How I Work (from home): Software engineer Pam Selle on prioritization and goofing off 'on purpose' - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 2, 2020 2:08 pm

How I Work (from home): Software engineer Pam Selle on prioritization and goofing off ‘on purpose’

The senior dev with San Francisco-based HashiCorp talks about her time-saving hacks and keeping productivity in check: "Trying to have a perfect day every day is too much pressure."
Pam Selle.

Pam Selle.

(Photo by Stanley Zheng)

This is Technical.ly’s How I Work series: Remote Edition, in which we ask some of Philly’s remote workers — seasoned and new — about their routines and tips for staying productive. If you’d like to be a part of this series, email us: philly@technical.ly.


Remote work is nothing new to Pam Selle.

As the senior software engineer at San Francisco-based HashiCorp, the 2020 RealLIST Engineers honoree works with a team to maintain the Terraform open source project, which is used by technologists to maintain infrastructure-as-code. Selle also convenes Philly’s remote community through Remote in Philly, which hosted its first holiday party in December.

She shared her work-from-home routine with us, including tips for keeping your self at the center of your life and setting boundaries; responses have been lightly edited for clarity or length.

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What’s the first thing you do every day before doing any job-related work?

I have a general morning routine separate from work, which ideally involves journaling and meditation. Once I open my computer, the vortex tends to suck me in, so my line is generally “work laptop is open means I’m at work,” so I try and get set up for the haul. Full bottle of water, headphones at ready, and opening the laptop.

Where do you work? What does your desk look like?

Up until recently, I work out of Indy Hall. I have a permanent desk there, and I love having all the perks of an office, but the diversity where my “coworkers” are actually from a diverse set of jobs, businesses (especially solo), and industries.

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Currently, my “desk” rotates between the couch, kitchen table, or I have a backrest and work from bed. I’m not being intense about it during this time of adjustment, and I don’t have space for a desk/dedicated workspace in my current living space (that’s the idea of having the Indy Hall membership), but that might change over time.

What’s your KPI for every day? How do you know it’s been a productive day?

I keep a log of what I do every day, and save an archive of them for reflection purposes.  Sometimes (possibly most of the time?) I use that to set out my to-do for the day — concrete goals/what I plan to work on for the day. Sometimes, I finish it really fast, and I’m motivated to pick something else up, if only to queue it for the next day. Others, especially now, there are some days that I’m just not Getting It.

One of my favorite pieces of working advice is “goof off on purpose,” from my friend Thomas Cannon, which is to say: If I notice I’m particularly distracted, like, really really off … maybe it’s not the best time to work. And taking a break to read a book, or occupy myself with something else, is a better use of my time rather than worrying about how “unproductive” I’m being.

A productive day is one where I tried, and where the days that things are working generally are outnumbering the times when it’s not (which is why I keep and save the logs; I’ll also note I don’t share these with anyone, and I do not keep them online). Trying to have a perfect day every day is too much pressure.

When life gets busy, how do you make sure you make time for your personal priorities?

If life is busy, it gets first priority, because it’s my life. Work is a part of that life, but it is in negotiation with other aspects.

What’s a time-saving life hack you practice?

I cook ahead. I try to have something ready to eat (i.e. re-heatable in the microwave) for lunch, as thinking “oh, I’m home, I’ll have time to cook lunch!” is a great way for me to spend hours in the kitchen, and not a great way for me to get my work tasks done. This is a habit I’ve been using for some years at this point, and I’m really into it! I love food and cooking, but cooking every day (and DISHES) is a lot of effort.

What’s your preferred workday soundtrack?

I’m a no-music-at-work weirdo! There’s often music in the background at Indy, but I don’t add music to the mix, especially because I have trouble concentrating particularly when there are words. I listen to music when I’m listening to music, generally, but I don’t mind of other people put theirs on in the background so long as it’s not too loud.

Any additional tips you can share for the first-time remote workers out there?

Give yourself a lot of leeway at the moment! I’ve been working remotely full time for four-plus years now. I’ve worked out of apartments while traveling in other countries (meaning I’m also used to not having my coworking space/adjusting to elsewhere), but the context we find ourselves in is unprecedented, and expecting “business as usual” is harmful and patronizing. I watched a video the other day that talked about how one way we find “normal” by oscillating between extremes (ex. some really good days, some very bad ones), and that’s OK.

Stay social (set up virtual coffees with friends! virtual happy hours!) but also set boundaries so you can do what you want to do. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by folks suddenly reaching out way more when I’ve been doing virtual coffee with friends around the world and coworkers well before the current situation. It’s OK to say “I don’t have time this week” the same way you would in the physical world.

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