I quit my 500k job at Microsoft to start a company (NOT) 😏

You can be an FTE, raise a family, and build stuff, here's how.

Each time I read an inspirational “I quit my job to start a company” article, I’m reminded of the Warby Parker story.

In the book Originals, Adam Grant shares a personal story of when Warby Parker was an idea transforming into a start-up. He had the opportunity to join as an investor but didn’t. Needless to say, Adam missed out. Warby Parker is now valued at 1.75 billion dollars! 😱

Adam refused to invest because both founders refused to give up their day jobs and educational pursuits at the start of the company. In other words, they refused to go all in. That story resonates more with me today than it did four years ago when I first read it. With the internet and all its wonders, making a living independent from an employer has never been more achievable. Leading many people to quit their jobs, breaking the chains of employment to make a living on their own.

For many, myself included, that’s not in the cards. There are those of us who’d rather follow the Warby Parker path. Perhaps someday the art will bear enough fruit that it will become our full-time passion project, but in the meantime, it’s okay to separate work and art.

Here are the 7 most impactful lessons I’ve learned being an FTE, raising a family, and building a creative outlet. 👇

Consume less

Collecting is rewarding.

Accumulating information is tangible and potentially addictive. It feels productive to ingest information and unproductive to digest it. But a body that doesn't digest is malnourished and a mind that doesn't process its input is starved.

Each bookmark, screenshot, and wishlist item provides immediate feedback with little effort. While at the same time closing a short-term Zeigarnik loop, allowing us to mentally shelf an idea, removing the fear of losing access to the information, which provides a feeling of relief. However, storing information only gives the illusion of progress.

Those who just collect never make progress. In fact, their collection of knowledge hinders them by overwhelming their ability to process information. Left unprocessed, information will eventually become a source of anxiety as it piles up intimidatingly high until it becomes unmanageable. Similar to a mountain of consumer debt, the only escape is bankruptcy.

Knowing of something isn't the same as knowing something because learning is the result of effort, not consumption. In order to form an understanding, you have to extract what's inside of the things you collect.

Slow down and don't consume everything.

ACTION: Become a digital minimalist. Value your attention more than your time and reduce the number of sources you consume information from.

Defragment your days

In a way, our days have become like the hard drive of a computer but absent a defragment program.

When storing data on a hard drive, computers make an attempt to write the 1s and 0s of relevant programs next to one another. The reason being, it improves performance by reducing the distance the arm needs to travel when reading the data. Over time, however, space becomes increasingly hard to find and data is stored where it fits, not where it’s optimally stored.

Eventually, performance will degrade to the point that a defragmentation program is necessary, a process that moves the 1s and 0s close together again.

Today our lives seem very similar to that of the under performant hard drive with its scattered data, but instead of data, it’s our minds that are scattered.

Our minds are scattered because technology has fragmented our time.

Sitting in your pocket is at least three hours per day. Not only does your smartphone consume your time, but it also provides a plethora of choices with each unlock. Enough to paralyze even the most diligent digital minimalist.

Creating takes time. It requires research, thinking, doing the work, and editing- all of which are largely time consuming. Luckily, attention matters more than time.

An hour or two per day is all you need, take it where you can find it.

ACTION: Batch the different types of activities throughout your day together to reduce context switching and increase efficiency.

Manage time by blocking it

More hours isn't how you get ahead. Your ability to focus is.

Not planning work in terms of time is like balancing a checkbook without factoring in an account’s debits.

Giving each hour of the day an intentional task balances the day in terms of time, providing you with a more accurate picture of your workload, while unveiling inefficiency hidden within certain malformed habits. By whatever means convenient, visualize the day through the lens of the finite 24 hours provided to you. Give each hour or half-hour a dedicated task. Doing so forces you to choose what's important.

Separate the structure of your day from the plan of the day.

When planning each day, first lay out the structure, the blueprint for what it will look like. Further, defragment your days by reserving blocks of time for work, communications, and urgent but not important tasks. Then within those blocks of structured time, plan the tasks that are to be accomplished.

Confinement isn't the outcome of a schedule when its purpose is to ensure the daily investment in your future self, freedom is.

ACTION: Manage your time, not your tasks. Experiment and implement a personal productivity system to become intentional with the hours in your day.

To learn more about time-blocking, check out Time-blocking in Obsidian. 👈

Set clear goals with immediate feedback

What’s difficult is to decide.

Setting goals and deciding which direction to go are paralyzing thoughts. Even more so when progress is ambiguous. As a result, it’s natural to default to predefined progress bars. YouTube videos, training courses, and books all have an ending, which makes tracking progress a simple calculation. However, consumption is the only process that comes with a built-in progress bar because someone else made it.

In order to advance your skills in any area beyond the advanced beginner, you must learn to find your own way, design your own learning, and forge your own path through knowledge. You must craft your own progress bar by breaking down whatever it is you’re doing to a daily practice.

Whatever your choice, be willing to do it poorly and remember there’s great value in being an amateur.

ACTION: Use time-boxing and define daily metrics to push you towards larger goals and dreams.

Start a practice

Money compounds with time, but learning compounds with consistency.

Life’s richest rewards come from compound interest. As Morgan Housel points out in The Psychology of Money, at 90 years old Warren Buffett has a net worth of $81 billion dollars. But a large portion of his wealth hadn’t accumulated until after his 50th birthday and $70 billion was acquired after age 60. The less accounted for reason of Warren Buffets’ wealth is simply the amount of time he’s been investing.

Not everyone has the same level of clarity that Warren did at age 11 when he started investing. But luckily you don’t have to, to learn from his success.

Warren didn’t start reading about investing at age 11, he started investing and has every single day for the last 79 years. Applied to daily life, it means success is largely a math game, it rewards those that put in the work.

Begin a daily practice by giving thought to an experience that rewards, motivates, and inspires. One that pushes you each day ever so closer to your dream. Let the act become the reward and the outcome be a by-product.

Write to write, code to code, paint to paint.

ACTION: Set an implementation intention. I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

Knowledge needs a way to be remembered

Left unwritten, knowledge will surely be forgotten.

Knowledge needs a place less ephemeral than the mind, more organized than a pile of post-its, and more flexible than a file cabinet. It requires a system, but it starts with a note.

Read as if to write.

Artists have a vast appreciation for other artists and it’s through their own obsessional observance that they improve their own craft. It's subtle but they don't replicate, they integrate. Highlighting, bookmarking, and skimming is replicating.

Digesting, reflecting, and integrating the knowledge you consume requires time and effort. And building a personal knowledge base gives you a place to store it while providing entry points into your memory.

Note-taking reduces digital overload by throttling the rate of consumption and improves your ability to determine what’s relevant.

ACTION: Start taking notes on the knowledge you consume and build a personal knowledge management system.

To learn more about personal knowledge management, check out How to Take Smart Notes in Obsidian: a Zettelkasten Tutorial. 👈

Learn to shutdown

Always-on is for databases, not you.

A stopping rule is a cue to stop a certain behavior. Having cash in your pocket provides a stopping rule for spending. Each dollar that leaves your pocket visually brings you closer to being broke.

Without sufficient cues from the environment, it's difficult to know when to stop certain behaviors. And the convenience technology offers allows us to continue nearly any activity that is desired. When money is abstracted by trading cash for a debit or credit card, people spend more money and when a person's home is an office, they put more hours into work.

Technology disrupts natural stopping rules by abstracting feedback and our brains keep us working by constantly pulling information back into awareness as the brain attempts to prevent forgetfulness, leaving open tasks in short-term memory until they're completed. That's why unfinished tasks are so distracting, regardless of their importance.

Luckily, the brain cannot distinguish between an actual finished task and one that is postponed by taking a note. Writing something down literally gets it out of your head, disrupting the endless loop of thoughts.

ACTION: Create a shutdown ritual. Use notes as mental checkpoints that temporarily close the open Zeigarnik loops of unfinished tasks. And develop your own stopping rules to give yourself time to recover.

Fun fact 📵 : I no longer have a smartphone. 😌

— No iPhone for me, I went light.

The genesis of The Knowledge Worker

When I joined Microsoft, I had a choice to make. I knew accepting the position as a content developer meant merging the technology career I’ve spent 10 years building with my new job, leaving me with two choices, go all-in on technical writing or begin a new career outside of the boundaries of my job.

I saw the latter option as an opportunity. An opportunity to use curiosity to explore the topics that interest me most, and to find an outlet for the things I learn. That choice is the reason for me spending the last 6 months exploring different topics to write about and different platforms to publish on.

To be clear, I have no intention of leaving my full-time employment. Nor will I stop writing technical content outside of my daily duties. But I will, as Warby Parker did, start building something I believe is valuable, that has potential, and that I enjoy despite the time constraints my job and family responsibilities require. It’s my belief that those constraints will only make me more efficient.

In the end, which pursuit will be more prosperous? Only time will tell.

Colossians 3:23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters NIV

Learning to balance, optimize, and manage my time, energy, and attention is the central theme of my writing.

If that interests you, subscribe to The Knowledge Worker and learn alongside me.