Miguel San Román is a Senior Product Engineer at social media management platform Buffer and also the Co-Founder of OTTER, a digital carpentry platform.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
Since I was a teenager, I’ve been in love with web development and computers. The moment I saw a few lines of HTML transform into a website was a revelation!
I got involved in a very short-lived startup while I was in university, and from there, I transitioned to work on a web development agency for a few years, with some freelancing on the side.
All that put together in a short span of fewer than three years gave me a ton of experience: working with big and small clients alike, as well as handling different projects (from WordPress templates to huge online magazines, to a few web apps), and I’ve been in love with it all day after day.
Now, I’m the founder of Otter with Maria, my partner in life and business, and I’m also a senior product engineer at Buffer, working this past couple of years on one of our products, Buffer Analyze.
2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
I love to wake up early, as long as I’m sleeping enough hours, and have a bit of a quiet morning for myself and not feel like I have to rush out of the door. Recently, when I wake up, I grab a decaf (I’m “reprogramming” myself not to be super caffeinated as soon as I wake up) and meditate for 10 minutes with Muse.
I start my workday working on Otter, at around 9am, either by having some meetings or coding new features on our web app. I like to start the workday with a big personal goal before I jump onto my responsibilities at Buffer.
Then by 11am or so, I shift gears and start working on Buffer. I usually have lunch at around 2pm, so that gives me three hours of uninterrupted time to work on the most important goals I have set up for that day.
Deep work time is where the most valuable output comes from, and that might mean being heads down with a piece of code, or writing some documents for the team.
After lunch, my calendar is sprinkled with meetings. Those meetings range from 1:1s with my manager, mentoring other engineers, and team-wide sessions to brainstorm new things, share the status of the current work in progress, or do a retrospective to grow together.
This schedule also helps me a ton because some of my teammates at Buffer Analyze start their days on my afternoon, and shifting a bit the start of my day for Buffer ensures I have some overlap with them in case we want to brainstorm or pair program on something.
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
One hundred percent! At Buffer, we do not have an office at all, and we are a team of more than 80 people in more than 10 timezones. We work in a very flexible way: it allows me to work when I’m at my best, as well as being able to tend to anything happening both at Otter and personally.
This way of living has improved my life dramatically for the past five years, and I can’t picture going back to a more classic setup anytime soon!
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
Work is a very important part of my life. I am privileged to get paid doing what I love, and being part of projects and teams with a shared vision and inspire me both personally and professionally.
So instead of a balance, where it feels like I’m either living or working, I choose to see it as integration: I live, and part of my life is working, and a big focus for my life is working on the right things for me.
That being said, one can have too much of a good thing, too! So it is essential to be mindful of that. If I get too involved in a task or a project and work excessively long hours, I can feel burnt up, and I might not be able to keep up the pace for too long.
So having a properly scoped workday makes a ton of difference: what things do I want (and can) accomplish today with a calm focus?
5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?
My essential habit is this: planning my day ahead is paramount for my success. I set up three primary goals for the day: one for Otter, one for Buffer, and another one for myself. If I make some progress, no matter how small, on each of these areas, I know I’m one step closer to it all.
The personal goals can range from anything from going to the gym or for a run, writing my newsletter, checking out a course, or prepping content for social media.
6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
A book I read very early on my career while trying to balance freelancing, working part-time in an agency, and still going to university was The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
It radically changed how I was picturing my days and energy, making me realize that I needed to focus and exercise multiple areas on my life rather than going all-in for “work goals” and neglecting the others.
Then I discovered stoicism a few years ago, and it’s been a crucial part of my life and mindset since then, helpful both for facing the day to day challenges and for nudging me into becoming the best version of myself I can be. I’d love to recommend both Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, and The Obstacle is The Way, by Ryan Holiday.
7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
My morning planning routine, where I schedule the deep work chunks for my day, and I split my work in Pomodoro-based sprints to make sure I get breaks often, and I’m fresh throughout the day. It’s the moment when I get rid of my phone, and everything is set in “Do Not Disturb” mode, priming my mind to focus and start working.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’d love to know more about Kai Brach’s view on work-life balance! His approach to mindful tech and his unique voice through Offscreen and his newsletter are very inspiring, so it would be great to know more about the person behind it all.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Know that it is a personal quest, try everything, and never feel bad if something some guru on the internet says is not working for you.
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