Taming the Monkeys

Running your own business can feel like you’ve signed up to babysit four hyperactive monkeys—especially as a microISV.

There’s the sales/marketing monkey that constantly needs to be fed or he starts taking chunks out of you and you die a painful death. Then there’s the operations monkey that wants the books kept in order and paperwork filed or he ties your shoelaces together when you’re not looking and you end up doing a world-class face plant. And we certainly can’t forget the support monkey that sleeps for a while and then wakes up with night terrors and blood-curdling screams. He’s the one that will give you a heart attack if you don’t attend to his every need.

Lastly, and most importantly for a software company, is the development monkey. This little guy is your favorite and the reason you started a microISV in the first place. You want to give him the most attention and normally he rewards you with much affection, but he’s a bit psychotic. One moment he’s all happy and content and the next moment he’s pulling out your hair, throwing food (or worse) at you and giving you wet willies.

And all these little guys want to hang around on your back and shoulders all the time. It can be hard to find time for yourself and your family, but you have to do it. It’s essential to your sanity and survival. The trick is to keep each monkey entertained on a nice rotating schedule so that they’ll leave you alone.

My method is to revolve everything around development. I get up in the morning, check on how sales are doing, look at my support emails, answer any that I can quickly, scan my RSS feeds for news and get on to development. During think breaks in coding, I check the support emails and answer them. Sometimes I can’t give a complete answer without more investigation, so I try to at least move an issue forward by requesting more details. This usually works out nicely and I haven’t had to deal with many night-terrors sessions.

My sales and marketing tasks are usually saved for later in the day when my three teens are home. I need less focus for doing this work than coding so the interruptions by my kids aren’t as bad as when I’m fighting off soggy fingers in my ears. Unfortunately, my carpeting is littered with impressions of my nose because I just don’t want to tend to that operations monkey as often as he needs me.

One thing that has helped me tame a couple monkeys is my iPhone. It lets me run errands and taxi my teens to events and still stay on top of support and sales. I can also read my RSS feeds while I’m away from my computer and I feel less guilty reading news and articles. When I’m on my iMac, it seems wrong not to have Xcode as my current application. There’s so much code to write (because software is never finished), that I need to give that little chimp as much time as possible.

Lately, I’ve been using Google’s new mobile RSS reader. They updated the interface last month and it made it much easier to use on the iPhone. Unfortunately, it wasted some of my precious “between monkey” time because I couldn’t quickly tell Google that I already looked at most of these articles this morning in NetNewsWire and I don’t want to see them on my iPhone now—it only allowed me to mark a page of feeds as read.

Just this morning I read NetNewsWire + NewsGator Mobile in Brent Simmons’ blog and discovered the joy of NewsGator NewsGator Mobile for the iPhone. Wow! I feel like I just I was given a huge gift of time. It syncs my two readers (along with my clippings) so I only have to mark an RSS feed as read in one place. I don’t know why I didn’t try this before. I know that this is one of the strengths of NetNewsWire and one of the reasons I bought a copy (yes, right before it was released as a free product, I paid for it. Buy high and sell low is my motto), but I just didn’t get around to trying it.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s pretty huge for me. I love reading and I’m a big fan of several bloggers and news sites, but I only give myself small slices of time between monkeys to enjoy this activity. With the added time savings of having my feeds synced on my iMac and iPhone, I can spend less time paging through read feeds and more time reading new stuff. Shoot, I may even be able to subscribe to some feeds I had to drop because they clogged up my iPhone Google Reader. My break times just got more fun. Thanks Brent!

I have to go now, the programming primate just hit me in the back of the head with something… and it doesn’t smell like food.