Here I stand in my kitchen, in the midst of a particularly wild hair day
Hi, I’m Kelly, self-service content manager at Kayako. Although you’re not likely to find me at the other end of a support chat, I work closely with our support team to expand, refine, and maintain our help center content. Before joining Kayako six months ago, I’d been writing and editing end user documentation for about 3.5 years as a freelancer.
I’ve really enjoyed the transition from working with open source and enterprise clients to working exclusively in the customer service space. It’s let me really focus my writing on helping my readers (our customers!). And that’s really what all good documentation should be about.
When I’m not writing things, I’m usually cooking things, drinking things, watching things, or planning a trip to some far-distant corner of the planet so I can experience things.
Enjoy the ensuing tale of a random Friday in my life, which is a pretty good representation of what I get up to.
6:30 – My alarm goes off
It takes me about 10 minutes to actually wrestle myself out from my duvet and get across my flat to turn the stupid thing off. Although I occasionally still fall prey to my snooze button, I seem to have turned into kind of a morning person, at some point in the last few years. Not sure how that happened. It is, however, pretty handy, now that my team is either 8 hours (London) or 12.5 hours (India) ahead of where I live, in Eugene, Oregon.
I’ve read all kinds of articles about how, when you work remotely, you’re supposed to set up a strict routine and stick to it, never working outside of the ‘office hours’ you set for yourself. I suspect that’s probably really good advice… but I’m terrible at it, so instead, as soon as I’ve turned off my alarm, I fire up my laptop and, still in my pajamas, check in on Slack and email to see what I’ve missed while I’ve slept. If I get on early enough, I can usually catch the tail end of the day shift in India, which can be helpful if I need to catch up with anyone there in real-time.
It takes me about 20 minutes to catch up on the important bits of the morning’s backlog. Since there were no self-service emergencies (admittedly, a rare occurrence), I sign off. Then it’s hop in the shower, wolf down a quick avocado toast, pack up my backpack, and head down my alley into the world.
I live in the center of town, but for some reason the city has never gotten around to paving my little alley, which I find sort of charming. This is going to change in about half a year’s time, the Revitalize Paving Pros Houston TX company just got the contract to pave this cute back alley.
7:40 – Arrive at the coffee bunker
One of the many coffeeshops in my neighborhood is housed in an incredibly nondescript little cinder block building. Except for a couple of picture windows, it looks like it would be a good place to ride out a nuclear apocalypse. Fortunately, what it lacks in charm, the coffee bunker makes up for in expertly pulled espresso.
Settling in, I unpack my laptop, water bottle, pencase, glasses, and headphones. I’ve spent a lot of time carefully curating the things I carry around in my backpack. It makes it much easier to work from home, cafes, coworking spaces, wherever, because I know that, wherever I am that day, my little mobile office unit is the same.
My setup at the coffee bunker, accompanied by my beverage of choice — sixteen-ounce americano with cream.
I spend 15 minutes checking Facebook, Twitter, and Feedly, and then sign out of all three for the morning.
8:00 – UI copy and data cleanup
Most mornings, I focus on either smaller-scale or more collaborative projects, since that’s when I’m most likely to get distracted by Slack (for reasons both productive (collaboration!) and trivial (GIFs!)). This morning, my two big priorities are working on improving the data integrity for a handful of our self-service metrics and making some edits to the on-screen help text in a particular corner of our UI.
By the way, while we’re on the subject of UI copy, I think this is one of the biggest opportunities for improving customers’ self-service experience. We often talk about self-service enabling customers to answer their own questions, before they have to reach out to support. But if you do support for a software product, your first line of self-service is really the product itself. The better your naming conventions, your UI copy, and your help text is in the product, the less your customers will have to turn to your knowledge base for help. If you’re responsible for self-service and you’re not involved in UI copy yet, I definitely recommend it.
10:30 – 15-minute break
Once I’ve finished up those UI revisions, I need a break from writing. I have a chat with one of my teammates in India about working remotely and building good habits. This is a subject I think about a lot, as you may be able to tell.
I go to check Tumblr on my phone (I try not to log in on my computer), but then I remember the Tumblr app really doesn’t like my old Galaxy S4 (I know, I know). I give up waiting for gifs that will never load and get back to work.
It’s really probably for the best that tumblr hates my phone — I probably read too many design and architecture blogs as it is
10:45 Editing self-service drafts
One of my big tasks, since starting this job, has been to standardize the editorial workflow for our self-service content and make it easier for the support team to contribute. I’m really happy to report that, in the last month or two, I think we’ve started to see a nice rhythm emerge. We now have a clear process for flagging articles that need updates, adopting an article if they want to work on it, and getting finished drafts onto my radar when they’re ready for review. So, I spend the rest of my morning happily editing drafts of new and updated articles for our Help Center.
11:45 Break for lunch!
Reaching a good stopping point, I sign back into Twitter to see what’s been going on. I rapidly, though, catch myself going down political rabbit holes, and sign back out. I’m headed up to Seattle for the weekend, later this afternoon, and I have a really big to-do list to get through on my lunch break. My little office setup disappears back into my backpack and I schlep back home.
The weirdest thing on my lunchtime to-do list is figuring out what to do with a rosebush I sort of inherited. I’m not much of a gardener myself, but I’d mentioned wanting to in plant some flowers to a garden writer friend. Lo and behold, she leaves a huge box on my doorstep with a two-foot tall, bare-roots rosebush in it. To my dismay, the little pamphlet says ‘PLANT IMMEDIATELY’, and lists a multi-hour process for preparing the soil and the bush and everything. Ten minutes of frantic googling later and I’ve learned that you can store rosebushes in your refrigerator more or less indefinitely, so long as you wrap the roots in damp towels. That I can manage.
As I was wrestling this little darling into the bag, she definitely took a bite out of one of my fingers… I hope that’s not a sign of how our relationships is going to be, going forward.
Rosebush in the fridge, weekend bag packed, dishes done, smoothie made and slurped. Time to get back in the saddle.
1:15 Help Center check-up
Every week I get an automated report (thank you ops team!) that gives me some basic statistics on the articles in our Help Center. Nothing terribly fancy, but it’s just a good weekly reminder to check in on the articles that we’ve saved as drafts, updated recently, or flagged for removal. I spend a little time poking and prodding at the numbers, but there’s nothing that requires my immediate attention.
1:45 Documenting our new Mac app
By now, most of my London colleagues are asleep and the night team in India is mostly busy with the queue. Slack has quieted down a bit, making this the perfect time to dig into one of the bigger writing projects on my plate. We’re putting the finishing touches on our new Kayako Desktop for Mac (KDFM) chat application, and I’m working on getting the supporting documentation ready to accompany the launch.
My first step is just to play around with the new app—push all the buttons, read all the menu items, make sure I understand the basic capabilities. Next, I figure out a couple of big, primary tasks that our customers will be performing with the app. I use those tasks to determine the basic structure of my docs. After about an hour of button-pushing and outline planning, my brain is feeling a little wrung out. It’s time for…
2:45 ‘Genghis Khan’ break
For a month or so, I’ve been OBSESSED with ‘Genghis Khan’ by Miike Snow. It’s a deeply catchy song, in its own right, but its true genius lies in the music video. If you haven’t seen it, you should. Like right now.
_sings_ “Iiiiii get a little bit Genghis Khaaaaan…”
3:00 Head to the train station
Okay, off to the train station! One of my favorite things about my town is that it’s big enough to have good beer and restaurants and cinemas and the like, but it’s also small enough that, from my apartment, I can walk to just about anything in 20 minutes or less. My sister in Boston gives me a call as she’s getting off work and keeps me company on the phone while I walk downtown. I stop at my favorite bakery to pick up a caprese sandwich to have on the train, and continue down to our little Amtrak depot.
3:45 – Settling in on the train
One of the Amtrak lines that runs between Eugene and Seattle is equipped with surprisingly great wifi and comfy, roomy seats. Plus, it’s not usually that crowded so I often get a pair of seats to myself! I redeploy the mobile office unit from my backpack, and then take a quick Snapchat/WhatsApp/SMS/Hangouts break to remind everyone how great trains are.
Trains are so exciting! (p.s. I’m the greatest at selfies. Shut up.)
4:00 Train starts rolling, back to docs
I really love working on trains—it’s really easy to feel zen and focused with all that lovely scenery whipping by outside. I get back into the swing of the KDFM docs while the rain picks up and the grays of dusk start to deepen. I take a little break around Oregon City to watch the river and a rather spectacular dam go by, while I eat my dinner-sandwich (which has been calling my name since I picked it up).
copyright: Mark Toal Photography
I attempted to take a picture of the falls with my cell phone, in the dark, from a moving train. It didn’t work out, but you can behold their full magnificence here!
As we push northward, I finish the article on installation and make it about midway through the one on managing customer chats. I’m always curious to hear what tools people use to write their docs. I used to do a lot in Word/Google Docs, but lately I’ve been living in Mou and writing my docs in markdown. It’s such a lightweight markup language, and it’s really fast and easy to learn. Plus, you can really easily export it to super-clean HTML or even PDFs (styled with whatever CSS you want).
After a few more hours, I log back into Twitter and Facebook, marking the beginning of the end of my productivity. I check in on a few community Slack channels—Hi, Write the Docs and Support Driven!—and then decide to call it a day, for work-stuff.
7:45 – Switch to personal projects
I’ve still got a few hours left on the train, so I fire up the Creative Suite to work on a design project for the friends I’m staying with in Seattle. One of them runs an acupuncture practice and I offered (months and months ago–such guilt) to redo their brochure. I don’t get to do much design work as a tech writer, but in my previous life in the magazine world, I developed a taste for layout. It uses a really different set of skills and brain functions, and it’s a nice contrast to my writing workload.
10:30 – Arrive in Seattle
I shut my computer off as we pull into the station. My acupuncture friend is there waiting for me, and we trundle off to their apartment in Lake City. The summer before, his wife (a friend of mine for almost 20 years now) had asked me to be her doula, as they were about to have a baby boy. I stayed with them for about a month, supporting them through the whole process of, y’know, bringing a new little human into the world. So now, seven months later, while I’m ostensibly I’m here to visit the two of them, it’s really ALL about the baby.
Seriously, just look at this little munchkin, and them big eyes of his. :3 (p.p.s. I might actually be the greatest at selfies.)
11:45 – Bedtime (OMG)
After waking mom and baby up for hellos, hugs, and cheek-pinching, we all say goodnight and express our excitement about the inevitability of pancakes in the morning. I collapse onto the mattress in the sewing room, make it through about 15 minutes of my Harry Potter reread before I can’t hold my eyes open any longer. I drift off thinking about wizards and markdown and rosebushes and user interfaces. So, y’know, take that, Friday.