We first met Groundwork! member Jeff Golenski at a South Coast WordPress Meetup. Jeff is an easy-going, laid-back kind of guy, but he happens to belong to the design team of Jetpack, a WordPress plugin that has over 3 million active installs: in other words, he is quietly shaping how many of us experience and manage our websites.
Jeff pretty much lives the dream: he can work from anywhere. In this year alone he’s been off the beaten path in Amsterdam, Hawaii, and New Mexico to name a few places. And yet with the world at his fingertips, Jeff chooses to spend a significant amount of time right here at Groundwork! Read on for Jeff’s insights on how to stay focus and inspired while working in the remote, digital workforce.
What’s your profession?
User Experience Designer & Front-end Developer at Automattic, Inc.
Currently, I’m 1 of 5 designers on the Jetpack Design team. We’re working on several products in the self-hosted WordPress ecosystem (WordPress.org) along with WordPress.com. Some of the products we work to evolve include the Jetpack, Akismet, and VaultPress plugins, along with WordPress.com.
Describe a typical work day for you.
Depending on the project, responsibilities vary pretty greatly for designers at Automattic. Basically the two major categories of design that I personally work with at Automattic include product design and marketing design.
Here’s a buzz-word ridden list of anything I may be doing on any given day—in no particular order!
- Understanding our audience/users and their intended goals
- Brainstorming UX (User eXperience) concepts and flows (conceptualization, sketching, wire-framing)
- UI & interaction design (low & high fidelity designs)
- Iteration of concepts based on feedback (both internally and externally)
- Interactive prototyping
- User testing & user interviews
- Usability & accessibility testing
- Internationalization of our products (ensuring our designs work for all cultures, not just folks in the USA)
- Branding design & guidelines (color, typography, iconography, voice, personality, story)
- Marketing design for events (print design, booth design, swag design)
- Performance testing of our products (ensuring they’re fast)
- Information architecture
- Front-end development of aforementioned designs (HTML, SASS/SCSS, React JS)
- Browser & device testing
There’s a lot of ground to cover! Of course, I don’t do all of that stuff every day. Most days or weeks I’ll find a focus and only do that one thing. So far, for the month of june I’ve been heavy into front-end development and a little UI design.
What’s the biggest challenge you face at your job?
Maintaining focus is by far one of my greatest challenges.
Automattic is a completely distributed company with employees in 55+ countries. Working from home with a flexible schedule is incredible, but contrary to popular belief, it is also extremely difficult to maintain focus.
Differentiation of comfort and work zones is an absolute must in order to maintain productivity (enter Groundwork!). Simply because I’ll be the first to admit that no work is getting done if I’m sitting on my couch with a TV in front of me and my cats continuously meowing for food and attention.
However, the fight for focus is not only influenced by the physical world. The digital realm also offers an onslaught of menacing focus disruptors. We’re all familiar with how things like email, phone calls, and social media contribute to eroding output. To combat this, I’ve deleted most social media apps from my phone and utilize a Chrome browser extension that blocks social media outlets after just 5 minutes of use while I’m on my computer. If I need to use them for work, I can circumvent the extension though—its mainly a guidelines for creating self-discipline. My phone is permanently on “do not disturb” and most push notifications are turned off. As for email… what’s that? ;-D.
We use an app called Slack at my company for communication, so everything I need to keep an eye on is transmitted there, for the most part.
Do you have a morning routine?
“Mornings would be better if they were in the afternoon.”
I’ve never been much of a morning person. Throughout my entire life I’ve always found that I find the most clarity and focus at night when my energy levels are high and distractions are low—and thankfully I’ve always been able to follow a career path that allows for such a schedule.
That being said, when I do wake up, I try to avoid any sort of digital absorption for at least an hour. Sometimes I go for a run, sometimes I read, and sometimes I just stare out the window and dream about ways to make the world a better place… and sometimes I lay in bed and wish I were still sleeping!
What are your favorite productivity tips or hacks?
Without a doubt, preventing burnout is essential in order to continue being passionate about your craft. Unless there’s some serious looming deadline, I’m extremely strict on limiting my time at work—or on a computer for that matter. 8—10 hours a day is reasonable. But if I hit hour 11, I shut my laptop and go outside and play. The more downtime I have, the more focus and energy I’ll have during my working hours. It doesn’t matter how many hours you put in if you’re burnt out. I also make it a point to have hobbies that take me as far away from work as possible. More on that later!
What do you listen to during the day?
That all depends on what mood I’m in or what mood I want to be in!
During days where I need to be head down in code, I prefer to listen to ensembles that don’t have lyrics I may accidentally sing along to. Everything from classical music to movie soundtracks (John Williams is my dude!) are fantastic for providing distraction free energy.
On more relaxed days I prefer to jam out to folksy tunes and some reggae fusion. Low energy days are hip hop and metal.
How do you benefit from using a coworking space?
Hands down, its the social energy and community. There’s something about the energy of folks moving and working around me that transfers energy and enhances my mood. Coffee shops are often busy and the internet is super inconsistent. And I can never find a seat! At Groundwork, there’s a community here that I can be a part of and reach out to for ideas if need be. It’s like being in an office, but everyone just works at different companies. It’s something we’re only going to see more of as our workforce moves more towards the digital space.
What’s in your digital toolbox?
What is the most surprising or unusual aspect of your life?
So, uh. I breed poison dart frogs from central and south america. You know, the cute little brightly colored frogs that are super deadly? Yeah, my apartment is full of them. All housed in completely automated, encapsulated ecosystems that mimic the rainforest and cloud forests that these frogs reside in—they’re called Vivariums and they’re living, functioning art.
What inspires you?
The natural world offers no shortage of inspiration for me and I seek refuge there whenever I’m running low on motivation and ideas. However, I often find myself being incredibly inspired by speaking with and learning from people who lead unordinary lives. The people who had a dream and now live that dream even though society raised them to think they had to sit at a desk from 9—5 every day. I’m talking about the digital nomads who have turned a school bus into a home and travel around the country. The guy who builds tree houses for a living. The ladies who setup Groundwork! to help everyone come together and be a community. :-D