Great to share Gemma Hayes with Album Club last night. Played the US version which is really an album of two halves — very loud and beautifully gentle. Been coming back to this one since I first heard her in 2002.

@manton Just seen what happens with comments on my WordPress blog when someone replies on here to a post. Software that delights! You’ve created something magical.

The lack of consistency in approaches to GDPR is so visible from the variety of email over the past couple of weeks. Zaza have been unique in that all of the restaurants I may have interacted with have all emailed me individually. Not exactly user-focused.

One day’s notice for loss of access is really not cool. This is a service I happily paid for over many years which is now free to use; financial consequence of dropping all of Europe is zero I guess.

Fat-fingered an update to my website earlier and didn’t realise at the time. Managed to use VaultPress to restore the data from a backup taken last night. A beautiful, seamless process.

Weeknote #18 — Gasps

The past couple of weeks have been so busy — this week reaching a ‘having difficulty breathing’-level of busyness — with regular gasps when remembering things I need to or have committed to do. Despite having a good ubiquitous capture tool and a reasonably solid GTD-esque reminder system I still found myself juggling to get through the week without dropping anything.

In my current role I have fallen off of the Inbox Zero bandwagon and am struggling to prioritise the time to get back on again. I remember reading a post by Michael Lopp which said that he gets all of his inboxes to zero every day. How? Surely he must take a brutal approach to processing it. Someone I know recently invested in a ‘GTD coach’ and a couple of weeks later is still finding themselves doing a lot of capturing and processing and not as much actioning as they would like. The coach’s advice is that the GTD process will reflect back at you when you have too many commitments and you need to do something to pull back on them. I’m just not sure what I can pull back on right now.

My calendar seems to be perpetually full. I’ve thought about defensive scheduling, but most of the meetings are with people who are getting work done for my programme and the cost of me having some time back is a potential loss of prioritisation, direction and focus in the team. I’m going to have to do something about it soon as there are some big things to get done before the end of May: on-boarding workshops with our new chosen vendor to help us with where we’re ultimately heading, working through the details of the programme plan with each of the stream leads, integrating the work across all of the streams and creating an approach and plan for hiring. All of this while we continue our software rollout in our final two countries and work on fixes and updates for the locations where we are already up and running. I’m going to have to take a hard line with prioritisation as much as I can, and across the team we need to make sure we are as spending as little time as possible on the old/current infrastructure platform. We have a small team and need to keep everyone focused on making where we are going great.

Late on Monday afternoon I suddenly found myself picking up and coordinating the communications around a significant production issue. As the team is small, if something like this happens it is very easy for us to get sucked into managing the detail. Looking back, it was interesting and unusual in that it only impacted us and not our primary infrastructure supplier, as in the past problems typically hit both of us at the same time. As we continue to move further aware from their infrastructure stack there will be more cases like this. The key thing is making sure that everyone has the same understanding of who is responsible for ownership and communications, no matter where the problem originates.

My contract with my client has been renewed for another year, which is great. The first year of being a contractor has gone by so quickly; I can’t believe that it’s been 12 months since I was preparing to leave my old job and venture out on my own. I still have a long list of things I want to do with the company I’ve set up, not least of which is finishing off my website which has been on my to-do list for months.

My evenings have been spent keeping on top of governor work. May is the time that we close out on last year’s budget and agree on the next one, and I’ve put a lot of time into getting my head around the various views of school financial data so that I can confidently sign them off. The staff at our new Financial Services supplier have been great; it was lovely to get my long list of questions answered so quickly, while the context and reasoning was still fresh in my mind. Next week we have the penultimate Full Governing Board meeting of the academic year and as usual we have a lot to get through; I’m going to have to be on-form as Chair in order for us to finish on schedule.

SATS week came and went in a flash. We’re so lucky that our eldest boy didn’t seem fazed by it at all. The school is so supportive; the year 6 teachers sent the fantastic letter below to everyone they had a special in-school breakfast all week, making sure that they were all settled in order to do their best. I’m clearly biased, but I’m so happy that our boys ended up attending this school.


Our younger boy has made us proud by being chosen as ‘player’s player’ of the season in his football team. He’s so pleased to get the award and it’s great to see him have some sporting success when usually so much of the awards and plaudits are focused on his older brother.

The hastily-assembled WB40 podcast book club tackled our first book, The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The plan was to read the first three chapters (as that’s the assumed distance into a typical business book required for you to understand what the rest of it will say) and then discuss it. It’s been great to join in but I’ve been worried about leaving a trail of half-read books all over the place. So, after reading the first three chapters I ploughed on and finished the book, helped significantly by having the audiobook version to accompany my commute. It’s a good read and has sparked some very interesting discussion, but my conclusion is that in this case the three-chapter rule is correct. I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing book reviews recently but will try and put something together on this one.

I managed to remember to cancel my trial Economist subscription before they hit me with a big charge. They seem a little sneaky in that there is no automated unsubscribe option and you need to send an email to them in order to do it. “That’s how they get ya.”

Next week: More professional diary wrestling, running our next Full Governing Board meeting and then hosting Album Club #87. My turn to host felt like miles away and now it’s here, and I still haven’t settled on an album choice. Here are some tracks from the shortlist of three:

Weeknote #17 — Almost Falling Down

A four-day week that felt like a two-day. On Tuesday I felt that I had left half of my brain in the weekend as I repeatedly found myself struggling to remember names of people and things in the various meetings I was in. And I was in a lot of meetings. Most of my week looked something like this:

Despite defragging my calendar as much as possible I was still left with very little clear time to get anything else done. Lots of 30-minute meetings can leave me feeling unproductive at the best of times, but this week felt doubly worse due to people not turning up on time — or at all — to a significant number of them. On Wednesday morning I made it to the office exceptionally early for an urgent meeting that frustratingly couldn’t get going due to key people being missing. By the end of Friday, a day in which I had been stood up for meetings no less than FOUR times, I felt like I might have a Michael Douglas Falling Down moment. Well, almost.

Somehow we still managed to keep moving things forward, although I did feel out of breath at times as I grabbed any available moment to prep for meetings and to get documents written and submitted. Our vendor selection work is now making good progress and we are starting to plan for what we will do when they come on board. The global software platform rollout is due to start in our next city from Monday and we’re very much on track for it, with only two more cities to go after this. There are quite a few challenges looming on the horizon at all levels — hiring, getting our plans in place, integrating what we are doing with other programmes, executing on the work — but it’s interesting, challenging and (mostly) fun. And somehow I managed to wander outside for lunch this week for the first time in a long while.

We’ve started to roll out iPads to our end users because (a) they provide a useful backup for Microsoft Office if there is a local network or other computing outage and (b) they are fabulously brilliant devices. I’ve been using one since the iPad 2 came out and do a lot of my work on them. I’m writing this on one now. I was halfway to the office on Tuesday before I realised I had left mine behind in my house and had a teeny panic about how I was going to manage my day. We are absolutely going to have to run some training sessions so that people can begin to get the most out of them; although they are very intuitive to use there are a few tips and tricks which can be a major boost to productivity, such as running apps side-by-side, taking and syncing handwritten notes in OneNote etc. The Microsoft Office applications on iOS are now so functional that you can do quite a bit without turning to their desktop siblings.

We’ve been test-driving different phone headsets in the office, from basic over-ear devices to ones with accompanying touchscreen panels which interface with the desk phone, the computer and a mobile phone all at the same time. The one I am using has such a strong magnet to attach the headset to the charging dock that the clip has broken off, the end result being that it needs to be docked in just the right place in order to charge it. On Tuesday morning after the long weekend I found it had been knocked off its perch and I then spent the rest of the day (the same day shown above) juggling between charging the headset and making phone calls. Someone else in the office has a model where the cradle comes with a spare battery which you can swap out if the headset runs out of charge, a little delightful detail that gives it the edge over mine.

On Wednesday night our planned 2.5 hours of school governor committee meetings and training turned into nearly 4 hours. We got lots done, including a run-through of how GDPR will impact the school. It seems at this time that a lot of schools like ours are having to have governors step in to become their Data Protection Officer (DPO), which doesn’t sit well with me at all — governors have a strategic role whereas the DPO sits firmly within the operational category. We are extremely lucky to have a knowledgable and willing governor step up to do this for now but it will not be sustainable long-term.

Juggling when our school governor meetings are is a perennial problem. We have a Full Governing Board meeting every half term and then break out into three committees which meet slightly less across the year. All of them take place in the evening as the vast majority of our governors work full time. The Committee meetings are usually held back-to-back on the same day as each other which tends to mean that the first one bumps into the second one and they both slightly overrun. We could split them across different days, but that is then asking people to give up more evenings, particularly the Headteacher or those who sit on more than one committee. There’s no easy answer and I feel we’ll keep wrestling with it forever. The best I feel I can do right now is to try and keep the meetings on point and on time.

Media

I’ve been really enjoying Adrian Newey’s How To Build A Car. It’s a real cut above the other Formula 1-related books that I’ve read this year — readable, honest and geeky. For a long time I’ve always thought that Newey looks like Malcom McDowell’s Alex from A Clockwork Orange so it has been striking that he has mentioned the actor and the film a few times in the book already! Coincidence?

One passage in the Newey’s book gives a great illustration about how hard testing can be, and it made me think back to projects in my career where we have really tried to do testing properly:

On the topic of reading, I asked the WB40 podcast community how they manage their reading queues. I have PDFs, magazines, books and web articles coming out of my ears and have never felt that I’ve been able to prune the backlog enough so that I am always reading the next most relevant or valuable thing. No good strategies came back (besides “serendipity”, which seems to be the default) and the conversation ended up with the community starting a book club. So now I’ll have even more to read.

The FT AlphaChat podcast has a good, well-balanced interview with Jim Millstein which looks back on the financial crisis. Millstein had the extraordinary job title of Chief Restructuring Officer at the US Department of the Treasury and was “responsible for oversight and management of the Department’s largest investments in the financial sector and was the principal architect of AIG’s restructuring and recapitalization” so his insights are worth listening to.

Troy Hunt’s weekly update included a mention of the disclosure by Twitter that they found plain-text passwords being stored in log files. Hunt always offers a well-balanced view and I agree with him that it is understandable how this could happen. Given how many sites store passwords badly in the first place (think of all of those that specify specific character combinations or have draconian limits on the length of the passwords), Twitter are showing that they are actually further up the security maturity scale (in my head) by making a disclosure like this.

I finally got around to watching Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk from a few years back. It’s very moving and illustrates very well the problems with social media and the impact of our online behaviour. There are real people behind the stories and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be publicly shamed. Even clicking links to gossip and trash websites isn’t victimless; for years I have avoided clicking Daily Mail and Daily Express links as the more clicks they get, the more they can use their click numbers to attract advertising and funding for their hate-filled pages.

Euan Semple’s words that “we’ve all got a volume control on mob rule” come back to me often when I see people being hounded in the media, and Lewinsky’s talk illustrates the point well.

I’m one week away from hosting the next Album Club and it’s getting to be crunch time for picking something. I played PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake in the house a couple of weeks back (one of the most brilliant albums I have ever heard) and it’s been strange to now hear my 11-year old son walking around the house singing the macabre lyrics to The Glorious Land. But what a song.

Next week

Software rollout in South America, more planning workshops, getting my head around hiring, putting vendor contracts in place and tons of prep/catch-up with school governor work.

Weeknote #16 — 40,000 Days A Week

A really solid week, but a strange one, with most of the people I work with in South Africa out of the office until Tuesday for a long ‘Worker’s Day’ weekend, and then being out of the office myself from Thursday onwards due to my wife heading off for a well-deserved long weekend in Lake Garda with some friends. I’ve been working from home and have had to plan Thursday and Friday around school pickups, kids’ dinners and bedtimes. Nothing makes me appreciate what my wife does for our family more than the rare occasions when she’s not here with us. Having said that, it’s been great to have some ‘forced’ time with the boys and I love being with them. When my wife is here it’s a lot easier for me to retreat into a to-do list, but having them on my own means there is little optionality around participating, especially if I want to avoid them being on the Xbox for hours on end.

Friday night my 11 year-old tolerated — and my 9-year old endured — watching Eight Days A Week which I had discovered was free on Amazon Prime. Well-made but a bit of a disappointment in terms of new material to the story. I made up for it by treating them to an IMAX 3D screening of Avengers: Infinity War on Saturday. I’ve seen some other IMAX movies but I was still taken aback by the size of the screen and the 3D effects, both of which are amazing. The expensive ticket prices look much more worth it when the film is good and you see it as an experience you can’t get at home. I’ve only seen Black Panther in the Marvel series but it didn’t feel as though I’d missed out on too much of the storylines.

We’ve spent most of Sunday in London. Slime London was okay; it’s a great idea for someone to capitalise on the latest school craze by bringing together so many people involved with it and selling their wares. (Was there a ‘Fidget Spinner London?’) The people involved must have been making a fortune. I was glad we got there early as apparently the afternoon before they were literally queuing around the block.

Around the corner from the event we randomly stumbled across a Warhammer store. With memories of the huge Avengers-related battles from the day before looming large in our minds, the big assemblies of battling demons, robots and machines drew us in. We found a highly-tuned sales staff ready to give the boys a hands-on introduction on how you go about assembling, painting and playing a ‘proper’ game with the models. They even have a kids club in the store at the weekend where you can go in and spend time with the other kids on a big workbench. The world of fantasy gaming has always seemed daunting and impenetrable and the people behind it appear to be fully aware of this; the staff couldn’t have been more helpful in explaining how to get started. After much deliberation and a cooling-off period which took us to the South Bank for lunch, ice cream and a wander around the Royal Festival Hall, the boys now have a starter set to keep them busy.

I was hoping there would be some South Asian music and dance at the Southbank Centre but we were far too early. We popped into the Hayward Gallery which is hosting a small exhibition on futuristic visions. Turning the corner into the darkened room we nearly jumped out of our skins as we came face-to-face with a large scary-looking fox in a mirror reciting passages of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

Bedwyr Williams’ Tyrrau Mawr was also interesting — a 4K digital ‘painting’ with an audio track that brings the picture (video?) to life.

We’ve had fun, but I can’t wait to see my wife again.

Back in the world of work I find myself wishing that everyone managed their diaries properly. I know I’m not perfect but It’s an ongoing bugbear for me that people leave meetings in place when they know they are going to be on holiday. I find myself coming out of the flow with a piece of work because I know I’m talking to person X in a few minutes at the scheduled time, only to find that they don’t turn up. Looking ahead and cancelling or declining things is just good hygiene.

Diary clashes have meant that I have had to move out my next programme Steering Committee meeting. This is a blessing as I am hoping that we will be able to go to the next one talking about the things we have done as opposed to the things we are going to do. We had a great couple of key meetings this week which played out exactly as we had hoped, and we’re well-positioned to close out our vendor work as well as put together a plan for the rest of the programme over the next week or two.

I loved Matt Ballantine’s blog on policies at work. We are having lots of healthy discussion about this at my client’s office in the context of IT Security and user behaviour so it is a very timely read.

I had fun running a workshop on efficient strategies for using email (specifically Outlook and Exchange) and had good feedback on it. The session was born out of the fact that some of our users have been struggling to find things since we switched to the new system. The main points of the talk were around how to use the search syntax to efficiently find an email no matter where it is stored, and how most people should be spending time searching instead of filing emails into folders. I am sure that investing time into things like this has a much better impact than so many other things we do.

A few years ago I found out that I live less than a mile away from Mark Lewisohn. This week I found that I live about the same distance from a multiple winner of the UK National 24h cycling time trials. In 2015 he managed an average speed of 22.4mph to cover an unbelievable 537 miles in that time. The fastest ride I’ve ever done has probably been no more than 17mph or so for a fraction of the distance, and that was at peak fitness for me which gives it some context. He’s now getting ready to attempt the to beat the record time for Land’s End to John O’Groats of 44h 4m 20s. There’s a great podcast with him that covers his preparation for the attempt; his primary means of training has been to cycle to and from work in Watford and typically does not cover long-distance rides. You can follow the attempt on Twitter. Inspirational.

Next week: Another email workshop, a half-day planning the programme with each of the workstream leads, getting things moving with our vendors and school committee meetings.

Another day, another athletics meet. A scorcher! My son managed to win the bronze in the 1500m and was only 4s off of his PB. Great going.

Boys weekend. Avengers Infinity War last night (good, but so many characters and locations) and now heading for a sunny day in the city. First stop, by popular demand, Slime London.

Weeknote #15 — Back on track

What a difference a week makes. The issues that dominated my time last week seemed to abate and I was able to make good progress with the strategic stuff. A public holiday in South Africa on Friday helped; with colleagues out of the office there was time to get my head down and get things finished. Early on in the week we had a key quarterly governance meeting which went really well and gives us a great basis to plan the rest of the programme; I didn’t realise how much it was on my mind but I felt exhausted afterwards.

I am hoping that next week we will be able to deal with a problem which has been causing performance issues for all of our users and the noise level will die down substantially. We’re still pursuing a more drastic ‘plan B’ and should have a view next week as to whether we need to go down that route.

Tuesday is Labour Day in South Africa and a lot of people are taking Monday off as well so there should be a lot less time in meetings. I’ve got some big discussions lined up for the middle of the week and some home working lined up towards the end while Mrs D jets off on a long weekend. It’s already time to get prepared again for our monthly programme steering committee and I will be pushing so that we have some good updates to report on.

It was a busy week for school governance. A long and intense meeting on Tuesday night was followed by a session at my house the following evening. We had asked the Chair of Governors from another school in our town to meet with us to talk about her experiences with Ofsted inspections. Her school went into the ‘Requires Improvement’ category before going back to ‘Good’ the next time they were inspected. It was great to get her insight about how to prepare. I’ve not been through the process myself and would hate to think that an inspection could be let down by the things I say and show them. Everything in education changes so quickly and so often that maybe things will be different by the time we go through the process, but it shouldn’t fundamentally change what we focus on and how we present ourselves.

This week I was again reminded about the danger of making assumptions that people know what they are doing and will just get on with things, only to find out later they hadn’t and didn’t. Assumptions will be the death of me.

My work week ended with someone popping by by desk asking me how she could set up WhatsApp on someone else’s phone that she had borrowed. It turned out that her car had been broken into the night before; thieves had not only stolen her purse and two iPhones, but also her journal in which she had written down her passwords. We spent some time logging into iCloud, marking her phones as lost, getting her password changed and setting her up with a new phone from an iCloud backup. Unfortunately she had run out of iCloud storage space and her last good backup was from nine months ago. I imagine that all of her photos since then are now lost as well. I’m not the first person to say that given how expensive the devices are, 5Gb ‘free’ iCloud space is far too small as the default. Non-geeks just want to use their devices and don’t want to worry about backups. And why should they? It was a good reminder that there’s a real need to give people just a little bit of education as to how to keep their stuff safe for when things go wrong.

Since last week’s adventure with my first Ofo ride I have used them a couple more times. It looks as though you get your first three rides for free, which seems pretty reasonable to try the service out. I also took a Mobike for a spin and had a pretty dreadful time; the bikes don’t have any real gears and seem to be optimised for ‘not quite easy enough, not quite fast enough’. They are very heavy and rattle a lot; I ended up injuring my wrist through a small commute from Euston to the City. I still prefer the Santander bikes but the inconvenience of finding a free docking station will always put me off. Biking to work still leaves me a bit too hot in my suit so I think I’ll revert back to walking when I can.

Last weekend was filled with activities as usual. My 11-year old finally had his birthday party and seemed to enjoy himself. I still find it incredible how quickly a bunch of kids can make a dinner table look like a hurricane has swept through the room. I found myself projecting my own values and being disappointed that they didn’t seem to worry about the mess they made, but I also know they are only little and it’s not top of mind for them yet. Was I the same? I don’t remember. It’s strange to think that in a couple of years they will become self-conscious teenagers. Everyone was so generous with their birthday gifts and one of them left us all giggling with a completely age-inappropriate birthday card. What were they thinking?!

A good friend of mine ran a great time in the London Marathon. I don’t think it’s entirely fair that other better-known runners get a head start. What could’ve been!

I’ve still been munching my way through The Coming of The Third Reich. The Audible and Kindle Whispersync combo is working out really well and I’ve only got just over an hour to go. I’ve found that I read faster than listening to the 1.25x speed audio version and seem to have settled into a rhythm where I’m taking in the content both ways. It’s so great to be able to carry on with reading whilst walking to work, cutting the grass or doing the ironing.

Chas and Dave have been ringing in my ears since I saw them last week. Their album Gertcha! The EMI Years is excellent and the quality of the recordings is fantastic. Here are a couple of YouTube gems that I can’t get out of my head at the moment:

The next live gig is lined up — I managed to bag a couple of tickets to see Kelis at the Jazz Cafe in July and can’t wait.

Next week: Finishing off our software rollout in another city, detailed planning workshops and the start of the endgame for our vendor selection. And ‘ciao’ to Mrs D as she heads off on a well-deserved break for the long weekend.