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Meet Modern Tribe: Jonathan Brinley and Time Management

Today I’m excited to introduce you to another member of Modern Tribe, the one and only Jonathan Brinley. He’s a developer with special powers to extend WordPress so that it can do all sorts of cool things. He’s also the winner of the ‘Google Calendar Usage’ award…seriously, just wait until you see how he uses it.

Without any further introduction please allow me to introduce you, fine citizens of the Internet, to Mr. Jonathan Brinley:

Tell us who you are…

Well, that gets right to the meat of things, doesn’t it? Philosophers have been struggling with and debating this question for millennia. I’ll give it my best shot:

There’s only One who simply IS. The rest of us are a result of eons of cause and effect, complex interactions among elementary particles, intricate relationships among souls. I am but a breath, a brief moment in a vast universe, a speck of no importance. And the Creator of all of it adopted me as His child.

That is the relationship that gives life meaning. Surrounding it are the countless other relationships, locations, and events that give life its form. I am husband to Stephanie; father to our five-year-old son, Titus, and our two-year-old daughter, Tirzah. No one will accuse me of being passionate; still, I take great joy in building, sorting, seeking order and beauty within the chaos. I was once a musician; I was once a librarian; maybe I’m still both of those, although I currently practice neither. After seemingly inconsequential conversations and decisions snowballed into a hobby and then a side business, I retired from my day job, joined Stephanie’s business, and set out to find my fortune as a web developer.

And I really like penguins.

Florida has very large rodents, but they’re friendly and wear pants, so it’s OK.

… and what do you do for Modern Tribe

Mostly, I try to convince Peter and Reid that we really do need to spend more time writing automated tests and refactoring our existing code so we can test it more effectively. They hired me, though, as a WordPress plugin developer. Someone who comes along and reads this will juxtapose the ideas “Modern Tribe” and “WordPress Plugin Developer” and assume that I work on The Events Calendar. Said reader would be, not quite wrong, but almost entirely un-right.

In the three years since I started working with “Shane & Peter, Inc.”, I’ve had short bursts of activity on the calendar plugin, but mostly my role has been on the service side of the business. Modern Tribe builds lots of websites for clients; some of the larger projects naturally go well beyond WordPress’s core functionality. That’s where I step in, creating plugins that extend WordPress in fun and interesting ways tailored to the clients’ precise needs.

What are some tips you’d give a new freelancer on time management?

Prioritize. Figure out what’s important, and make sure to do it. If your family is important to you, make time for your family. If community service is important to you, make time for community service. If prayer is important to you, make time for prayer. If education is important to you, make time for education.

What does it mean to make time for something? It means you’re taking time away from something else. If you’re spending 20 hours a day working, but you want to prioritize your family above work, you have to stop spending 20 hours a day working, even if that means you’re not going to meet the goals you set for your business. If you just can’t sacrifice the time you’re giving to your business, then don’t sacrifice it. But remember that you made that choice; you prioritized your career over everything else.

Delegate. You cannot create more time. You either do less of one thing to do more of another, or you hire somebody else to do one of those things for you. If you hate doing yardwork, hire someone to do it. You can make more money in a productive hour of work than you’ll spend to have someone take care of your lawn for an hour. They’ll probably do a better job than you would, anyway.

Schedule. What are you doing at 10:00 today? How about 4:30 on Thursday? I’m not talking about meetings you have scheduled. If you’re not in a meeting, make sure you know what you will be doing. What code will you be writing? What client will be disappointed, what deadline will be missed, if you don’t write code at that time? If you don’t know, then you’re just hoping it all works out. There’s a time and a place for hope, but not in project management.

I might take this farther than some people will find reasonable. Stephanie and I share about a dozen calendars (thank you, Google)–office hours, meetings, home school, meals–even putting the kids to bed at night merits its own spot on the calendar. If it’s on the calendar it gets done when it’s supposed to get done. If it’s not, it probably doesn’t.


This is really my calendar. As an aside, you can blur event descriptions in your calendar by injecting a bit of CSS into the page:

.evt-lk, .cbrdcc { 
color: transparent; 
text-shadow: 0 0 11px rgba(0,0,0,0.5);

What sort of work environment do you benefit the most from?

I thrive on predictability and consistency. You’ll find me in my office, at my desk, following the same schedule week after week. The door is shut (albeit not as sound-insulated as I’d like); Classical South Florida is streaming on the radio; there’s a big penguin on a bright yellow wall.

How did you come to this conclusion?

I’m very easily distracted. If I see something move out of the corner of my eye, if I hear an unexpected sound, if a toy car bumps into my foot, I immediately lose any focus that I had. All those tightly coupled classes I’m trying to juggle in my head to track down the source of a bug–they fall to the ground, and a little part of me cries. It’s the same whenever I try to focus on anything–reading a book, writing a blog post, learning to play a marimba concerto, gazing into the vast emptiness of space. I can be totally immersed in something wonderful and enjoyable, but I still can’t filter out the noise of the world around me.

How do you balance work and personal time?

When I am at work, I am at work. When I am not at work, I am not at work. When I first started working from home, I thought that I could work on the sofa in the living room while my one-year-old son played with his toys. As it turned out, I was ineffective at work, and I was ineffective at parenting. So we made a schedule. I have set work hours, where someone else is responsible for the kids. And I have set hours where I am responsible for the kids, and work is not allowed to intrude. If either work or non-work threatens to extend beyond its allotted space, I do something about it (where “something” might mean temporarily changing my schedule, or arranging for extra child care, or telling a client (in advance!) that I just don’t have the time to meet a deadline).

What are the best parts of working remotely?

Before I became a web developer, I was a librarian. Every morning, I would drive 30 minutes to work, stay there for 9 hours, and drive 30 minutes home. My job was interesting, and that was all fine for a while. Then Titus was born. I missed him. A lot. Every day. Nine months later, I retired from my day job. I see my children every day, eating two or three meals with them. I have time to play with them. I get to do science experiments, teach them math, read books. I’m a father.

The worst?

There can’t possibly be a downside to this. Really. I’ve tasted freedom, and I will never go back.

Can you give us a few resources that you have found incredibly useful in your day-to-day work?

  • People: I don’t have time to follow every blog and twitter feed that I think I should follow. So I’ve found a few people I respect and let them curate the Internet for me.
  • Google: The Internet is my long-term memory. Google is how I access it.
  • Classical South Florida: It’s important to surround yourself with beauty. (As I type this, it’s fundraising week, so I’m listening to Pandora.)
  • PhpStorm: A good IDE saves so much time.
  • Magic Trackpad: A normal mouse wreaks havoc with my carpal tunnel. This is the first reasonable substitute I’ve found for Microsoft’s discontinued Trackball Explorer; it might even be better.
  • macvim: Great for simple text editing.
  • PHPUnit: Unit testing has changed my life.
  • dnsmasq: Stop editing your hosts file. This is the killer app that convinced me to stop using Windows.
  • Public libraries: They’re not just for kids, and they can usually get you a copy of any book you can find on WorldCat.