The Treadmill Desk

For the last few weeks I’ve been using a treadmill desk once or twice a day, for 30-90 minutes at a time. This particular model has a maximum speed of 2 mph and there is no incline, so it’s not rigorous exercise. But when I consider the alternative—sitting on my butt all day—the treadmill desk is the closest thing I have to a daily workout regimen. (I am so not a gym person.) I’ve lost four pounds without really trying to.

All of this totally makes me an expert on treadmill desks, so here are my observations.

2 mph is kind of fast if you’re working on a presentation. I can type and operate a mouse comfortably at speeds up to 1.2 mph. Faster than that and typos become rampant. (I typwd this at 21 mpd.)

Wear comfortable shoes. My work shoes are comfortable enough for wandering carpeted halls and stomping on crickets, but they are not designed for treadmills. Right now my solution is to have sore feet and try not to complain too much.

You’re chained to your desk…in a good way. If you have trouble sitting still for long periods (I will use absolutely any excuse to leave my chair), the treadmill desk really helps with concentration. Especially after you stop tweeting about being on a treadmill desk. Bonus: Sometimes, after an hour on the treadmill, I think, “I’d better get back to work.” Then I remember I actually have been working the whole time.

Not for mutants. I’m six-three. The desk is adjustable, but its maximum height is about two inches below where I would like it to be. The monitor is bolted to the desk at a fixed height, and putting a phone book under the keyboard and mouse is not a viable option. So if you’re over six feet, be sure to try before you buy.

You will probably look like an idiot. Apparently my daily treks to the treadmill (which is near a communal area at work) are amusing to people. About once a day someone walks by and says something like “What is that? What are you doing?” It seems pretty obvious that I’m powering my laptop like a hamster in a wheel, but whatever.

Beware the phone. Once, I’d been walking for 90 minutes and was about to stop when my phone rang. I took the call. The conversation lasted over an hour. I forgot to stop the treadmill.

That’s right, I WALKED SLOWLY FOR TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS. I felt totally entitled to a Snickers bar after that.

Hired!

I started looking for a job in earnest just after the New Year. Nearly four months later I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be joining Dell.

Many people helped me along the way, and I thought I’d pay it forward by sharing my job-hunting methods. I hope it helps someone, or at least provides a few minutes of amusement.

Social Networking

Taking a cue from my friend — and fellow Dell-er — Sarah Vela, I began my job hunt online, with this “Hire Me” post, which I then linked to a gazillion times on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere.

I also changed my Twitter and Facebook avatar, just like Sarah did.

In the “Hire Me” post, I tried to strike a balance between professionalism and Austin-style keepin’-it-weird-ness.  The post received a lot of good feedback, which was initially encouraging. But after a few months of no job, I began to worry that it was too weird and not professional enough. It might have been paranoid of me, but I toned down the weirdness and also began to be more conservative in social media. Who knows whether any of this made a difference, one way or another. Maybe some recruiter was about to offer me a million dollars a year to tweet random observations about my elderly cat, but decided to pass because my blog was too boring. This is just one of the pitfalls of job hunting in 2012. You want to be authentic but not eccentric.

My wife also hit up her online network, especially on Facebook. It was gratifying to have husbands-of-friends-of-friends-of-my-wife crawling out of the woodwork to try to help me.

Plain Old Networking

I had a veritable army of support during my job hunt. Probably the most valuable resource were all the moms and dads at my daughter’s school (you know who you are). THANK YOU! I enjoyed many lunches, coffees, email exchanges, and phone calls within this network. I felt like everyone was looking out for me. Whether or not it led closer to a J-O-B, it was always good to explore possibilities and get my morale boosted by good conversation and the fries at Hyde Park Bar & Grill. My parents and in-laws also provided a steady stream of referrals. Any one of these could have led to a dream job. It was only a matter of time.

LinkedIn

Most of us ignore LinkedIn except to connect with the occasional past colleague or maybe to post in the “Cat Fancy” group. But when you’re job hunting it is a tremendously valuable resource. First, tons of companies post jobs there — and some only post jobs on LinkedIn. Second, you can set up all kinds of custom searches that filter by multiple criteria: Salary, location, keyword, industry, et al. (Protip: If you include salary in your search criteria, you will miss out on jobs that don’t specify any salary. I learned this the hard way.) I had five or six custom searches and got email alerts every day.

I upgraded my LinkedIn account to “Job Seeker” ($29.95/month) . This upgrade allowed me to send email to people out of my network, become a “featured applicant” when I applied for jobs and, somewhat creepily, see who’s viewed my LinkedIn profile. (I’m going to miss this last one.) If you’re looking for a job, this upgrade is totally worth it. It was easy to downgrade once I landed a gig.

Organization

I’m not the world’s most organized person, but I am fond of using spreadsheets to track things. I had two: a frequently updated  list of links to companies where I might want to work and a list of all the jobs I’d applied for.

Every few days I’d visit all the links in the first document to see if any new jobs had been posted. (There are many companies who post only on their corporate website — jobs that you will never see on Monster, LinkedIn, or anywhere else.)

The second spreadsheet became useful once I’d applied for a bunch of jobs. As the recruiters started calling, it was useful to be able to quickly reference the position I’d applied for, where I’d seen it posted, and a brief job description. And every time I was turned down, I moved the job off the main spreadsheet into a new tab called “Rejects.” This tab will make for good bedtime reading when I need a dose of despair.

Acts of Desperation

There is a point in a sustained job hunt in which you believe you are doing everything wrong and that it’s time to think outside the box. It was at this point that I awoke one morning determined to create an online  “Choose Your Own Adventure” game in which recruiters could play until they made all the right decisions, culminating in hiring me. This might have been a good idea if I were an actual computer programmer and/or had limitless time. Instead I did it totally half-assed. What can I say? I was desperate.

In the end, none of this made a difference…

After applying to more than 60 positions, speaking with dozens of recruiters, interviewing with a handful of hiring managers, and rejecting one offer, I finally received a job offer from Dell.  I’d applied on their website on April 10, had a phone interview less than two weeks later, an in-person interview a couple days after the phone interview, and an offer the following day. The entire process, from submitting my application to getting hired, took less than three weeks.

It’s not supposed to work this way! 

And in fact, it almost didn’t work at all. I’d very nearly given up applying for positions at Dell, having applied previously for 10 other jobs without hearing anything back. You gotta be persistent.

…but I’m still glad I did it

I think part of the reason I got the job at Dell was because I’d had so much practice leading up to it. I’d had four months to practice my interview skills. Four months to identify what I am really good at and enjoy vs. what direction my career could take, if absolutely necessary. And Dell really impressed me; it was amazing to see such a huge company move so quickly to recruit someone. I start the job in two weeks (I still have client work to wrap up) and I’m thrilled to be starting something new.

Hire Me

Subliminal Message: Hire MeWho I am:

Digital marketing strategist and creative technologist with 15+ years of professional experience — eight years in the financial services industry — with specific knowledge of socially responsible investing and alternative asset classes. FINRA licenses 6, 26, and 63.

Who I really am:

Father. Occasional writer and musician.

What I’m looking for:

The ideal position would be within the marketing department of a financial services company or at an agency with financial clients.  Job title would resemble the following: E-business Lead; Digital Marketing Strategist; E-Commerce Director; Online Marketing Manager et al. But I have many interests and areas of knowledge and would be open to other opportunities.

Reasons to Hire Me:

I know stuff. And if I don’t know the answer, I know where to find it. Everything from web analytics to Google Adwords to Facebook apps to FINRA compliance to what it’s like to drive an ice cream truck in November. Just ask.

I can do stuff. The natural evolution of a career takes you from accomplishing tasks to assigning them — and mine is no different — but I think it’s important to always have one foot in the trenches. I’m great with Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Excel, Mac or Windows, you name it.

I can juggle. I mean this figuratively…and literally. Throw projects at me and I will keep them running. Throw machetes at me and, if I am not mortally wounded, I will juggle them.

My Resume:

This is a PDF document.Financial services resume (Warning: insider baseball)

 

This is a PDF document.Resume for agencies, startups, anyone else who doesn’t say the word “FINRA” multiple times per day

 

View Noah Masterson's profile on LinkedIn

 

A Sane Alternative to Inbox Zero

TOTAL CHAOS

Inbox Zero — the alleged ideal of emptying your email inbox at the end of every day — is a dumb waste of time.  It’s a trap that makes you feel guilty about your supposed disorganization. It makes you a slave to — not master of — your software. It is a pointless exercise in anal retentiveness. Shall I go on?

I tried Inbox Zero for awhile. It was fun at first and then became Sisyphean. Each new email produced anxiety, like, “how DARE you soil my precious mailbox?” Now, while I am not above using the nuclear option (aka Select-All-Delete), I employ a saner approach to email management.

The most crucial element of my approach is the ability to archive, rather than permanently delete, your email. Gmail does this by default. Outlook has enterprise add-ons like EmailXTender that do the same thing, even when space is restricted for individual users.  Once you have the peace-of-mind of being able to retrieve old emails, you can be totally cavalier about deleting them.

So which ones do you delete, and when? I usually have a live-and-let live attitude toward my mountain of email, deleting most as a I go but also allowing them to pile up for awhile. But there always comes a point at which I’m uncomfortable with the clutter and want it to go away. For you, this point may come once a week, once a month, or once a year. For me it seems to be about every three months. When this point comes, this is what I do:

  1. Sort by sender and delete all the unread newsletters and spam you’re never going to read. Also the ones from that one ass-head who forwards chain letters and six-year-old internet memes.
  2. Sort by date and delete everything older than a month or two. An email that’s been sitting around that long either (a) wasn’t important to begin with, (b) has already been dealt with, or (c) is now so old that it would be embarrassing to deal with. If this step scares you, remember you’re only archiving things, not permanently deleting them.
  3. Go through what’s left. Respond and delete appropriately. If there are some you can’t deal with and don’t want to trash, leave them alone and don’t feel guilty about it. Most likely you’ll trash it when you follow Step #2 again in a few months.

And that’s pretty much it. Since allowing a little inbox chaos in my life, I feel saner and happily imperfect. And I never seem to have a problem finding old emails when I need them.

Want more of my thoughts on Inbox Zero? See my post on Get Off My Lawn.

 

The Onion, the Jesus Lizard, and Another Reason to Hate SEO

The OnionEvery Onion article starts with a great headline:

“Nation’s Dog Owners Demand To Know Who’s A Good Boy”

“Even CEO Can’t Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business”

“Man Who Temporarily Disables Facebook Account Deems Self ‘Off The Grid'”

Once  the editors approve a headline, a writer amasses 150 to 900 words to support it. This method has served the Onion well for many years. It’s a perfect system for writing fake news.

The problem is that, in an attempt to game search engines, this is pretty much how purportedly real news organizations work too. The Huffington Post is one such offender, with articles like “What Time Does the Superbowl Start?” whose only purpose is to gain top rankings in Google search results. It’s non-news like this that makes following links to the Huffington Post such a crapshoot: You never know whether you’ll find real news, or a snippet of an article from another publication, or time-wasters not intended for human consumption.

Because HuffPost is successful, there are scores of copycats polluting the Web. Google’s recent algorithm change seeks to address this problem but may not go far enough. After all, a large part of the problem is us. (“What Time Does The Superbowl Start” has over 3,000 “likes” on Facebook.)

The Jesus Lizard, one of my favorite bands, uses the Onion approach for song titles. The bassist and guitarist write music, come up with a name for the song, and then hand it off to the singer, David Yow, to write lyrics. This system has given us gems like “If You Had Lips,” “My Own Urine,” and “Happy Bunny Goes Fluff-Fluff Along” (and these are just from their first LP).

What can be done? Well, until online publications begin randomly substituting headlines with Jesus Lizard song titles—thus putting SEO out of business—we can do our part by not visiting websites that flagrantly appeal to search engines over humans. It won’t be easy; we’ll have to hover over those hyperlinks to see where they go before we click. And for cryin’ out loud, go easy on the “like” button!