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The pomodoro kitchen timer after which the technique is named.

The pomodoro kitchen timer after which the technique is named.

Since March I’ve been working from home full-time, with frequent trips to the city for meetings and events (it’s only 8 minutes on the train away). There’s a lot I like about this, especially being close to Bodhi and Kate and having a nice blend in my days: I’m able to play with B in the yard for ten minutes, or take him for a walk, have lunch with the family and make sure I’m here to put B to bed. But I miss the energy of having other entrepreneurs around me getting stuff done. The rapid-fire conversations, the sense of comradery and support, the greater ease in achieving focus when others around you are also focusing.

So I decided to start inviting some entrepreneurs I know to come and work with me at home every few weeks. We’ve done it twice and so far it’s been great so I thought I’d share the model here.

Here’s the email I sent:

Hello friends,

You’re getting this email because I think you’re great and I want to invite you to something new and different which I’m kinda excited about.

You’ve probably heard of Jelly, a day when people come together to co-work, often at people’s houses. Well I want to do that, basically, but with a twist I’ll get to in a bit.

Since Bodhi’s birth I’ve mostly been working from home and since we had to move out of our subsidised StartSomeGood office in the city a couple of weeks ago I’ve been working from here basically full-time. This has lots of advantages but I miss having awesome people around me and the focused and creative energy produced when everyone is getting shit done.

So I want to invite you over to work with Kate (who is also working on a new business) and I periodically. We’re thinking every second Thursday if there’s interest.

Everyone getting this email is a) an entrepreneur and b) someone I’d be happy to have in my house. So it’s a select group! You’re all people I want to learn from and collaborate with.

Our house is very easy to get to being only two blocks away from Waverton station, which is eight minutes from Wynyard Station. We have a lovely open and light-filled back living room/kitchen where we can work and a back patio and yard with a fantastic view down the harbour and to the blue mountains in the distance where we can also work weather-permitting.

Thursday Bodhi is at daycare, so it’s a day Kate and I both aim to get a lot of work done and is a good day to have people around between 9ish and 3ish.

So, to the twist.

You may have heard of a productively method called Pomodoro. For those that haven’t it’s very simple. It basically divides up your day into a series of “pomodori’s” or 25 minute sprints, where you pick one thing and finish it. Then you take a five minute break. Than another 25 minute sprint where you finish something. Every four of these you take a longer break.

I want to run the day strictly along these lines, with time at the start and end and a longish lunch break for general catching up and conversation, but with four pomodori sprints on either side.

So this isn’t just for people who like working in social settings, it’s for people who like working in social settings while getting heaps of stuff done.

I’m excited to try this and I think it’d be work best in a group to hold me accountable and to task. Doing it together will make it more effective and more fun. We’ll play a bit of music, enjoy the sunshine and crank out work alongside each other. I guess we’d call it Pomodoro Jelly, which sounds like a very weird culinary experience but might just work as an awesome working experience.

Speaking of culinary experiences during the third small break we can order thai food which will arrive in perfect time for the long lunch break.

Here’s how the day breaks down:

9am – arrive, general catching-up, drinking coffee, etc. Please arrive by at least 930am so there’s time for hellos before we get our pomodoro on.

1000 – 1st pomodoro

1025 – break

1030 – 2nd pomodoro

1055 – break

1100 – 3rd pomodoro

1125 – break – order food

1130 – 4th pomodoro

1155 long break for lunch.

1pm – 5th pomodoro

125 – break

130 – 6th pomodoro

155 – break

2 – 7th pomodoro

225 – break

230 – 8th pomodoro

255 – finish, move to Botanica (great local café across from the station) for coffee, chats and debrief.

We think the right number of people would be no more than 8 including us, so there are a maximum six spots available for visitors. I’d ask that if you do RSVP with me you be genuinely committed to coming, as we’ll be saying no to other people. But I know the unforeseen happens (regularly!) so if you are unable to make it that’s fine just let me know asap so I can offer it to another. If more people want to come than can fit I’ll keep a waitlist.

I hope you’ll be part of this experiment with me.

Cheers!

Tom

Image

So far we’ve done this twice and it has been fantastic! The hardest thing is actually committing to the breaks. And then sticking to only 5 minutes for the break, because everyone is so nice and so interesting. But when everyone is focused and working the energy is very productive, and the chance to catch up with awesome people and quickly share ideas and news is very cool.

I’m open to extending this invitation to a few new people in Sydney so if you’re working on an entrepreneurial initiative and you want to be added to the list please drop me a line and let me know. If I don’t know you already tell me more about what you’re up to. And if you’re doing important work but feeling isolated think about organising something like this in your house or a friend’s house. If you decide to run with it let me know how you go!

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Bubble - zzub nik on flickr
I’ll never forgot the republic referendum held in Australia in 1999.

The polls had looked bad in the weeks leading up to the vote, with the combination of those genuinely in favour of us continuing to be a constitutional monarchy and those unwilling to vote in favour of the specific republican model on offer holding a modest but firm majority but I never lost my optimism. It just seemed too ridiculous that we’d turn down the chance to take the final step of legal independence from Britain. Yes, it’s symbolic, but that’s precisely why it was an important step. And as the day arrived the polls were tightening right on cue.

The day of the vote was sunny in Sydney and I had a great time handing out how to vote cards for the Yes campaign. At the time I lived in an electorate that generally voted conservative, being older and wealthier than the average, but it felt clear that the majority were voting the way I wanted that day. The energy from those taking out how to vote cards was very positive and they clearly outnumbered those taking the cards from the No campaigners. We’ve got this! I thought.

I was at a party when the results came in. It was relatively early in the evening when the outcome became clear. It wasn’t even that close. We’d lost, 55 to 45, and didn’t carry a single state.

I was stunned. Mortified. Outraged. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. Almost everyone I knew was voting Yes. My family, my friends. Even in the moderately conservative seat of North Sydney the vote had clearly favoured us. How had we lost? How could the rest of Australia have made this appalling error? The emotional hit was worse than anything I’ve experienced after an election. I was confused, angry and sad.

And I wasn’t the only one. The mood of the party went sour quickly. Someone admitted to voting No and was set upon (verbally) by a couple of people. More arguments broke out. I wasn’t even in the mood to drown my sorrows or ramble philosophically and so left.
It turns out that North Sydney was something like the second highest Yes vote in NSW. And my friends and family were nowhere near representative of the feelings of the population overall. I was living inside a bubble, and was disorientated when it burst.

I was reminded of all of this today when I read “Hashtag Feminism” in The Monthly, a review of a recently released collection of feminist writings from the Destroy the Joint organisers called Destroying the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World. The author notes a disjunction between the feeling expressed in the writings that Destroy the Joint had been an establishment-shaking, world-changing movement of real social significance and that fact that she herself had never heard of them before, and nor had anyone she knows.

This is what most of politics is like most of the time. We all exist within our bubbles. There is no neutral ground upon which to stand and assess “mainstream opinion.” Those who claim to speak on its behalf rarely resemble the masses they pretend to be one of.

The reviewer of the Destroy the Joint book felt that “many of the contributions to this book highlight, for me, the insularity of hashtag activism: social media as echo chamber.”

But life is an echo chamber. We live in a particular place, surrounded by other people who live in that place. We interact with others in a particular industry or cultural community. We seek out those who share our interests and values. And, yes, social media reflects these general barriers to infinite understanding which exist in human societies.

As is so often the case the new thing being discussed, in this instance social media, is being pointed to as a reason for our insularity when in fact it merely reflects it. It takes effort to seek out and understand the viewpoints of those unlike us. Few of us do it enough. It’s easier to consume content I mostly agree with or about things I am already interested in.

However  in identifying this shortcoming of social media, and of the Destroy the Joint movement, but really of humans in general, it’s easy to miss the real story here. We’ve always been insulated from the full spectrum of human experience and opinion but before social media our isolation could very well be an entirely individual experience. In so many domains people previously believed that they were “the only ones,” whether it was gay kids in the country or women frustrated with the general level of misogyny in our society or someone obsessed with blues in the suburbs.

Now for whatever it is is you’re into there’s others like you forming communities online. And yes, deep engagement with a community is perspective-skewing, but so too is watching the commercial TV news each night (you might think, for example, that we are suffering from a crime wave or a weak economy).

For those who have become involved in feminist activism as a result of Destroy the Joint I have no doubt the experience has been genuinely world-changing, discovering a community of others who feel strongly about the same issues as them and are prepared to do something about it would be incredible empowering and exciting. Have they won the battle against misogyny in the last nine months? Of course not. But they are active and involved and speaking up and changing lives and inspiring active citizenship and that’s actually pretty awesome.

This is how it works in a democracy. We find others who care about the things we do and we work together to convince others and affect the changes we feel are needed in our community. And social media has given us a powerful new set of tools to do this convincing and connecting, to learn from and to share our experiences and to support and sustain each other in the long-term effort to create a better future.

Image by zzub nik on Flickr made available on a creative commons license.

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As I wrote recently, Burning Man is Festival 2.0. It is a user-generated community, built on the respect and responsibility of its citizens, a place where people are participants, not consumers.

The event and indeed the entire culture is based on ten principles, one of which is “leaving no trace”. This practice of leaving no trace creates a radically different consciousness than you see at other festivals. There is little-to-no trash anywhere on the ground as the community takes responsibility not only for our own trash but for each-others, picking up any pieces of MOOP (Material Out Of Place) we see. Camps build evaporation ponds to deal with their gray water and ship out all their own food scraps and recycling. Successfully leaving no trace requires more than the right consciousness, it requires intent, in the form of pre-planning, and responsibility in the form of follow-through.

This responsibility is most apparent at the camp level. The Black Rock Organization recently published the MOOP Map of Burning Man 2010, seen above. I am pleased to report that our camp, More Carrot, was given a green grade, the best possible, indicating low to no impact trace. Not that this was exceptional: as you can see the vast majority of the city is green, with only scattered patches of orange (moderate impact trace) and red (high impact trace). This is what a community looks like: people taking responsibility for themselves and taking care for each other and their environment. It’s one of the things that inspires me to participate in Burning Man.

Looking back over the past four MOOP maps it is clear that things are getting progressively better, with fewer and fewer camps leaving any noticable trace. As you can see this improvement was especially dramatic from the 2006 to 2007 event (click to see full size):

What changed between 2006 to 2007? The MOOP Map was published for the first time .

There’s a really important lesson in this: accountability resting on transparency made the difference. Despite all the power of the Burning Man culture an unacceptable amount of MOOP remained. Then, suddenly, this culture was reinforced with publically-available information detailing how the different camps and neighourhoods of the city were performing against the Leave No Trace goal. And immediately this public accountability produced a huge leap forward in the trash situation as camps worked harder than ever to avoid an orange or red grade.

Transparency reinforced existing community norms both by making deviance from this norm visible and thus additionally unacceptable and signaling to those doing the right thing that their efforts were appreciated. It felt good to see our camp covered in Green when the map was released. It feels good to be part of something that inspires and aggregates individual contributions towards a community goal in this way.

The question is how can we create this level of personal responsibility and community consciousness in all our communities? What sort of transparency is required to support this?

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This most recent weekend was one filled with learning and community, leaving me feeling both smarter and more connected to Washington DC than I was before. It made me realize, or remember, that learning from one-another is one of the most vital components of community; where we are connected by our common ideas, ideals and aspirations; where we realize that all of us know so much more than any of us.

On Friday night I attended the opening night of the Social Justice Camp, an unconference bringing together the grassroots social justice community in DC and emphasizing the importance of arts in bringing about social change. Friday was an Ignite-style event, with a dozen speakers giving short presentations on their work. It was great to hear more about the work of homeless advocates, food security organizers and social change muralists. It had a nice feel to the event, as unconferences always do, of everyone being on the same level, there to share and learn, without a divide between presenters and audience.

This feeling continued on Saturday night at the first Columbia Heights Arts Salon. This was an event for local artists in the Columbia Heights area of DC, hosted in four local homes. A series of house parties combined with showcases for local talents – with houses dedicated to performance, visual art, photography and digital installations. K performed to open the evening, the first time she’s performed solo in two years. The fact that she felt encouraged and inspired to create and present a work in five days is testiment to the platform this sort of event creates. The event was put on my the newly-formed Columbia Heights Arts Foundation (CHARTS), which you can find out more about here. K and I are going to try and get involved and see how we can help them as we’re really inspired by their vision of building community through the arts.

Then on Sunday it was K’s birthday which we celebrated at a tea party for about 16 at which everyone presented/taught something. The variety of things I learnt that afternoon was amazing: drama games, canvas stretching, the scale of the universe, productivity techinques, how to draw a superhero, speak Russian and wear a corset. Everyone had something to share, a passion or a skill, a professional competance or a hobby. We all have things to share, but rarely are we invited to share them. Everyone came away from the experience inspired and uplifted – having maintained our attention for almost six hours and enjoyed every moment of it. This is a really different way of learning from what we get in our institutions – peer-to-peer, relaxed, and human.

This is what community looks like. It is open, vulnerable and participatory, based on common values and able to support its members to share and grow. Experiencing community like this, inside a room, with our shared energy strong and perceptible, is like a jolt of electricity – it animates and inspires. But elements of this community are also found online, and social media has given us a platform to replicate many of these features.

The people I feel most connected to online are those I actively share with and learn from. Twitter, in particular, has given me access to a set of peers who share my values and are looking to collaboratively learn how best to use these tools to affect social change. It is only through trial and error that this learning will take place, and the more we share the faster we can learn. This is why I was part of launching the monthly #4Change twitter chats. This is what inspired the estalishment of sQuareOne (now called the Vibewire Enterprise Hub) in Sydney. The creation of spaces where peer-learning happens.

As my friend Morgan puts it, We Operate Best Together. And we learn, build and grow best together too.

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