Find the best time for different kinds of work

I was recently listening to the Inquiring Minds podcast as they interviewed Daniel Pink about his work on the science of perfect timing. One point that really stood out to me is that you are good at different kinds of work at different times of day.

Previously, I’d thought of my work in two ways: busy/mindless work that I do when my brain isn’t functioning at its best and deep work that I do when my brain is firing on all cylinders. But Pink shared that deep work isn’t all alike — specifically, we are good at creative or insightful work and analytical work at different times of day. The exact time of day depends on your chronotype (I’m a night owl) but, regardless, the type of work aligns with whether you’re in what he calls a trough, peak, or recovery period.

Your trough is the time when you’re sluggish or not so quick — for me that’s first thing in the morning — and is best for busy work like checking email or filing expenses. Your peak is when you’re fully mentally engaged (high mental acuity), and that’s when you’re best at analytical work. But your peak isn’t when you’re best at deeply creative or insightful work — that’s best done during your recovery period, where your mood (but not your mental acuity) improves and you have a little more mental space for thinking laterally or having those “aha!” moments.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I’ve optimized my schedule for smaller chunks of analytical work that I push through at my peak times, but how I have more trouble getting into a flow state with more insightful work. Using Pink’s model, I can try to block out those times when I’m mostly likely to do that work well — for me that should be in the middle of my day, before or after lunch (after I get over my “uhhhh what’s happening?” time but before I hit my “I can do all the things!” burst of mental energy late in the afternoon). I’d really like to build sustainable habits that take into account the creative and insightful work that I find myself doing more of these days.

How about you? Does this model make sense for your work? Any tips or habits that work well for you when you have to switch between these types of work?

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Support Driven Expo Europe

I’m happy to share that I’ll be giving a workshop at Support Driven Expo Europe in April! I’ll be sharing about mental models and how you can use them to better support and troubleshoot a product.

Sound familiar? I wrote about mental models a while back and used them to give a round of internal workshops in the Automattic support division. I got great feedback about those workshops and am excited to share them with a wider audience.

I truly believe that great communication between support and product teams is a key piece of product quality, and solid troubleshooting skills (and all that those skills entail) help facilitate those conversations!

Right-to-Left Testing in Mobile Apps

Did you know that both iOS and Android have easy ways to build your apps for localization testing?

As someone who loves languages, I’m used to just switching a test device into another language for testing and dogfooding over a longer period of time. But even I get a little scared that one day I’m going to switch my iPhone’s device language to Arabic and never find my way back to the language settings. And for teammates who don’t speak another language, it can be even more intimidating. Here’s where iOS and Android come to the rescue with build options for localization testing.

Screenshot of WordPress for iOS app with RTL pseudolanguage displaying backwards English text.
RTL Pseudolanguage on iOS

In Xcode you can select a pseudolanguage in your build scheme. For regular localization testing you can choose Double-Length Pseudolanguage to see how your app works in languages with longer strings. (My teammate Eduardo also suggests using the iOS text size settings as another way to test this on the fly.) But for RTL testing it’s especially handy — choose either Right-to-Left Pseudolanguage to get an RTL layout with regular English strings or Right-to-Left Pseudolanguage with Right-to-Left Strings to see the English strings backwards in the RTL layout. Build your app and you can test out the RTL experience, no language classes required!

For Android, you can enable pseudolocales in your build.gradle file. Then, on your device or emulator, go to the device language settings and select English (XA) or Arabic (XB). (If you don’t see those languages, make sure developer options are enabled.) The first language gives you lengthened strings and all kinds of exciting accented characters, but the second is where RTL testing kicks in — you get English strings backward with an RTL layout.

Now, off to file some GitHub issues for the localization bugs I just noticed … 😉

Know Your Strengths

Recently I took the CliftonStrengths assessment — about 170 questions designed to identify your top strengths so you can use them to be more effective. I had first heard about it in a conversation about community organizing, in terms of knowing what you bring to the table when getting involved with a new organization. But it had also come up at work, and I decided it would be at least interesting to see what I might learn from this assessment.

I worried a little about inadvertently gaming the system. I’m a good test-taker and, for example, I can’t take the MBTI anymore without knowing exactly what personality traits I’m indicating with each answer. (I’m solidly INFJ, by the way.) So I didn’t look too much at the possible strengths or how the assessment worked; I just sat down and for about 30 minutes answered each question as honestly (not aspirationally) as I could.

In the end I was given 5 strengths: Achiever, Responsibility, Intellection, Input, and Relator. At first glance, the first three seemed spot on and the last two seemed a bit iffy. I’m a Relator, as introverted as I am? But as I read their explanations all five made sense to me:

I also have a report with even more detail, and advice about how to make these strengths work even better for me. This is great timing, because I have been especially conscious lately of my first two strengths (and the challenges they bring) — traits that mean I work hard, strive to be the best, hold myself to high standards, and have trouble saying no or letting things be less-than-excellent once I feel ownership of them. I’m still thinking about what these strengths mean for me going forward, but I’m interested in challenging myself to make use of them in work, in volunteering, and throughout my life.

How about you? Do you have experience with CliftonStrengths or other similar assessments? I always try to maintain a healthy skepticism about letting classifications like this determine how I see myself and the world, so I’m curious how others make use of them.