to nothing: read, talk to friends or invite your neighbor for tea (my neighbors are lovely people!). When you feel stuck and unproductive, be social! It may rejuvenate you, but if it doesn’t, go home and hug your family, dog or a friend, and start again when you feel refreshed. When you’ve achieved something, stop to pat yourself and those around you on the back. Don’t take any of life’s ups and downs personally.”

Aseem Datar, Microsoft Azure chief of staff: “First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge the balance needed across both. If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done. Part of managing several initiatives is ruthless prioritization, which is easier said than done. I typically go through a mental checklist the previous day and on my way to work which helps me plan what I want to accomplish … and then there is always Sunday night. As for managing life, my mantra is to be PRESENT wherever I am with minimal distractions — I am trying to get better at not glancing at my phone every now and then.”

Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman of the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.

Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, Dreambit founder and UW assistant professor: “Decide every day what’s the most impactful task I can do today and focus on it first.”

Todd Fasullo, Smartsheet director of engineering: “Find your own approach to balancing it all, it’s going to be different for everyone. For example, my wife really relies on writing things down — you can find little to-do lists on paper all around our house. Some people really love doing that same thing with an app on their phones. For anything I’m collaborating on with others Smartsheet is my go-to tool. We use it quite heavily for everything from team to-do lists, bug tracking, project requirements, checklists, resource management, prioritization meetings, etc. When I’m writing code I also tend to check in my documentation and my to-do list as comments in my code. As I complete items I mark them off but leave them in place as a breadcrumb for both myself and others about the areas that were considered and why some of the design approaches were taken.”

Ty Taylor, Seattle-based creator of “The Bridge” and “Tumblestone” video games.

Ty Taylor, Quantum Astrophysicists Guild founder: “I used to think that the trick to this was to physically separate my work and my home, only to realize that if I put too much of a workload on myself, I won’t be able to escape it no matter where I am. I’ve found the best way to manage a work/life balance is to not enforce deadlines or other pressures for finishing a task within a certain timeframe. If you don’t feel like working on something at a particular point in time, then don’t, and if you do, then do, regardless of the number of hours you’ve put in that day or week already. This somewhat hedonistic work schedule has allowed me to let go of the stresses of finishing tasks in particular orders or by particular times, and has made me happier, allowed me to work from anywhere and at any time, and made me overall more productive when I am at work.”

Joe Hueffed, Kaiser-Permanente technical project manager: “Sometimes we need to treat our personal lives as a project, complete with RAID log, backlog, agile Kan Ban board, project schedule, calendar, and of course, our executive sponsor, our spouse.”

Richard Yonck, futurist and author: “Change is inevitable. When it does, often the best thing to do is see it as an opportunity. A static world view is very limiting and is likely to get you steamrollered.”

Skye Gilbert

Skye Gilbert, PATH director of digital health solutions: “I believe very strongly in single-tasking, compartmentalization and being in the moment. If my team is in front of me, I’m fully present for my team. If I’m having dinner with my fiancé, I’m fully present for him. This approach keeps me sane, but it’s frustrating for folks trying to reach me since they have to wait for the moment in which I’m fully present for my phone. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but it helps me stay focused.”

Mike Sheward, Accolade director of information security: “Work hard, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Enjoy yourself; if you do this, everything will come together in the end.”

Qumulo’s Neal Fachan and his dog,

Neal Fachan, Qumulo co-founder and chief scientist: “Before I even check my email each morning, I set one big, audacious goal, and focus on tackling that project first. It’s easy to get inundated with all the distractions in our modern day life like texts, emails, Slack, etc. — and if you’re not careful, you can become a slave to those things. You have to be deliberate about how you start your day, and keep that focus.”

Mark Rosewater, Wizards of the Coast head designer for “Magic”: “I think my best trick is what I call the ‘bullseye approach.’ At any one time, I always know the goal I’m aiming for. This allows me to always be pushing forward, making sure that I’m getting closer to solving the task at hand. Even if I don’t solve my problem, I’m always moving in the right direction.”

Zane Young, Washington State University student: “Consume lots of caffeine and remember to eat occasionally.”

Ash Awad, McKinstry chief market officer: “My preferred workflow is to establish the high-priority items early on in my day and then focus on those. It’s also important to leave enough time to read and to catch up on things you wouldn’t normally encounter in your day-to-day work. It keeps your mind nimble and allows you to be expansive in your thinking.”

Alex Mariakakis. (Courtesy of Alex Mariakakis)

Alex Mariakakis, UW PhD student in the Allen School’s UbiComp Lab: “I work on multiple projects at the same time. If I’m really stuck on a particular project, I can just take a break from it and work on another one. That way, I don’t feel like I’m stuck. It also helps that my projects have lots of overlap right now (involve eyes, computer vision, and deep learning). I definitely wouldn’t recommend multiple projects for everyone though.”

Gus Lopez, Amazon Restaurants general manager: “I meticulously take notes to track my ‘To Do’ items both at work and at home. This helps me maintain a prioritized list that is constantly being updated.”

Barry Aaronson, Virginia Mason chief medical informatics office: “I try to avoid non-productive time-sinks, such as TV (except for seasons one through four of ‘House of Cards’) and instead, try to get stuff done whenever possible. For instance, I am writing this on a long plane trip instead of watching movies, like most people. Unfortunately, it ends up, I keep looking at their screens instead of working, so I end up watching the movies anyway except without sound!”

Alice Zhao. (Courtesy of Alice Zhao)

Alice Zhao, Metis data science instructor: “One of the tips that we give students at Metis on day one and throughout the bootcamp is to let go of perfectionism, and I believe that is key in achieving work/life balance. As I’ve gotten older, my responsibilities have increased, and for a while I tried to do everything in my life with the same perfectionism that I strived for when I was younger — triple checking emails before I send them, cooking up Pinterest-perfect meals, making sure my data is 100 percent clean before I start modeling, etc. That was unsustainable. Now I strive for MVPs — minimum viable products. Did I get my point across in my email in a professional way? Send. Did I make a meal that feeds my family and tastes pretty good? Here you go, family. Is my data clean enough so that I can start building a simple model to show at my team meeting this afternoon? Great, moving on. It’s a hard mindset to change, but once changed, a lot more free time pops up to just relax and enjoy life.”

Rakhi Voria, Microsoft chief of staff in Inside Sales: “Document. My corporate VP and I are constantly on the go, buzzing from meeting to meeting, capturing two new actions for every one action we complete. To ensure that nothing slips through the cracks, I document pretty much everything. I find that this not only helps us stay focused and organized, but it also helps us when we need to look back and reference why we made some of the decisions that we did. This is particularly useful in the environment that we’re currently in since we’re in the midst of transformation.”

Kevin Goldsmith, Avvo CTO: “I block out big recurring chunks of time in my calendar. This makes sure that I have focused work time during the day so that I don’t have to bring work home. It may make it hard to schedule a meeting with me, but emergency stuff can always get through.”

Solaire Sanderson. (Courtesy of Solaire Sanderson)

Solaire Sanderson, Microsoft Cyber Defense Operations Center security analyst: “I have found that having a routine is key. Life is full of unexpected surprises, which are much easier to manage when everything else is beating to some sort of rhythm. For example, I make sure to work out at 6:15 every morning, just in case a big security incident breaks out at work and I end up working late. At work, my routine allows me to dedicate time to getting important tasks done while also leaving room for anomalies. I am also a big believer in organization – there should be a place for everything and everything should be in its place. Organization just makes life easier and prettier.”

Tim Durkan, City of Seattle advisor, neighborhood coordinator, photographer: “Expect the unexpected and don’t get so caught up trying to achieve perfection that you forget to have a little fun. Before every big shoot when I know people are waiting for me to post ‘the most amazing shot’ I always repeat the mantra “You might not get the shot you wanted but you’ll get the shot you were meant to.” It might sound a little silly, but it helps me stay focused and positive.”

Lorena Martin, Seattle Mariners director of High Performance: “It used to be training, but I’ve been focused more on others’ training instead of mine. I also really enjoy playing chess, it’s kind of meditative. Currently, I would have to say coffee. I love coffee. When I arrived in Seattle, I was informed that I was in the right city for coffee. Coffee is huge for me.”

Genessa Krasnow, “Civics in Chaos” game co-creator: “Move your body!!!!!!!”

John Darrow.

John Darrow, Amazon Operation senior principal engineer: “Keep it simple and make it fun. Although I spend a lot of time in my head and obsessively make things complicated, the bridge to getting things done is to simplify your goals and connect to them with people. At this point, my top career goal is to keep enjoying my day job and I find that comes by blending (1) tackling hard challenges, (2) being inspired by and inspiring people, and (3) learning how to do new things.”

Mayumi Nakamura, Pacific Software Publishing, Inc. president and CEO: “My tip is also simple! Get up early and make sure to plan ahead.”

Marty Brennan, ZGF Architects architect and daylighting specialist: “Get outside. Walk or bike to work. Get outdoors for lunch. And make time each week to develop your dreams.”

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