Rachel Binx is a data visualizer, developer, and designer. She has worked at NASA and is currently working at Netflix as a full-stack engineer. Binx is the co-founder of Meshu and Gifpop, two companies that create physical objects, such as maps and animated GIFs, from social data.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I would have learned how to be more calm. I used to keep myself so high-strung out of the belief that I would be more productive if I was constantly under stress. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to take a step back from problems and evaluate them holistically, which results in more strategic action and less worrying about the details.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
Well, you would never near this as an explicit recommendation, but there are subtle expectations for over-work. In addition to long hours at the office, there is often an expectation for being available by email during off hours or vacation, to attend professional development events in the evening, or weekend-long hackathons. Then there’s also a social pressure to have side projects or to be dabbling with a new technology on weekends. (Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these activities are fun and lighthearted, and it’s possible to do quite a lot of them without feeling forced.) However there is a pressure in our capitalistic society to commodify our leisure time, and I worry about the affect of that our on our collective mental health. I’m still working on allowing myself to spend the whole weekend off of my computer, or to have hobbies that don’t fit neatly into the design-tech-instagram worldview.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I experienced burnout after leaving my first job, which made me feel disinterested in looking for my next job in tech or even starting a side project. I started doubting if I was cut out for the field, or if I would ever feel passionate about work again, and on top of that I felt ashamed that I was even feeling this way. I felt immense pressure to define what I was doing “next.” To move past that period, I had to let go of these fears and trust in myself to figure something out. Thankfully, after a month or two I started coming up with ideas for projects to work on, and finding freelance projects to pursue. It was a scary period of time for me, but I think back on this era if I’m ever feeling anxious about the future. Worrying accomplishes nothing, so either stop worrying or do something to fix the problem!
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Honestly, just showing up and doing the work. If you want to be good at a new skill or move into a new career, you have to just start working on it. There’s a lot of value in networking and reaching out to successful people in whatever field, but they will take you much more seriously if you can show them that you are already putting in the work yourself. In terms of building skills, there’s no magic bullet for gaining mastery. You just have to put in the time and effort regularly, and in time it will pay off.
What is your morning routine?
Oh, I really wish I had some fancy answer about my journaling habits or daily affirmations or weird breakfast food, haha! I try to do some stretches, and I eat a small breakfast, but generally I try not to have any tasks scheduled so I can just enjoy the morning. I have a pet bird who wakes up early and wants attention, so most of my mornings are just spent hanging out with him 🙂
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I’ve tried to be more proactively positive to the people around me, both with coworkers and online friends. That means making an effort to compliment people on a job well done, or engaging with them online when they post about their work. These actions spark additional conversations, which leads to me having a better understanding of their work, and also deepens my friendships with them.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I’m verging into zen koan territory here, but: the way to be most productive is to not worry about whether or not you’re being productive. Instead I focus on setting myself up for flow states, knowing that if I’m able to focus on a project that I will be productive as a by-product. So there are small, practical things I do, like turning off all notifications on my computer and phone. More importantly, though, I’ve worked on not beating myself up for being unproductive, and instead figuring out what’s preventing me from reaching that flow state. Am I stressed out about some errand that I need to take care of? Then I’ll take care of that task first, knowing that it will make it easier for me to reach a flow state later.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
I step away from my computer, put down my phone, and hole up with a pen and paper. Sometimes I write lists, sometimes I doodle, sometimes I’m just writing “AHHHHHHHHHH” over and over… The act of committing ink to paper centers me and clears my mind. I try to get everything that’s rumbling around in my head written down, and once I can see all of it in front of me, it’s usually not so bad. Once I have a plan worked out, it’s pretty easy for me to chill out and focus on the task at hand.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I thought about this question for a long time, and the book I kept coming back to was Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg. It’s a great book about dealing with conflict, both in how to empathize with the people you are disagreeing with, and how to frame your response in a calm and productive manner. I’ve found the techniques to be helpful in both my professional and personal life; I’ve gotten better at listening to people and deescalating tense situations.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”