Stealing Away For Product Development on Vacay

This week I am on vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. With me is my family: mother, step-father, wife, and sister. I look forward to rest and relaxation in the sun.


Photo by Gerriet

The Big Idea

Here’s the weird thing, being away from a computer for a week is not relaxing given my current perspective of the world. The best vacation I can have right now obviously includes spending quality time with loved ones. However, I spend so much of my life trying to carve out time to work on side projects that a part of me feels like this week should be no different. Given that the resort has free Wi-Fi and my wife is taking her laptop, I have several types of tasks in mind that should make it easier to be as productive as possible without neglecting the opportunity to experience Mexico.

  • Work on the soft tasks
    • I am writing this blog post on a piece of paper on the plane
    • Think about/write down marketing message
    • Think about what kind of influencers I need to contact about my product
    • Refine my elevator pitch
  • Brainstorm
    • Interact with and observe people
    • Print out blogs that I have been meaning to read (often times, reading something short provokes creative ideas)
  • Get Feedback
    • I’m spending a week with my family, so guess what, they’re going to have to hear about my ideas at least once
    • Listen to their feedback
  • Work on the product (if possible)

Many of these tasks do not require anything more than conversation and time for reflection. Others only require a pen and paper. But when can I work on product development and/or communication with the outside world via email and the Internet? How can I make sure that I appropriately limit when and how I perform this work?

General Strategy 1: Limit Alcohol Intake

Maybe I sound like a party pooper but I plan to heavily restrict my alcohol intake this week. It is time to make the decision that I would rather feel all the time than to feel great while enjoying a buzz but tired/worthless the next day. The ultimate goal of this decision will be to harness as much energy as possible and to be awake when other family members are taking naps, etc.

General Strategy 2: Take Advantage of the Inequity of Preparation Times

Let’s face it. In most circumstances, men are able to spend less time getting ready for a night out than women. It is certainly true in this group’s case. My plan will be to get ready quickly and then get some work done while I wait.

General Strategy 3: Leverage the Cell Phone

Our resort ostensibly has Wi-Fi throughout its campus. I will therefore use my cell phone to access my e-mail and perform simple Internet queries through Wi-Fi access. This will limit any exorbitant roaming charges and will allow me to look less like a Dufus while surfing the Net by the pool-side.

Results (1 Week Later)

I must be honest. After a week of trying the above strategies, the report is that I did not have much success. I was hoping to be able to use my wife’s computer for some development work but technical difficulties quickly thwarted that goal. This left the soft tasks to be accomplished, which did not occur either. Believe it or not1, when I was lounging around the pool-side in the sun, with extremely easy access to fun, alcohol, and jovial conversation, I was not exactly writing down any golden blog posts nor stellar website copy. In summary, peer pressure worked this week.

There were some accomplishments. I focused my plans going forward and broadened my perspective. I also was able to read The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. Somehow, reading a book by the pool was much more acceptable than sitting in the room on the computer. It gave me some great ideas on how to push forward as well as the confidence to do it.

Surprisingly, my cell phone received a good 3G signal, allowing me to send multiple productive emails and to stay up-to-date on twitter. This was nice given that the Wi-Fi was choppy anywhere that was not my hotel room and that I was then able to perform these tasks in taxi cabs, etc. [Update March 17: I should not have been tempted to use my data plan Internationally even though my phone gave me no indication that I was roaming. It cost a considerable amount of money which is what I was trying to avoid. Lesson learned.]

Looking back, I tried to attack the week with an intense level of energy that would allow me to enjoy vacation but to also be productive with “spare time.” The other vacationers in my family had no intention of exhibiting such energy level and were somewhat hurt by my attempts to get away. I have not learned much about how to be self-motivated and productive while also being engaged in the vacation with my family. Do you have any ideas about how I could have done this better?

 

1 Note the sarcastic tone beginning now.

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King for a Day – My Visit to Zappos (Part 1)

Late last summer a group of friends were planning a trip to Las Vegas and invited me to come along. I struggled to rationalize the trip until finally settling on the excuse. While in Las Vegas, I promised myself that I would perform research by visiting the headquarters of Zappos, the successful online retailer known for its incredible corporate culture. The goal was to witness first-hand a company that has mastered the art of creating a fun yet productive culture while also serving to motivate me in my own career. I apologize if I spoil the surprise, but it worked!

Planning

I am a bit of a veteran when it comes to Vegas trips. I know what I like and therefore I optimize for those things. However, I was a bit nervous about setting up the tour with Zappos because being productive and talking business does not normally fit into the schedule of planned events when I am on the strip. Fortunately, during planning my nervousness soon turned into excitement.

I reached out to Zappos customer service by finding an e-mail address on their website. Shortly thereafter, I received an informative and encouraging e-mail from someone at Zappos.

Hello,

In an effort to share our culture with visitors we open our doors and offer an experience of the Zappos Environment first hand through a tour. I would love to help facilitate a visit to our office, to include a tour.

Tours are offered Monday through Thursday; and the tour duration is 75 minutes. Tours typically start at 9:00am and the last tour starts at 3:00pm.

Please provide a date and an arrival time, and I’ll coordinate a schedule. One of our wonderful tour guides will WOW you with our history of service.

Zappos.com extends a complimentary shuttle service to all of our guests. If you are interested in the shuttle, please provide the pickup and drop off location(s) as well as a cell phone number.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards.

It may seem like a simple e-mail but I was downright surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, given Zappos’ reputation. The e-mail simultaneously answered nearly every question I had and reinforced my impression that the visit would be worthwhile. I immediately began looking forward to the tour. Looking back, throughout all my interactions with Zappos employees on the visit, I was received with similar tones of courtesy and relevant information.

The Tour

The tour of the Zappos campus was quite fun. Our tour guide, although fairly new to the company, was well trained and a good conversationalist. He delivered enormous amounts of functional knowledge about the company and each department in a very short time. I found the professionalism of every employee to be quite impressive but clearly information is not what made the tour fun.

Although I came to the tour alone, I was included in a group with 13 other people who all worked together at a Zappos supplier. This made things a bit awkward at first, but the tour included multiple tactics to get us out of our comfort zone. Some visitors walked around with Zappos flags, others were asked to ring a bell and yell something that nobody would know about them, and still others got to engage in a hula hoop competition with a random employee (who happened to be walking by at the wrong time). Because doing these things felt completely acceptable, nay expected, it did a great job of loosening up our moods. Additionally, only volunteers did these things. No one was forced to be embarrassed by the zany antics.

Zappos’ culture was very welcoming toward visitors. Almost every department we passed did something to acknowledge us and to make us “feel like Kings.” Many of them shook noisemakers, jingled bells, or played funky music on their computers. Some had funny stories or poems prepared for us. From a visitor’s perspective, I felt special to be welcomed in this way as opposed to feeling like a nuisance to people in the building. From an employee’s perspective, I could not imagine being happy about the distraction of a sizable group of people strolling through my office regularly, and me being expected to make noise and interact with them, but there will be more about that opinion in part 2 of this blog post.

The folks at Zappos wanted to make absolutely sure I left the building with a positive impression. In addition to all the free information, popcorn, and smiles I received, they gave me SWAG! I could barely carry it all (a backpack, Zappos Monopoly, culture books, and more). They let me and the other visitors choose a hard back book from their 2 large book cases in the lobby. I took home The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. Given that I was on a mid-week Vegas trip I had traveled to Nevada with just a carry-on. There was no way that I could pack all my new stuff and take it home. While I was leaving the Zappos headquarters, I briefly had the thought to ask them if they would ship my stuff home for me. I honestly got the feeling that I would have, but I did not ask.

Conclusion

Visiting Zappos and taking the tour accomplished everything I had hoped. It taught me a great deal about how a unique culture can have brilliant effects, it was fun, and it inspired me to better myself so that I may be more desirable to future employers that have a similar environment. I absolutely recommend that you take a tour yourself. As long as you are interested in business, web development, shoes, or fun, it will be worth your while.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post, in which I analyze the productivity benefits and drawbacks of Zappos’ environment.