Sabbath Year – After Nine Months – Sabbath While Working

I have now been back at work for about two months and wanted to take this month’s update to reflect on what it is like to be working while trying to take a sabbath year.

Last year when I set out to define what our sabbath year would look like – I knew that there were a few major details about the latter half of the year that were yet to be determined. As I speculated on how things might play out, I knew where the risks lied. I wrote:

“I am fine with returning to work, but would likely look to set up the first six months in a way that was conducive to the sabbath year principles – either fewer hours, less strenuous projects or staying in familiar territory rather than taking on bold new ventures. This will be an area I will have to pay close attention to.”

As I predicted, there has been a lot of pressure, internal and external, to take on a role that has bold goals and long hours. I ended up returning to a newly created role that is very different than anything I had done before. The role is full time, an because the role involves talking directly with our customers, my hours are dictated by when they are available – which means there isn’t a ton of flexibility.

That said, I do feel this role is conducive to the sabbath year for a number of reasons. First, it allows us the flexibility to decide where we live now and when + where we will move to next. That was one of the major topics of reflection we had set aside for the year. Second, the role is at a company I have been at for a long time, so there isn’t much of a learning curve. This means I was able to start adding value right from the start without having to spend a ton of time digesting new information and learnings the ins and outs of how to get things done within a new organization. In addition, the role is still ramping up which means it isn’t yet as difficult as many roles I’ve had in the past. I’ve actually found this is pretty common with new roles because it takes some time for an organization to fully understand a new role and to fully load it. Where as longstanding roles often take on all sorts of adjacent work that no one else owns, a new role isn’t yet burdened by that inertia.

With all of that considered, I would maintain the position I wrote last month that the best working conditions for a sabbath year would be “to keep as much the same as possible, but to perhaps scale back their working hours by 25-50%”. I would say that regarding my job, I kept ~50% of things the same and scaled back by 10-20% from my previous peaks. Not perfect, but better than many potential outcomes.

Attempting to work, raise four kids, train for a marathon, complete this year’s focus items and also to have a restful sabbath year has been difficult. It mostly means I have cut out many other things I used to do. Really, everything else that isn’t those things. Actually, even some of those items are getting less attention than they should. Progress on my 2018 focus items and on the broad searching I was supposed to be doing during the last three month period of the sabbath year was reduced to a minimum.

I shouldn’t have been training for a marathon. There are also a few other odds and ends projects I took on that weren’t urgent. As I reflect it is clear that working isn’t the big blocker, working just means I need to cut out anything that isn’t leading my family or the sabbath year.

Now is a good chance to reset.

At this point we are in the final three months of our sabbath year. This last period was designed to be focused around reentry – starting to look at what is next and what we need to do to prepare ourselves for that.

Ting Review – Four Years With Ting’s Cell Phone Service!

It is now 2018 – I first signed up for Ting in March 2014 – that means I’ve been a happy Ting customer for over four years now! 4 years! During that time we’ve used the iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone SE, iPhone 7 Plus and an Apple Watch.

I thought I’d share a Ting review to shine more light on why I switched to them in the first place and why I’m still happy.

Because I’ve been a longtime Ting customer, they recently gave me a coupon to share with my readers that will save you $25 off your first bill. If you’re interested in switching, here it is: http://www.gregkroleski.com/click/ting

The Switch from Verizon

I had long been a happy Verizon customer when in 2014 I opened a bill to find I owed over $200 for our three phones. That was above my limit of acceptability. I decided I needed to look for options.

I looked at the plans of the major carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile. I also came across a few alternative plans; Republic Wireless, Tracfone, Cricket, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile & I had even heard rumors of Google Fi.

Selection Criteria

As I began to look at those companies, I came up with a list of criteria that was important to me.

  • Device Options
  • Cell Service Quality & Speed
  • Customer Service & Experience
  • Price
  • Flexibility

I ultimately selected Ting, obviously. I’ve actually reevaluated every year since then and reselected Ting each time for these reasons.

How Ting Compared

Device Options

We’re iPhone folks and making a switch to another phone would be a difficult undertaking. I actually love Google products and my phone is mostly using the Google alternatives to Apple default software. The effort involved in retraining my wife & mom to use a new OS & phone made it hard for me to consider switching, and so compatibility with iPhone became a strong criteria.

I did try to keep an open mind to other options, but it was going to take a lot to convince me to be on something other than iOS.

On top of that, even if I went with Android, I would want a pure Android OS and not some reskin. I got burned pretty bad by Android fragmentation in the early days where my phone stopped getting text messages suddenly because of an unknown defect that lay between the OS, carrier and phone manufacturer’s reskin. A fix never came. A few of the companies I looked at ran a very custom version of Android and that made me very nervous – unless they had limited their supported phones dramatically, that would likely eventually result in me having a phone that didn’t work and an unplanned need for a new phone.

Ting allowed the iPhone – back in 2014 when I signed up, you had to use the iPhone model that was one year old, but that is what I happened to be using at the time anyhow, so I was ok with that. Recently they’ve allowed the most recent version of the iPhone to be used – something I’ve taken advantage of by upgrading to the iPhone SE the day it came out. I legitimately might have been the first Ting customer to use the iPhone SE.

So with phone selection & my iPhone preference in mind, the results were:

Cell Service Quality & Speed

In the many years I was a Verizon customer, I had very few dropped calls. Switching to something else seemed risky – I knew how miserable the lives of my AT&T subscriber friends were with all of their dropped call issues.

I did a lot of research about service areas and congestion in my area before switching to Ting. At the time they only operated on Sprint towers but now you can select between Sprint & T-Mobile. I live in a major city where there is great coverage, so congestion tends to be the biggest concern, especially during peak times.

After three years of using Ting I’ve noticed a downgrade in cell service quality from Verizon – but it still meets my bar of acceptability. I have had a few dropped calls & there are some places I’ve visited on vacation where I didn’t get great data service. But 99% of the time I am happy with the cellular signal. I’m ok with 99% of the results for ~50% of the cost.

If you’re considering switching, the best thing to do is check the coverage (use this cool tool) around where you live and ask neighbors who use Sprint & T-Mobile how those services perform in your area. From my experience, neither is quite as good as Verizon but often that is fine because the cost savings are so great.

Customer Service & Experience

I mentioned above that Ting uses other company’s towers which they essentially rent signal from.  What Ting actually provides themselves is the account tools & customer support. Those are top notch and probably the biggest reason I picked Ting.

Their website & mobile app are amazing. Here are a few things you can do really easily from either your computer or phone:

1) Settings

Control the settings on devices. You don’t need to do this often, but it is nice to be able to control and check easily whenever you need it.

2) Usage

Here is a screen you can use to see your usage during the month. Along with total usage in each of the three categories they charge for, you can see how much each person is using.

With this I can see that we are at 99 text messages so my next text message will actually kick us up a tier to the next payment level. With text messages that is only like $2 so it isn’t a huge deal. With minutes it can mean another $20, so it is great to have this info handy.

3) Usage Alerts

Along with seeing our usage, I can set automatic alerts to help us stay within our budget. You can see below that I have it text reminders at certain limits and then actually turn off the data if you exceed another limit. It is easy to turn back on if we decide we’re ok going over, but having the limits in place helps make sure you don’t accidentally blow through data when you thought you were on wifi or something like that.

Customer Service

The final part of the customer experience is Ting’s customer service which I would rate as world class.

The few times I’ve had to call them for help with something, I’ve talked to someone that was friendly, helpful and empowered. They were able to solve my problem and one time even gave me a $10 credit as an apology.

I’ve called in before on a weekend and actually talked to a human in the United States in less than 5 minutes – which is amazing. When I’ve emailed in there was great follow up thanks to their use of a ticketing system called Zendesk (which I also love).

One caveat is they don’t have store locations all over like the major brands do. Some people like going into their local Verizon store and walking away with a phone & signed contract. I much prefer doing things on my time which often is not the same time a local store would be open. Doing things with Ting sometimes means waiting a few days for a new phone to come in the mail rather than having it in hand right away – but that isn’t a big negative to me – most of my shopping is online these days anyways and part of the reason Ting is less expensive is they don’t have to pay the overhead for all of those storefronts.

Overall, I’m super happy with the customer experience with Ting – this is one area where they exceed the national providers.

Price

Ting makes it pretty easy to predict your price with this cool tool as long as you have some info about your average usage over the past months. Because of that, I knew what I was getting into and if you’re thinking of switching, you can too.

What I wondered back then was if things would drift up over time. I pulled some data and it turns out that hasn’t really happened. In fact, I’m paying less today that I was when I switched over.

I’m averaging about $85 a month for 3 iPhones – much less than the $200 I was paying to Verizon before I switched to Ting. Just to reiterate, I’m paying nearly 60% less than I was on Verizon for service I’m just as happy with.

For the observant, there are two things you might also notice in the chart above.

First, there was a time towards the end of 2015 where you can see our data usage drifted up a bit, as did our bill. We set up some better alerts (the ones I showed up above) and that helped us get things down lower than we originally were.

Second, there are a few months that are a bit lower. When I first joined I got a credit for signing up and cancelling my old contract, so my first few months didn’t cost much. The few other random dips are because of credits I received, like the one I mentioned from customer support.

I’ve kept abreast of other cell phone plans that have come out such as the recent T-Mobile unlimited plan and every time I run the math, I am still coming out on top with Ting price wise. For someone like our family that doesn’t use a ton of data, there doesn’t seem to be a better plan.

Flexibility

My favorite thing with Ting is that I have a ton of control over how I use my cellular devices, how much they cost me and how often I change things. I haven’t found many other options that give as much control.

Not only am I not in a contract – which means I can cancel at any time, but I don’t even have a fixed amount I pay every month, it is based on what I use. So I know that I can use less and pay less, which is awesome control & flexibility that I’ve taken advantage of to save an additional 15%.

I also have flexibility into what device I use and when I upgrade. With the major carriers you often get a discounted phone after two years, but really you’re just paying for that over time as part of your bill. With Ting we have full control of how often we switch. We’ve found that if you take good care of your phone, it can last longer than 2 years, which means a little more savings through a longer depreciation curve. On top of that, we also usually buy our iPhones used when a new model comes out so we often save even more.

Conclusions

I’ve been very happy with Ting as have a few friends I’ve referred over. If you feel like you’re paying too much for your cell phone service or you aren’t happy with how they treat you, then I suggest you consider the other options that are out there. If you care about the things I mentioned – I hope this post helps with your evaluation.

Hey! If you made it this far, you probably benefited from me sharing my experience. If so, I’d appreciate if you would click on the link below – it will save you $25 off of your first bill, and Ting will also knock a few dollars off my next bill to say thank you for helping you make a decision to switch.

http://www.gregkroleski.com/click/ting

Thanks!

2018 Focus: Quarter Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split that energy across many different goals.

I detailed my 2018 focus here (read that first if you want more context). Here is how I’m progressing.

2018 Theme: First Principles Lifestyle

This theme fits nicely with the goal I had set for the second half of my sabbath year (Jan-July) – evaluating the options for our life. This was by design. As such we have put a lot of energy into the theme outside of the specific named challenge, habit and exemplar. This means that I’ve done less with those than I would have wanted, but still stayed on theme.

To touch on three items from the theme.

  1. Earlier in the year I made a really difficult decision between two jobs that presented very different lifestyles. Doing that forced me to think hard about what I valued, to ask my wife to do the same and for us to make a decision together. This was a fruitful exercise because beyond helping with this one decision, it helped direct our focus away from a whole swath of things that are similar or even farther in a direction we don’t wish to be heading.
  2. On top of the above decision, we’ve been spending a lot of time evaluating neighborhoods. Over the course of our marriage we’ve lived in the middle of the most expensive city in America, in the city-suburb of another, in a small town and now we are in what is best described as a bedroom community. We’ve learned to love things about all of those but unfortunately our favorite parts are often in direct conflict – we love the outside space on the farm, but it is 10 miles to the nearest store, good luck not having a car. By spending a few hours at a time in various neighborhoods, looking at them with a critical eye, we feel we’re narrowing in on the features of a place where we can thrive.
  3. How I earn an income and how we structure our days has been an item I’ve been thinking a lot about. I’ve held an ideal in my head for a while of running a business that my whole family could be involved in. The right type of business could get the kids involved, which would teach them hard work, give them real world context a classroom can’t, give us flexibility, allow us to be together more and leave our family with an asset that was as valuable as we made it. The trouble is, our family might not be a great fit for that kind of model. Our kids are all really young and on the wild side, I can’t really focus when they are around and my potential earnings are simply higher in certain jobs than they could be in any sort of family business. Going back to work recently has helped me realize this. While this feels like it closes some doors, perhaps it is just temporarily.

Now for the named items.

2018 Challenge: Profile 12 Families (w/ Kids) Living Intentionally Different

I haven’t done very much at all on my challenge for the year yet. I brainstormed about a dozen different types of families I’d be interested in speaking to; a car-free family, a nomadic family, etc. and for a few of them I put some names down. I’ve yet to contact anyone, start interviewing, write the profiles or figure out where I will host them. I am behind the ball on this one.

2018 Habit: Daily Devotions

The habit item of my yearly focus used to be the one I was most likely to fall short on. Last year I changed the way I did things and the results have continued to be very effective.

For the first quarter of the year, I needed to have completed three devotion times per week for it to have been a success. This was the case for 9 of the 13 weeks. A pretty decent start.

Of note, on no week did I complete more than 3, meaning things will get more difficult in the second quarter of the year when it will take four devotion times per week to be counted a success.

To highlight my procrastination, here is a chart showing the days of the week and how many times I had a devotion time on each. Friday is usually the day I realize I have zero for the week and need to hit all three remaining days in order for the week to count. You might notice, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are a bit lower than the days next to them – those are usually the days I run and so am more time crunched.

One thing I noticed is a clear tension in timing of the ideal time for the impact and the ideal time for my schedule. I much prefer the impact of doing devotion time in the morning – it starts my day off better and my mind is not yet full of the days worries so I can really focus. The trouble is that if I don’t wake up early, I will get interrupted by rising children before I am finished. On the flip side, doing devotion time at night works really well with my schedule. It is a good way to calm down before going to sleep and I rarely get interrupted. Balancing these two factors is something I want to keep an eye on in the coming year, so I am going to start recording am/pm instead of just an ‘x’ on my tracker.

2018 Exemplar: John Muir

I have yet to do much here. A library book search turned up some great collections of Muir’s essays, and autobiography and even an illustrated kids book. I read the latter to my boys one night and put a bookmark into the former. I will need to do more in the coming months. I do have a camping trip to a national park planned as well as a run that passes through Muir Woods.