Interviews, Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind With Artur Piszek, Cognitive Engineer at Automattic

November 5, 2019

Artur Piszek is a Cognitive Engineer at Automattic, where he works on the Earn offering for WordPress.com, which provides tools to help transform websites into businesses.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am leading the “Earn” offering on WordPress.com. We provide a suite of intuitive tools to help turn your website into a thriving business. Within five minutes, you can start selling products or subscriptions to deepen the relationship with your audience.

I spend most of my time programming, but these days I find myself transitioning a bit into the product manager role.

Previously I worked at Samsung, which was a much different environment than my current one. It was a very office-centric culture, with many rules and processes. At Automattic (parent company of WordPress.com), I have much more freedom and flexibility.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My days tend to be quite varied. Both my wife and I work remotely for the same company, so we do travel a lot. We have an apartment in Warsaw, Poland, and whenever we are there, I aim to complete the following routine:

  • In the morning, I run, swim or do a bodyweight workout unless it’s a gym day.
  • Then I write a few words in my journal to get the nagging and distracting thoughts out of the way.
  • Sometimes I would do Wim Hoff breathing exercises to oxygenate.
  • The above three would take no longer than 1 hour total.
  • Ideally, I’d skip breakfast and start working right away. I am most productive in the morning, so I would try to write some code or prepare an internal document. It’s usually a blog post, because at Automattic, asynchronous communication is the default, and much of it happens on our internal blog system.
  • If it’s a gym day, I will go before lunch, because that’s when the gym is empty. I have an online coach from NerdFitness that helps me in my workout routine (it’s a lot of squats and deadlifts).
  • Just after the gym, I’d cook lunch for my wife and me. It’s usually a salad with a sauteed eggplant or something similar during the summer. Since winter is coming, we may want to change that menu. Working from home allows us to cook, but there is also a looming risk of the fridge being too close. I am a snacker.
  • Way too often, I find myself plagued by the post-lunch slump, so that is when I plan the busywork – for example, answering on Slack. I am in Europe, and my colleagues are mostly in the US, so all calls happen in my afternoon/evening.

That is, of course, an ideal day and rarely the reality. Sometimes I get into heated discussion first thing in the morning or skip a workout and then feel unfocused. But I hope to have more days like these.

When I travel, my schedule is naturally all out of whack. I try to do as much work as possible in the morning, to free up some time for sightseeing during the day. I can balance working and traveling pretty well right now, but staying healthy on the road is another matter – recently, I hired a remote fitness coach that sets my workouts.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Automattic (the company employing me) is one of the big promoters of remote work. We have employees in 72 countries, speaking 91 languages, and have been around for more than ten years now.

I would say that working remotely is the cornerstone, and the rest of our (my wife & mine) lifestyle is built around that.

We can travel much more than it would be possible while working in the office. Staying in one country for a month is nice because you get to know how it is to live there. But you won’t get a month-long vacation. Working remotely and traveling is a nice compromise.

Fortunately, our company tends to favor asynchronous communication, so it’s easy to run errands during the day. Visiting the post office or shopping is much easier when everybody else is at work

The most significant benefit of remote work is being able to take care of my grandpa – visiting him for lunch or just being able to help him when he needs it.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks, or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I have a whole blog about it! These are my favorites:

The foundations are often overlooked for being ’too basic’. Nutrition, exercise, sleep and drinking enough water are paramount. They are also tricky, since it’s easy to blame a colleague for being annoyed, when in fact the problem was a bad night’s sleep or having a sugar crash.

I generally guard my calendar like a precious gem. For those reasons, I tend to stay away from sync meetings, estimates, and fulfilling other people’s agendas. It may be beneficial to do some politics, but if you deliver results, politics are not necessary. The uninterrupted time is key to doing anything of value.

I sometimes use other tasks to procrastinate. When I cannot help myself avoiding ‘the big thing,’ I’ll just do some other job instead of feeling guilty.

Check out Deliberate and Remote – the future of work and life for more hacks and tricks.

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I prefer “work-life synergy.” I try to structure my life in a way that one supports the other, instead of continually having to choose.

  • Thanks to asynchronous communication, I can respond on Slack while waiting in a queue at the post office.
  • Being able to do the shopping when everybody is at work saves me from rush hour crowds.
  • Taking a break to walk in the middle of the day makes my thinking clearer and my work better.

Pretty often, I take my laptop to work from a park or a cafe. Change of scenery helps me to focus, and I can sit in a beautiful place. Nature always helps.

Instead of treating work-life as a dichotomy, I am always on the lookout for win-win solutions.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

I have implemented GTD (Getting things done) in Evernote. The trick is to have one place to store „stuff to do” and having confidence that I will handle it. This contract with myself allows me to focus on whatever I am doing at the moment and not on remembering other things. This has freed up a lot of mental energy.

I automate or at least write a checklist (again, in Evernote) for whatever repetitive process I find myself doing. This has a compound-interest effect. Next time I either don’t have to do the job anymore (because its automated) or don’t have to think about it – I have a checklist.

I read a lot of non-fiction (sometimes dubbed self-help, but also history etc.).

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I have A LOT of books to recommend, but more is not always better. The books that had the most noticeable impact on my self-improvement are:

  • Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny by Tony Robbins
  • Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg Mckeown

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Have a 2-3 hour, uninterrupted block of time to focus on the work: no scrolling Facebook, no email, no Slack, no distractions. If I can genuinely focus, then 3 hours is enough to make a staggering amount of progress.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

The basics are simple, but they are not easy. If you can master nutrition, exercise, and sleep AND create an environment where you can focus on your work, it is enough to achieve great things.

And if you want to know more – check out deliberate life, where I share secrets and boring truth on how to make these basics work.

If you found the above conversation helpful and inspiring, be sure to check out Balance the Grind’s guide to achieving a healthy work-life balance.

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