April 30, 2012

The "Archive" Button Can be Your In Box's Best Friend

You practically can't open your RSS reader or spend a day on a social network of your choice without running into complaints about email. Nobody likes it. Everybody says they have too much of it. People gloat over mass deletions of unread items, or sporting a full in box four or five figures deep. Some people take vacations from it or swear they'll pound through their to-read list in what could be an eventually futile journey toward the improbable in box zero. But for many of those people, it's likely the impenetrable in box is symptomatic of something else - the inability to make a decision the email requires, or the option to escape a discussion and call it complete.

When I joined Google last fall, I anticipated my corporate in box exploding. A notorious information-driven company with cool words in the lexicon such as "centithread", I imagined finally crossing over from my "I'll get to every single message, I promise," mentality, to accepting defeat. But this hasn't been the case. As I had before I joined, the email box has been no bigger a challenge than handling one's updates in Google Reader, or seeing all mentions on Google+ and Twitter.

This is helped by having a practical "always on" schedule, enabling messages to be consumed or responded to from the nearest Android phone or tablet, and the laptop is practically another limb, but the best tool for making sure I don't get lost in a torrent of email, beyond discretion in consuming tangential mailing lists, is the "Archive" button in Gmail.
The "Archive" button is pretty straight forward. If you have determined that an email message or its resulting thread no longer needs any action from you, and shouldn't take in box attention, you just hit the button and it is moved out of your in box. It's not deleted outright, meaning the thread can pop back up again if a new message arrives, and it's still discoverable in search, so you don't have to worry about being able to find it again if you change your mind later.

About 18 months ago, I talked about how one has to hone their stream in what is being perceived as an "attention" crisis, and that the onus is on us to read fast, process fast and decide fast what requires action and what does not. Information overload can be overcome with filtering what you take in, and where you participate. When to archive threads and when to extend threads requires that same level of precision. Guess rightly and you are able to get the right information to the right people at the right time with the smallest amount of effort. Guess wrongly and you could find yourself distracted by off-topic content and miss the important information amid a sea of comparable noise.

If you're a Gmail user, you probably know Google bumped up its storage capacity to more than 10 gigabytes apiece, so the issue of how you manage your email is less about can you store it all, because you probably can, but if you can manage it all. Using the archive button well is a key part of email in box survival.

Disclosures: I work at Google, and naturally, I use Gmail at home and at work.

April 14, 2012

Private Companies, Stock Splits and Taxes

From 2001 to 2009, I worked at a private company in various roles, from marketing manager to director. Over my eight years there, I gained stock options from my hire date in January of 2001, to my last option grant in the fall of 2008. In addition, I purchased stock as an individual in 2005 and 2006. While we filed to go public in 2007, we eventually had to withdraw this plan, and the company never did see those options become public.

Last fall, after I joined Google, the company was finally acquired, for cash. I was given some payout from my time there, and separate investing, but due to many different rounds, up and down, numerous stock splits, and the CFO position being a revolving door, getting critical details, such as how many options came from which purchases, and the dates of the acquisitions have been almost impossible to figure out.

As you can imagine, this is big problem when it comes to filing taxes. TurboTax, or any reasonable tax professional, will need to know the details of when stock sold was acquired and for how much. But the third party company that managed working with stockholders doesn't have any records of acquisition dates or prices - only the number of shares per person and value of those shares. The CFO and financial team at the company (since acquired) doesn't have access to it either. My own records, mental or otherwise, aren't a perfect match, as the stock I acquired subsequently was reverse split and diluted, so the shares I purchased don't match those I was paid out on.

So this is a fun detective game of sorts, walking through my bank records (ever try to find a check for a certain amount from 6 years ago on Wells Fargo or eTrade?), and even emailing the law firm (Wilson Sonsini) which might have this data somewhere. All in the name of trying to be as truthful as possible so I can have the benefit of paying the IRS a good chunk of money which they are owed.

Had the company been a startup acquired in its first two or three years of life, like some you often read about, you wouldn't have the complexity of multiple rounds of stock, reverse stock splits, and the changes in financial team leadership. Had it been a public company, stock purchases would be easier to find, as would the stock prices. But the meandering road of a company that fought hard for a decade, before getting purchased, makes for messy records.

I am hoping I don't have to end up filing an extension (having never done so), but the deadline to file is fast approaching, and I still have gaps. It sounds like I should have made solid marble copies of those checks I made out to the company when buying my shares and locked them away in stone. If only everything was as easily searchable in the cloud as it should be.

/via my Google+ Profile

April 08, 2012

Measuring Up at Life's Checkpoints

According to my blog history, I turned 30 years old five years ago. So that correspondingly means that today marked my hitting 35. When I got the somewhat congratulatory call from a high school best friend this morning, I asked what in the world could possibly be different at 35 than 34, aside from being qualified to run for president. He quickly said that when you hit 35, your back goes out... you become incontinent... so yeah, not great stuff.

Any time life passes an arbitrary number, it becomes second nature to do a self-evaluation and compare where you are against life goals, or where friends, family or famous people were at similar stages. It's easy for me to look at my own parents, and realize that by 35, my mother had five children, and my dad, two years younger than she, crossed that mark by 33.

By age 35, Steve Jobs had started Apple and been summarily fired, moving on to launching NeXT computer. Larry Page had been at Google for 10 years, and was only 3 years away from taking the CEO position. Bill Clinton had been governor of Arkansas for 3 years. John F. Kennedy was entering the U.S. Senate. Barack Obama was elected to Illinois Senate. In the year he turned 35, Jack Dorsey held down CEO positions at both Twitter and Square. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg still has yet to reach his 28th birthday, and history will tell which direction he will go, atop one of the web's most powerful companies.

So that's humbling. Take a small roster of some of the world's top leaders, put them on the wall as comparisons, and it's easy to get depressed. That's made even worse with visits to sporting events, when rookie baseball players could theoretically be your own biological children, and peers your age are seen as being on their career's last legs. Eric Chavez, the one-time Oakland A's star and multiple time Gold Glover, is hanging on to a role with the New York Yankees and has considered retirement. He's 8 months my junior. Roy Halladay, two time Cy Young Award winner, turns 35 next month.


Even at work, it seems many more of my peers are just as likely to have been born in the late 1980s as the late 1970s. There was a time when I was consistently among the youngest in meetings at the office. I remember interviewing candidates to report to me - only to have HR tell me they declined after meeting me in person and learning of my youth. I once got a roster of employees in 2001, organized youngest to oldest, and I was third on the list. That won't happen now, obviously.

But rather than point to incredible people who have put a dent in the world, it makes just as much sense to take stock of the place one has in the world, and the trajectory on which you have set for yourself, your family and your future. Living in the Silicon Valley is fantastic and invigorating. Being married for just about 9 years now, and having three incredible kids, a nice home in a safe and beautiful neighborhood is great. Being able to quickly reach out to friends and remote family, with or without the latest gadgets, is a plus. Working at an aggressive and innovative company taking on hard challenges is exceptional.

The aforementioned Steve Jobs stated in his famous commencement address at Stanford, "'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

Nobody's life is a perfect one. No couple goes without argument. No child goes without accidents and disobedience. No job goes without surprises and the occasional annoyance. But achievements and pleasure can be had when one determines what it is that is valuable, and how that can be predictably obtained. The question is not whether one can keep pace with the Jobs and Pages and Zuckerbergs, but if you could look forward to a date in the future of five, ten or twenty years and think that you would be pleased with your future self. Can you look backwards the same and think that your past self would be happy with who you had become, or wistful that you had not challenged yourself and let opportunity go by?

Exceptional people are exceptional because they are the exceptions. Incredible people are incredible because they accomplish things that defy belief. When you think of how you measure up, consider whether it's your own expectations, or those of the people around you who matter, and did you? 35 isn't quite the middle of the life mark it once was, when getting to 70 was the target, but it's a number that says you have some history behind you, and hopefully, much more to go. With each data point, I'll keep measuring.