With two full-time jobs and a toddler, Gabe Frost knows a thing or two about the importance of time management.
But he doesn’t necessarily think about “work-life” balance in traditional terms. Instead, he’s a champion of work-life integration.
“I don’t separate work and life because I love what I do, so for those like me, I think it’s important to intentionally inject life into work,” he says.
Frost is an engineering manager in Microsoft’s Windows and Devices group by day and he moonlights as an entrepreneur. Frost and his best friend are building a startup around a device called Outsider, which allows adventure-seekers to control their music, walkie-talkie with companions, and send emergency signals without taking their gloves off.
Because he has so much downtime, Frost also serves as Executive Director of the Alliance for Open Media, a coalition of tech companies working to build the next-gen video standard for the open web.
“Generally, my job is to frame the ambition, to identify and drive a clear set of priorities for big areas that accrue toward the ambition, and to work with my team to deconstruct those big areas into a multi-release roadmap that we execute,” said Frost, without specifying which of his many jobs he meant. “I set the pace and create the appropriate level of urgency.”
Frost shared his tips for managing work and life for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: “Sammamish, WA.”
Computer types: “Surface Book, Desktop PC.”
Mobile devices: “Google Pixel, iPhone 6.”
Favorite apps, cloud services, and software tools: “OneNote, Office 365, Flipboard, Audible, Pocket, Node.js.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “Because I’m accountable for a lot, I’m deliberate about being productive in my workspaces, and while traveling between my home and office. In my car, I take care of phone calls (hands-free of course) and listen to audio books. At Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, I keep my office zen with minimal clutter, cool grey wall coloring, and small touches that ground me to why I’m there, like a framed print with bold orange typeface that reads, ‘Make things that people want.’ My office is organized into two spaces, one for creating and one for listening. For creating, my desk has just enough room for a large screen, small keyboard and mouse, and a Moleskine notepad. The wall left of my desk is a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard for ideas and collaboration. For listening, opposite my desk and against a wall-sized window adorned with family photos, are two tufted chairs facing each other with a small table and lamp between. The layered lighting from overhead, lamp, and window help me stay upbeat.
At home, my dedicated office has recently been repurposed as the ‘play room’ for my toddler Son, which means most of the Frost household is now a ‘play room.’ For a few hours before going to bed, and before leaving for work, I focus on my after-hours projects like Outsider. From a comfortable leather chair, I work using a Surface Book and Moleskine notepad on a hardwood bistro table situated in a bay window nook by my kitchen. This shared space is great because it keeps me honest about balancing my work and family time. When working from a dedicated office at home, it was too easy or me to shut the door and lose that work-life balance. Now I need to be intentional about using my time wisely.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Have a healthy sense of humor, and take regular brakes to walk around and engage with the people around you. I don’t separate work and life because I love what I do, so for those like me, I think it’s important to intentionally inject life into work.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “27.”
How do you run meetings? “I try to avoid meetings whenever possible by keeping a regular rhythm of written communication and shorter one-on-ones. When I do run meetings, it’s usually to update a group on specific progress where feedback is important, or to drive a decision. I try to be clear at the outset what our objective is for the time we have together, and if the meeting is decision-oriented, I usually send pre-reading material with the background. If someone is quiet, I ask for their input. I’m stubborn about staying on topic.”
Everyday work uniform? “I try to keep essentials in my closet so it’s easy to layer and I don’t have to think too hard about it. I’m usually wearing dark denim, a leather belt, comfortable leather shoes, collared shirt and a light sweater. If it’s warm, I wear a t-shirt with no logos.”
How do you make time for family? “I’m deliberate about leaving my office by 6 p.m. so I can eat dinner with my family, and play with my son before he goes to bed. Whenever the Seahawks aren’t playing, Sunday is my family day. I make up for those Hawks days by prioritizing two vacations a year, and a handful of extended weekends.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “My brother and I created a CrossFit style gym in his garage that we call FrostFit. He kicks my ass a couple times a week. I snowboard and watch funny movies as much as I can.”
What are you listening to? “Tool – I hear they’re coming out with a new album soon.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I curate a variety of sources for domestic and world news, along with personal interests like design, astrology, and handyman through Flipboard and the built-in News app on Windows 10. I regularly read a few finance blogs, like thefinancebuff.com and financialsamurai.com. For tech, my go-to site is techmeme.com. For gear with design in mind, I like uncrate.com and fancy.com.
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I’m a night owl. I wake up between 6 and 7 a.m. and go to sleep between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., depending on how stacked my day is.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Reading and Long-form writing. I’m best at shaking out the details and drawing key insights when writing long-form rather than crafting bullet points in a PowerPoint deck. I’m always reading three books – one on a specific technology that I’m curious about, one on some dimension of management or leadership, and one related to a personal goal. It’s uncanny how ideas emerge when connecting these three areas, at least for me anyway.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I aspire to be an early riser like Benjamin Franklin, which means I need to stop eating cookies and drinking tea at night.”