Personal User Manual of Lisette Sutherland

Knowing what we need to be productive can help us do our best work and to design our lifestyles around the things we love the most. The purpose of a personal user manual is to help others understand us better so that we can collaborate more effectively.

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Time zone and working hours

  • I live in The Hague, The Netherlands
  • I work between 8:00 – 18:00 CET / CEST on weekdays
  • I don’t check email, work, or respond to work-related messages on the weekends.

Languages

  • English is my native language
  • I speak Dutch better than a beginner, but am not yet fluent (I am level “B2”)
  • I understand German but don’t speak it well.

I was born in Germany and spent the first 10 years of my life in Frankfurt. I spoke German fluently as a child, but after living in the US for 25 years, that skill faded. I moved to The Netherlands in 2009 and have been working on my Dutch ever since (I have both American and Dutch citizenship.)

Social media

Communication preferences

  • I prefer to communicate via email. I speak with 100’s of people a year and it’s difficult for me to remember conversation details. Email helps me to keep track of things.
  • I don’t have unscheduled meetings. While I would love to speak with everyone, it is simply not possible given the number of requests that come in. My weeks are carefully planned to create enough time for deep work. I do this to protect my time and manage my energy levels: In order to do my best work (creating content, thinking, etc), I need long stretches of time to think and focus. Unscheduled calls are interruptions for me.
  • I don’t have any meetings without knowing what the purpose/objective is (“invitations are not obligations”). I’m surprised by how many messages start with “I’d like to meet with you to talk about something.” or “ I’d like to learn how we can collaborate.” Again, I would love to speak to everyone, but I have to prioritize how I spend my time. Please tell me what you need when you contact me. I will do my best to help you.

Personal values

  • Freedom: I love designing my own schedule:
    • I start my Monday’s by planning what I need to do that week – and then I timebox my calendar so that for the rest of the week, I just follow the schedule.
    • My ideal day starts with a latte and the news (I don’t eat breakfast…just not hungry in the morning) followed by a short walk to get some daylight into my eyes and to say hello to all the neighborhood animals.
    • Back at my home office, I do a few hours of focused work. Then I take a break and do some sort of a workout or errand, and finally eat something. And I finish the day with another few hours of focused work.
  • Order: I come from a military family. The need for order is baked into me. I don’t like, or do well with, chaos.
  • Relatedness: Who I work with is more important to me than what I am working on. And I am grateful for the team of people that I work with daily.

My quirks

Note: Explaining ones “quirks” is not an excuse for bad or rude behaviour (as Camille passionately writes about here). 

  • I am highly sensitive to noise and am overwhelmed when many things are happening at the same time. This is why I started working remotely to begin with. I simply can’t focus when there is too much going on around me.
  • I am both introverted and extroverted, but I am solitary by nature. I love a good party, and I can be alone for weeks at a time without any problem. Just like a good party, I am best experienced in short bursts. Kudos to my husband and close friends for their ability to tolerate me long-term.
  • I am a slow writer.
  • I dislike talking on the phone – and prefer video calls.
  • I get very stressed when I travel. This is why my speaker fees go up when people ask me to leave the country.

I’m inspired by

  • Volodymyr Zelensky – I mean, WOW. What a truly inspiring leader he is! An example to the world.
  • Jerry Seinfeld – I love his work ethic and his methodology for work: work on your craft every single day, wait 24 hours before showing anyone, and get regular feedback.
  • Erasure – Vince Clarke had real courage leaving Depeche Mode and forming his own band that suited his style/values better (despite DM becoming one of the most popular bands in history). And the combination of his keyboard genius with the voice, style, and lyrics of Andy Bell is just magical. 
  • Bill Watterson – I love Calvin and Hobbes. Countless hours of joy. 
  • Fred Rogers – A rare, genuinely good person who wanted to make the world a better place – and did. What a treasure for children and humanity! 
  • Terry Gross – The host and co-producer of Fresh Air. And one of the best interviewers of all time.
  • Debbie Millman – Debbie researches her podcast guests better than any interviewer I’ve ever heard. Every podcast, a guest will say “how did you know that?”. I know very little about “design” (the subject of Debbie’s podcast), but I am hooked by her style.
  • Rachel Maddow – I love how Rachel covers the news – and I find her storytelling particularly creative and compelling. I love her style, humor, and immense vocabulary! 
  • Ira Glass – This American Life has been one of my favorite radio shows since I was in my 20s. I used to set my alarm clock on Saturday mornings to make sure I was up in time to hear it. Needless to say, I love podcasts!
  • Amanda Gorman – Amanda’s poem at Biden’s inauguration captured the spirit of the moment so powerfully. I hope she’s right.

Hobbies

  • Sewing: Since the pandemic, I’ve started sewing. I needed to do something that didn’t involve a screen; I’ve fallen in love with the craft.
  • Running: As I run, the universe is running with me.
  • Virtual strength training: For some reason, I’m not motivated to do strength training on my own. So I found CoPilot, an awesome app the pairs you with a personal trainer. My trainer, Cody, assigns me workouts every week based on my goals – and then monitors my progress via my apple watch. Brilliant!! I’m one of the few people who lost weight during the pandemic 🙂
  • Camping: My husband and I are avid campers. As soon as the temperatures go up, you will find us outdoors with friends: biking, hiking, running, climbing, mountaineering, and swimming. 
  • US politics: It’s a soap opera in real life. Fascinating and horrifying at the same time… mostly horrifying. As much as I would like to ignore it, I can’t seem to look away; I am genuinely troubled by what seems to be happening to democracy in the US. We are witnessing the combined effects of poor education, racism, terrible health care, ridiculous gun laws, Facebook, and politicians without principles.
  • Music: Music used to be a big part of my life. I’ve seen hundreds of live shows (80’s goth is my guilty pleasure). I was a promoter and tour manager for numerous bands (testing the concept of remote working to the limit while I worked and traveled the world in a tour van for many years).  Fun fact: I played flute and trombone all throughout high school and college (even got a scholarship for it). These days, I happily reminisce while listening to tunes from my extremely comfortable home office.
  • Podcasts & audiobooks: I’ve always loved listening to the radio. Now with podcasts and audiobooks, you will rarely find me without airpods in my ears.
  • Board games: My husband’s most recent obsession is board games – and I love it. Our current favorites are: Innovation and Mr. Jack.
  • Cats: I love cats. I mean, I LOVE cats. I used to have 3 of my own, but now I just take care of all the neighborhood cats instead. We have 8 neighborhood cats that visit regularly, which allows me to be a “crazy cat lady” part-time. Good enough for me!

 

My home office setup

I have the luxury of having an entire attic to myself. My equipment includes:

Things I might want to add in the future

  • I do my best work when…
  • Favorite quote
  • You know I’m stressed when..
  • Strengths/weaknesses (things I love/things I struggle with)
  • Conditions I like to work in
  • The best way to communicate with me
  • The ways I like to receive feedback

 

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