Category Archives: Productivity

Thoughts on Working Remotely

Time Management

I’d like to share a few nuggets that I have learned so far in my experience working as a remote employee.  I have been working from home for around a year and a half and have learned some lessons in my experience thus far.  While I absolutely recommend trying the remote option if possible, there are a few things that are important to know.

Working remotely is definitely not for everybody.  In order to be an effective remote employee you have to have a certain amount of discipline, internal drive and self motivation.  Additionally, you need to be a good communicator (covered below).  If you have trouble staying on task or finding things to do at work or even have issues working by yourself in an isolated environment, you will quickly discover that working remotely may be more stressful than working in an office where you get the daily interactions and guidance from others.


That being said, I feel that in most cases, the positives outweigh the negatives.  Below are a few of the biggest benefits that I have discovered.

  • There is little to no commute.  Long commutes, especially in big cities create a certain amount of stress and strain that you simply don’t have to deal with when working from home.  As a bonus you save some cash on gas and miles of wear and tear on your vehicle.
  • It is easier to avoid distractions.  This of course depends on how you handle your work but if you are disciplined it becomes much easier to get work done with less distractions.  At home, if you manage to separate home from work (more on that topic below) then you don’t need to worry about random people stopping over to your desk to shoot the shit or bother you.  By avoiding simple distractions you can become much more productive in shorter periods of time.
  • No dress code.  This is a surprisingly simple but powerful bonus to working from home.  Having a criteria for dress code was actually stressful for me in previous jobs.  I always disagreed with having a dress code and didn’t understand why I couldn’t wear a t-shirt and jeans to work.  Now that I can wear whatever I want I feel more comfortable and more relaxed which leads to better productivity.
  • Schedule can be more flexible.  I can pick my own hours for the most part.  Obviously it is best to get in to a routine of working the same hours each day but if something comes up I can step out for a few hours and just make the hours up in the evening most in most cases and it won’t be a big deal to coworkers.  This flexibility is a great perk to working remotely and it allows you much more time to yourself when needed because you aren’t restricted to a set schedule.

Achieving a Work/life balance

Maintaining a balance between life at home and life at work can get very blurry when working from home as a telecommuter.  I would argue that finding a balance between personal life and work is the number one most important thing to work towards when making the transition from an on site employment because it directly leads to your happiness (or sorrow), which in turn influences all other aspects of your life, including activities and relationships outside of work.

It is super easy to get in to the habit of “always being around” and working extra and often time crazy hours when you are at home.  One thing that has helped in my own experience to improve the work/life balance and alleviate this always working thing is by creating routines.

I try to start work and end work at the same time of the day each day during the week. Likewise, I make a point to take breaks throughout the day to break up the time.  A few things I like to do are take a 30ish minute walk around the same time every day and I also have a coffee ritual in the morning that always precedes work time.  These daily cues help me get in to the flow of the day and to get my day started the same way every day.

Another mechanism I have discovered to help cope with the work hours is to leave work at work.  Find a way to create clear distinctions between home and work, either by creating an office at home where work stays or consider finding a coffee shop or co-working space.  As a side note, I have found 2-3 days working at a coffee shop/co-working space to be the best middle ground for me, but everybody is different so if you are new to remote work you will need to experiment.  That way you can have a place that represents what a workplace should be, and you when you leave that place, the work stays there.  It is very important to separate home from work if you don’t have a clear distinction between the two.

Some folks mention that it can get lonely.  I definitely agree with this sentiment.  On the up side, working in this type of environment can sort of force you to find ways to interact with people.  It can feel uncomfortable at first, but finding social activities will help alleviate the loneliness.  Coffee shops and co-working spaces are a great place to start.  I find that working in an environment with others helps mix things up and having the extra interaction really helps feeling like you are a part of a community.  These environments are a great solution if you are introverted and have a hard time getting out and meeting people.

Regardless of what exactly you do, it is absolutely critical to get out of your house.  This should be a no brainer but I can’t stress the importance enough.  Even if you’re just taking walks or going to the store, you need to make sure that you find things to do to get out of the house.  I have found some things that work but it is something again that you will need to experiment with.

If you are ambitious then I suggest getting involved in some other communities outside of work.  Meeting new people (outside of a work environment) is a very powerful tool in managing your work/life balance.  Obviously this advice works as well in more scenario’s than working remotely but I think it becomes much more important.  If you want some ideas for ways to get out or communities to join, feel free to email or comment and I can let you know what has worked for me.


Another important piece of the social aspect that I have discovered is that it is VERY important to have many open communication channels with coworkers.  Google Hangouts, Slack, Screenhero, WebEx, Skype, email, IRC and any other collaboration tools you can find are super important for communicating with coworkers and for building relationships and culture in distributed work environments.  In my experience, if you are working as part of a team and aren’t a great communicator, relationships with coworkers can quickly become strained.

Also, having regular meetings with key members of your team is important.  A nice once a week check in with any managers is a good starting point.  It helps you keep track of what you’re doing and it helps others on your team understand the type of work you’re doing so you’re not as isolated.  Gaining the trust of your coworkers is always very important.


The most difficult balance to achieve when transitioning to a work from home opportunity for me, was maintaining a good work/life balance.  You are 100% responsible for how you choose to spend your time so it becomes important to make the right decisions when it comes to how to prioritize.

For example, one thing I have struggled with is how to work the right amount of time.  There was a stretch where I was working 12-14 days just because I kept finding more and more things to do.  While that is good for your employer, it is not good for you or anyone around you.  The work will always be there, so you have to find strategies to help you step away from work when you have put in enough hours for the day.

Everybody is different so if you are new to telecommuting/working remotely I encourage you to experiment with different techniques for managing your work/life balance.  While I feel that working remotely is for the most part a bonus, it still has its own set of issues so please be careful and don’t work too much, and especially don’t expend extra energy or get too stressed out about things you can’t control.

CLI hotkey and navigation guide

I have been meaning to write this post for quite a while now but have always managed to forget.  I have been piecing together useful terminal shortcuts, commands and productivity tools since I started using Linux back in the day.  If you spend any amount of time in the terminal you should hopefully know about some of these tricks already but more importantly, if you’re like me, are always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of your bash workflow and making your life easier.

There are a few things that I would quickly like to note.  If you use tmux as your CLI session manager you may not be able to use some of the mentioned hotkeys to get around by default if you don’t have some settings turned on in your configuration file.

You can take a look at my custom .tmux.conf file if you’re interested in screen style bindings plus configuration for hotkeys.  If you simply want to add the option that turns on the correct hotkey bindings for your terminal, add this line to your ~/.tmux.conf file

set-window-option -g xterm-keys on

Also, if you are a Mac user, and don’t already know about it, I highly recommend checking out iTerm2.  Coming primarily from a Linux background the hotkey bindings in Mac OS X are a little bit different than what I am used to and were initially a challenge for me to get accustomed to.  The transition for me took a little bit but iTerm has definitely helped me out immensely, as well as a few other ticks learned along the way.  I really haven’t dug through all the options in iTerm but there are a huge number of options and customizations that can made.

The only thing I have been interested in so far is the navigation which I will highlight below.

Adjust iTerm keybindings – As I mentioned, I am used to using Linux keybinding so a natural fit for my purposes is the option key.  The first step is to disable the custom binding in the iTerm preferences.  To do this, click iTerm -> Preferences -> Profiles -> Keys and find the binding for option left arrow and option right arrow and remove them from the default profile.

Next, add the following to your global key bindings, iTerm -> Preferences -> Keys.





Move left one word

  • Keyboard shortcut: ??
  • Action: Send Escape Sequence
  • Escape: b

Move right one word

  • Keyboard shortcut: ??
  • Action: Send Escape Sequence
  • Escape: f

Finally, it is also worth pointing out that I use zsh for my default shell.  There are some really nice additions that zsh offers over vanilla bash.  I recently ran across this blog post which has some awesome tips.  I have also written about switching to zsh here.  Anyway, here is the lis.  It will grow as I find more tips.

Basic navigation:

  • Ctrl-left/right arrow – Jump between words quickly.
  • Opt-left/right arrow – Custom iTerm binding for jumping between words quickly.
  • Alt-left/right arrow – Linux only.  Jump between words quickly.
  • Esc-b/f – Mac OS.  Similar to arrow keys, move between words quickly.
  • Alt-b – Linux only.  Jump back one word.  Handy with other hotkeys overridden.
  • Ctrl-a – Jump to the beginning of a line (doesn’t work with tmux mappings).
  • Ctrl-e – Jump to the end of a line.
  • End – SImilar to ctrl-e this will send your cursor to the end of the line.
  • Home – Similar to End, except jumps to the beginning of the line.

Intermediate navigation:

  • Ctrl-u – Copy entire command to clipboard.
  • Ctrl-y – Paste previously copied ctrl-u command in to the terminal.
  • Ctrl-w – Cut a word to the left of the cursor.
  • Alt-d – Cut after word after the cursor position

Advanced use:

  • Ctrl-x Ctrl-e – Zsh command.  Edit the current command in your $EDITOR, which for me is vim
  • Ctrl-r – Everybody hopefully should know this one.  It is basically recursive search history
  • Ctrl-k – Erase everything after the current cursor position.  Handy for long commands
  • !<command>:p – Print the last command
  • cd … – Zsh command.  This can be easily aliased but will jump up two directories
  • !$ – Quickly access the last argument of the last command.

Zsh tab completion

Tab completion with Zsh is awesome, it’s like bash completion on steroids.  I will attempt to highlight some of my favorite tab completion tricks with Zsh.

Directory shorthand – Say you need to get to a directory that is nested deeply.  You can use the first few characters that will uniquely match to that directory to navigate instead of typing out the whole command.  So for example, cd /u/lo/b will expand out to /usr/local/bin.

command specific history – This one comes in handy all the time.  If you need to grab a command that you don’t use very often you can user Ctrl-r to match the first part of the command and from there you can up arrow to locate the command you typed.

Spelling and case correction – Bash by default can get annoying if you have a long command typed out but somehow managed to typo part of the command.  In zsh this is (sometimes) corrected for you automatically when you <tab> to complete the command.  For example if you are changing dirs in to the ‘Documents’ directory you can type ‘cd ~/doc/’ and the correct location will be expanded for you.

This list will continue to grow as I find more handy shortcuts, hotkeys or generally other useful tips and tricks that I find in my day to day command line work.  I really want to build a similar list for things in Vim but my Vim skills are unfortunately lacking plus there is already some really nice documentation and guidance out there already.  If you are interested in writing up a Vim productivity post I would love to post it.  Likewise, if you have any other nice shortcuts or tips you think are worth mentioning, post them in the comments and I will try to get them added to the list.

DevOpsDays Chicago

devopsdays chicago

As a first timer to this event, and first timer to any devopsdays event I’d like to write up a quick summary of the event and write about a few of the key takeaways that I got from the event.  For anybody that isn’t familiar, the devopsdays events are basically 2 day events spread out through the year at different locations around the world.  You can find more information on their site here:

The nice thing about the devopsdays events is that they are small enough that they are very affordable ($100) if you register early.  One unique thing about the events is their format, which I really liked.  Basically the first half of the day is split up in to talks given by various leaders in the industry followed by “Ignite” talks which are very brief but informative talks on a certain subject, followed by “open spaces”, which are pretty much open group discussions about topics suggested by event participants.  I spoke to a number of individuals that enjoyed the open spaces, even though they didn’t like all of the subjects covered in the talks.  So I thought there was a very nice balance to the format of the conference and how everything was laid out.

I noticed that a number of the talks focused on broad cultural topics as well as a few technical subjects as well.  Even if you don’t like the format or topics you will more than likely at least learn a few things from speakers or participants that will help you moving forward in your career.  Obviously you will get more out of a conference if you are more involved so go out of your way to introduce yourself and try to talk to as many people as you can.  The hallway tracks are really good to introduce yourself and to meet people.

So much to learn

One thing that really stood out to me was how different the composition and background of attendees really was.  I met people from gigantic organizations all the way down to small startup companies and basically everything in between.  The balance and mixture of attendees was really cool to see and it was great to get some different perspective on different topics.

Another fact that really stood out to me was that the topics covered were really well balanced, although some may disagree.  I thought heading in to the conference that most of the talks were going to be super technical in nature but it turned out a lot these talks revolved more around the concepts and ideas that sort of drive the DevOps movement rather than just tools that are associated with DevOps.

One massive takeaway that I got from the conference was that DevOps is really just a buzzword.  The definition that I Have of DevOps at my organization may be totally different than somebody else’s definition at a different company.  What is important is that even though there will be differences in implementation at different scales, a lot of the underlying concepts and ideas will be similar and can be used to drive change and improve processes as well as efficiency.

DevOps is really not just about a specific tool or set of tools you may use to get something accomplished, it is more complicated than that.  DevOps is about solving a problem or set of problems first and foremost, the tooling to do these tasks is secondary.  Before this event I had these two distinguishing traits of DevOps backwards, I thought I could drive change with tools, but now I understand that it is much more important to drive the change of culture first and then to retool you environment once you have the buy in to do so.

Talk to people

One of the more underrated aspects of this conference (and any conference for that matter) is the amount of knowledge you can pick up from the hallway track.  The hallway track is basically just a way to talk to people that you may or may not have met yet who are doing interesting work or have solved problems that you are trying to solve.  I ran in to a few people who were working on some interesting challenges *cough* docker *cough* in the hallway track and I really got a chance for the first time to see what others are doing with Docker which I thought was really cool.

Open spaces were another nice way to get people to intermingle.  The open spaces allowed people working on similar issues to put heads together to discuss specific topics that attendees either found interesting or were actively working on.  A lot of good discussion occurred in these open spaces and a good amount of knowledge was spread around.


DevOps is not one thing.  It is not a set of tools but rather a shift in thinking and therefore involves various cultural aspects, which can get very complicated.  I think in the years to come, as DevOps evolves, a lot more of these aspects will become much more clear and will hopefully make it easier people to get involved in embracing the changes that come along with the DevOps mentality.

Current thought leaders in the DevOps space (many of them in attendance at devopsdays Chichago) are doing a great job of moving the discussion forward and there are some awesome discussions at the devopsdays events.  Podcasts like Arrested DevOps, The Ship Show and DevOps Cafe are definitely creating a lot of good discussion around the subject as well.  Judging from my observations from the event, it seems there is still a lot of work to be done before DevOps becomes more common and mainstream.

Transitioning from bash to zsh


I have know about zsh for a long time now but have never really had a compelling reason to switch my default shell from bash until just recently, I have been hearing more and more people talking about how powerful and awesome zsh is.  So I thought I might as well take the dive and get started since that’s what all the cool kids seem to be doing these days.  At first I thought that changing my shell was going to be a PITA with all the customizations and idiosyncrasies that I have grown accustomed to using bash but I didn’t find that to be the case at all when switching to zsh.

First and foremost, I used a tool called oh-my-zsh to help with the transition.  If you haven’t heard about it yet, oh-my-zsh aims to be a sort of framework for zsh.  This project is a nice clean way to get started with zsh because it give you a nice set of defaults out of the the box without having to do much configuration or tweaking and I found that many of my little tricks and shortcuts were already baked in to to oh-my-zsh, along with a ton of other settings and customizations that I did not have using bash.

From their github page:

oh-my-zsh is an open source, community-driven framework for managing your ZSH configuration. It comes bundled with a ton of helpful functions, helpers, plugins, themes, and few things that make you shout…

Here are just a few of the improvement that zsh/oh-my-zsh offer:

  • Improved tab completion
  • persistent history across all shells
  • Easy to use plugin system
  • Easy to use theme system
  • Autocorrect

The most obvious difference that I have noticed is the improved, out of the box tab completion, which I think should be enough on its own to convince you!  On top of that, most of my tricks and customizations were already turned on with oh-my-zsh.  Another nice touch is that themes and plugins come along as part of the package, which is really nice for easing the transition.

So after spending an afternoon with zsh I am convinced that it is the way to go (at least for my own workfolw).  Of course there are always caveats and hiccups along the way as I’ve learned there are with pretty much everything.

Tuning up tmux

Out of the box, my tmux config uses the default shell, which happens to be bash.  So I needed to modify my ~/.tmux.conf to reflect the switch over the zsh.  It is a pretty straight forward change but is something that you will need to make note of kif you use tmux and are transitioning in to using zsh.

set-option -g default-shell /usr/bin/zsh

I am using Ubuntu 14.04, so my zsh is installed to /usr/bin/zsh.  The other thing that you will need to do is make sure you kill any stale tmux processes after updating to zsh.  I found one running in the background that was blocking me from using the new coonfig.


There is a nice command cheat sheet for zsh.  Take some time to learn these shortcuts and aliases, they are great time savers and are very usefull.

oh-my-zsh comes bundled up with a large number of goodies.  At the time of this writing there were 135 plugins as well as a variety of themes.  You can check the plugins wiki page for descriptions for the various plugins.  To turn on a specific plugin you will need to add it to your ~/.zshrc config file.  Find the following line in your config.


and add plugins separated by spaces

plugins (git vagrant chef)

You will need to reload the config for the changes to be picked up.

source ~/.zshrc

Most themes are hosted on the wiki, but there is also a web site dedicated to displaying the various themes, which is really cool.  It does a much better job of showing differences between various themes.  You can check it out here.  Themes function in a similar way to plugins.  If you want to change your theme, edit your ~/.zshrc file and select the desired them.


You will need to reload your config for this option as well.

source ~/.zshrc


If you haven’t already made the switch to zsh I recommend that you at least experiment and play around with it before you make any final decisions.  You may be set in your ways and happy with bash or any other shell that you are used to but for me, all the awesomeness changed my opinion and decide to reevaluate my biases.  If you’re worried about making the switchin, using oh-my-zsh makes the transition so painless there is practically no reason not to try it out.

This post is really just the tip of the iceberg for the capabilities of this shell, I just wanted to expose readers to all of its glory.  Zsh offers so much more power and customization than I have covered in this post and is an amazing productivity tool with little learning overhead.

Let me know if you have any awesome zsh tips or tweaks that folks should know about.

7 useful but hard to remember Linux commands

I have found myself using these commands over and over so I decided I’d take the time to go ahead and document them for future me as well as readers because I find these commands pretty useful.  I just always manage to forget them, hence the title of the post.  The smart thing to do would be to create aliases for these commands but I have just been too lazy and some of them are run across different servers so it isn’t always a convenient option.

Anyway, let’s go ahead and run through the commands before I forget…

1) du -ah / | sort -n -r | head -n 50

This one is really handy for debugging space issues.  It will list the top 50 files according to file size, with the largest at the top of the list.Notice the “/” will specify the location to search so you can easily modify this one to search different locations, like “/var/log” for example if you are having trouble with growing log files.

1.5) du -sh /*

This will quickly give you an idea of how how your disk space has been allocated.  Definitely handy when you are troubleshooting.

2) git checkout — .

I don’t use this one very often, which is probably why I manage to forget it so easily.  But I really like it.  Sometimes I will be working on a git repo across different machines at the same time and will run in to conflicts committing to the repo or more likely I committed changes on one machine and just need to pull down the newest changes but can’t since I have made modifications.  For those scenarios you can run the above command quickly reset your git changes quickly and easily.

3) tmux kill-window -t 3

i use tmux for my terminal and window manager on all my workstations and love it.  If you haven’t heard of it, take a look here.  Sometimes the sessions can get stuck so it becomes necessary to close the window without destroying the tmux session.  Again, this doesn’t happen very often so it is sometimes hard for me to remember the exact syntax but this one is a handy little trick for managing tmux windows and sessions.

4) grep -r “text”

I know, I should really have this one memorized by now.  I am trying to remember but I don’t find myself using this one all that often even though it is really powerful and useful.  This will essentially search through every file recursively and spit out the text pattern that you feed to it.

5) kill $(pgrep process)

This one is handy when there are a large number of stuck processes and you need to blow them all out with one command.  For example if the chrome browser ever gets stuck with a million tabs open, there are likely a large number of processes all with the same – or similar names.  If you pass all or part of the process name in to this command pgrep will find them and kill will destroy them

6) docker rm $(docker ps -a -q)

I have been using Docker more and more recently and every once in awhile I find myself with a large number of dead Docker processes that need to be cleaned up.  This command will blow out all of these stale processes at once.  This is nice because Docker processes take up a large amount of disk space and often times can fill up your drives without you being aware.  I have been able to reclaim large amounts of disk space with this command.

7) watch -n 10 df -ah

This is another good one for checking disk space issues.  It will update you every ten seconds with the disk utilization of the system.  Pretty straight forward but a great tool to help troubleshooting space issues.

That’s all I have for now, there are lots more but these are the most useful ones that I find myself forgetting the most often, hopefully this post will serve as a nice reminder.  If you have any cool or useful commands that you would like to share feel free to comment and I will update the post to include them.