Weeknotes #73 — Language matters

A short working week where all of the meetings were compressed into four days. I’ve been hearing a lot of people on podcasts talking about how exhausting it is to be on video calls all day, and I’ve really been feeling it this week. It’s interesting trying to work out why it seems more draining than usual given that I used to spend hours on video calls before lockdown; I can’t quite put my finger on it, although there are many theories starting to emerge. I managed to attend a couple of video meetups in the early evening, which were both very insightful but added to the length of the video day.

We had Friday off for the delayed early May bank holiday that was paired up with the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Neighbours in our street were planning to have picnics and other celebrations in their front gardens which I initially approached with my typical cynicism. Maybe I’ve just been worn down over recent years, but for me, thoughts of VE Day were wrapped up with this mythology of how brilliant and exceptional we are as a nation. I remember my grandad telling me how he felt terrible to have medals for fighting and didn’t want them; he kept them hidden away and not once got them out to show me. The European Union was partly a response to not wanting to continue the horrendous events that went before. I felt that people who celebrated events such like VE Day the loudest were actually the extreme Brexity types who are the closest to the fascists that were defeated at the time. But as the week wore on, I came to realise that there is a very big difference between Victory in Europe versus Victory over Europe. Language matters. The celebration is actually about the liberation of many countries from fascism and not how one country beat another.

Inspired by Ton Zijlstra, I started to once again keep a ‘day log’ of notes throughout the week. Without knowing it as such, I had kept one for the first couple of years of working independently but somewhere along the way I stopped the habit. As usual, the best way to go about doing something like this is to just dive in. At the moment my notes about the day are mixed up with more detailed meeting notes which may not be the best approach, but it does mean that there is minimal friction for note-taking.

A week in which I…

  • Agreed a strategy for the remnants of our old corporate network beyond the end of the contract in a few months time. Lots of work to make this happen.
  • Started to review quotes for the bill of materials for our Beijing office. We’re still waiting for one more before moving forward with the purchasing.
  • Agreed to go forward with a telephony migration project in New York, and met a supplier who may be able to help us in São Paulo.
  • Reviewed a whole host of domain names that we once used and need to take responsibility for. Lining up a conversation with our Marketing team on domain squatting and typosquatting.
  • Had videoconferences with supplier teams who are in the office in both Beijing and New York. Talking to the Beijing team felt joyous, like going back in time to when people could all gather together, but speaking with people in the New York office just raised my heart rate.
  • Said goodbye to a senior member of our team who is leaving to take up a fantastic new role within the company. It’s sad for us, but great for her. There are big shoes to fill.
  • Continued to do battle with my email. I feel like like I’m at the at the end of a conveyor belt on a building site with only a tin cup and an hour a day to move the dirt hitting me.
  • Met with a vendor about a budgeting tool that they offer to their clients. I’ve been through a similar process before and am very skeptical, as it was hours of effort for data that we couldn’t really compare with other organisations. But at the very least, it will be useful to say that we have actually done some kind of benchmarking.
  • Got incredible quick feedback from our school’s financial consultant on our proposed budget. The support we are getting is excellent.
  • Got on the turbo trainer every day. I completed my programme on TrainerRoad and started another. I’ve not been running for a while now as I’m not keen on navigating around everyone else who is outside of the house.
  • Tried my hand at some DIY, trying to fix our recently-relocated patio doors which are incredibly hard to close. A phone call to my dad and a little bit of YouTube helped. The doors are ever so slightly easier to close now, but we’ll need the builders to have a proper look at it when they are able to return.
  • Attended an Agnostic Agile meetup on how to Inspect and Adapt Your Career with Jeff Gothelf. The content was really good, and reminded me of John Stepper’s Working Out Loud in terms of doing favours for your network and giving things away for free.

  • Participated in an OKR workshop run by Peter Kappus for ‘friends of the WB-40 podcast’. A really interesting session which helped focus my mind for a bit on this topic. I am sure that they will play a role in our future, and need to try to find some time to develop these for our team.
  • Marvelled at my wife’s baking skills. A three-hour online class led to ciabatta, grissini and focaccia, all of which taste amazing. On Sunday my son and I tried to follow along while the same chef made cinnamon rolls but it was waaaay to fast and advanced for us, so we’ve ended up with some giant edible ‘cinnamon splodges’.
All taste as good as they look!

All taste as good as they look!

  • Sadly finished watching Outnumbered. The jumps between seasons and one-off specials were really jarring when all of a sudden the children have sprouted a few years and a few more inches. The whole show was really well written and always made us laugh.
  • Picked a family movie for our latest ‘round robin’ film session. I had fond memories of watching Maverick (1994) with my brothers and thought that it would be a good family choice, but it hasn’t aged well.
  • Managed to pick up the guitar a few times. I’ve tried various apps but none of them seemed to stick. I resorted to picking up my old copy of The Beatles Complete and found that I could kind-of, sort-of, bumble my way through the chords to McCartney’s Another Day, despite me thinking in the past that it was impossibly hard. I love the song so there’s a big incentive to keep at it.

Next week: Not one but two steering committee meetings to prepare for. Choosing a vendor to work with in Beijing, getting the phone project moved on in New York and reviewing quotes for work in the office in São Paulo.

Ed’s Not Dead -​-​-​- Hamell Comes Alive!

I’m so excited that Hamell on Trial’s live album from 2000 is being re-released. I’ve loved the CD for many years, but jumped at the chance to own one of the 100 vinyl copies. I first saw him in 2001 and this really captures the incredible live show that I witnessed, where you have to remind yourself that it is just one guy and a single guitar making all that noise. One of the best live records I’ve ever heard.

And just like that, the lilac peaks and starts to fade away for another year. It smells amazing at the moment. It won’t be long until it’s all brown.

Started my next programme on TrainerRoad today. Always begins with a ramp test and for the first time ever the suggested FTP was somewhere near to what I had set it to already. The next programme is a bit tougher so I’m hopeful that I’ve got the setting right.

Weeknotes #71–72 — Hurry up, we’re dreaming

So that was April. It’s hard to believe that I’ve not been in the office for seven weeks now; it’s gone by so fast. I know I’m not the only one wondering how I could have been more productive over the past couple of months. I have to remind myself that the time available to me is the same as it ever was, but I just fill it differently. My morning commute has been replaced with daily exercise, and my frequent late evenings in the office have been substituted for a hard stop around 6:30pm for a family dinner and time with our children. Things are different now. I have to keep reminding myself that I am actually living the dream. Aside from being able to socialise in person, attend events, and be able to occasionally meet up with the team in the office, working from home and exercising regularly is actually how I would like it to be.

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Continued to be grateful for the days where I had only one or two meetings, and was able to get on with some focused work. This was helped a little by South Africa having a couple of public holidays, meaning that half of our team were out of the office. It’s our turn in the UK during May.
  • Found myself working late for a few evenings, just in order to keep on top of the workload. I’ve been pretty terrible with email for a while now and am trying to get back on top of things, but focusing on my known priorities is still the only route to success that I can see.
  • For the first time in a very long time, got the minutes written up and published for the two Steering Commitees that I run, much closer to when the meeting happened to when the next meeting was due to take place. I’m going to try very hard to keep this discipline, as it is vastly better in so many ways. One of the Committees currently takes place every two weeks so there is little choice but to get the notes out quickly, so that we are ready to start the cycle again.
  • Took a couple of senior business staff through how I am thinking about project portfolio prioritisation using Cost of Delay Divided by Duration, also known as _Weighted Shortest Job First_1. I’ve not received any push-back so far from anyone in the team that I have taken through this approach, and we are attempting to apply it to the 80-or-so projects in our backlog.
  • Reached out to our IT partners in São Paulo and Beijing with the knowledge that we are unlikely to be there in person ourselves any time soon. Getting our infrastructure programme completed remotely will be challenging, but it is doable.
  • Attended the first quarterly business review with one of our videoconferencing vendors, an interesting time to meet given the massively increased demand on their service. They corrected my understanding of their licencing model and we will need to make a decision on what we do when it is time to renew.
  • Took part in a number of internal presentations. The organisation is still going above and beyond in an attempt to ensure that our staff keep connected, and we are focused on the value that we are delivering to our clients. In our own team, I was dazzled by the communication skills of my colleagues as they took people through detailed infrastructure concepts on hardware, software, firmware, drivers and our global wide area networks.
  • Reviewed proposals for new telephony systems across a number of our sites, and weighed up the pros and cons of minimising vendors versus technical simplicity and speed of implementation.
  • Chaired the school Finance Committee meeting with governors and our Headteacher. It’s been said thousands of times how challenging the lockdown has been for everyone, but the school continues to respond to the challenge brilliantly. I am so humbled to be able to work with the team and contribute even just a little bit to the excellent work that they do.
  • Ran a 2k as part of a challenge for my son’s running club. I actually tried running it twice, as my first attempt didn’t take into account just how far 2k is — going off like the clappers was a route to failure. I’ve been retreating from running a little as staying in feels safer than being outside, breathing in the exhaled breath from other runners and cyclists.
  • Came to the end of my first month-long TrainerRoad programme and am looking forward to starting the next one.
  • Heard that an old colleague from 20 years ago had tragically lost both of his parents to COVID-19 in the space of a couple of weeks. I cannot begin to imagine how he and his family must feel. I dropped him a note to say he was in my thoughts.
  • Watched a few films and TV programmes with the family. The Wedding Singer (1998) was still hilarious but rude, Aladdin (2019) was enjoyable but a bit throwaway, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) had the best action sequences I’ve seen for a long time. We’ve also continued to laugh our way through Outnumbered and Deep Space 9.
  • Loved that Tuesday nights seem to have turned into regular gaming nights with my friends. There are now five of us regularly playing Xbox racing games online and it is fun to hang out, do something together and talk nonsense for a bit.
  • Enjoyed another remote Album Club, this time listening to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The music was great but we have definitely lost so much by not being there together in the same room. It’s my turn next at the end of May and I’m currently choosing between about 15 albums.

Next week: More turbo training, a four-day work week trying to focus and cram as much in as possible, an evening online training course on keeping an agile career, and watching the Remainiacs vs Bunker live stream.

  1. Some very useful resources on this topic are the book Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale by Jez Humble, Joanne Molesky and Barry O’Reily, and the Black Swan Farming website from Joshua J. Arnold

Weeknotes #69–70 — It all blends into one

A couple of weeks in which I…

  • Enjoyed life as a permanent employee, with my first paid Easter holiday for some time. As a contractor over the past few years I have generally worked through public holidays, but this time I only had a few hours of work to catch up on. Although the long weekend was over quickly, and I wasn’t sure what I’d done with the time, it was a welcome break.
  • Had a meeting with HR to talk about my personal development goals. I’m not yet used to other people taking an interest in me in this way again. The company has been incredible so far, particularly with showing empathy and genuine concern for staff wellbeing during this very difficult time. It’s such a great place to work.
  • Took receipt of the new laptops for our Sao Paulo office and coordinated their setup remotely. Once again, Microsoft’s Autopilot and Intune worked wonders. We now have staff from four out of our five offices up and running with their new computers and we’re working on getting the remainder done as soon as possible.
  • Rebooted the work to get our Beijing office set up with our new IT stack. We had a video call with a potential vendor in China and I am in the process of lining up similar meetings for this week.
  • Ran our monthly IT Steering Committee. We’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment and this was reflected by the meeting being the shortest one yet.
  • Set up and ran our first Steering Committee meeting for a new project to organise and manage our ‘unstructured data’ in London. It was great to have the right people in the room, agree what their roles and responsibilities were and to get them to make some key decisions. This project is going to keep me busy over the next few months.
  • Took part in pilot training sessions for Microsoft Teams. It’s great when you go into training thinking you are an expert user, knowing everything there is to know, and you actually pick up lots of tips and tricks. We’re looking to roll out the training to all of our staff and it was good to give some feedback before we do.
  • Felt as though I am still spending way too much of my work day in meetings. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way, but I have the data to back it up. Apparently I’m the 8th biggest user of Teams in the whole company of 50,000 people, with 188 hours of meetings over the past 90 days! It’s a little bit energy-sapping, and does leave me wanting to avoid social video calls over the weekend as they can feel too much like work.
  • Had an hour with a couple of colleagues talking about GTD. I don’t know anyone who follows the methodology to the letter, but it’s a good guide for how to keep focused and productive. There’s no one magic bullet to solve all of the personal productivity problems, but the fact you keep trying to improve is probably half the battle.
  • Drove a car for the first time in a month, in order to pick up a ‘click and collect’ order from the supermarket. I’ve seen pictures of people keeping their distance and heard stories from my wife, but it was still shocking to see a queue to the store stretching all around the car park with people spread out two meters apart from each other. I was grateful not to have to interact with anything except my shopping and the plastic crates that they wheeled out to my car.

  • Took delivery of a couple of boxes of alcohol-free beer from Big Drop and Brewdog. The Brewdog beers have all been incredible, particularly their coffee stout. So much flavour. It’s lovely to have a variety in the house again.
  • Enjoyed the fruits of my 10 year-old’s labour after he signed up to a weekly cooking class. The lessons are via Zoom at the moment and he cooks alongside lots of his friends. So far I’ve enjoyed some incredible chocolate easter cakes as well as cheesy soda bread. Everyone wins!
  • Played some Xbox racing games — Trackmania Turbo (a bargain at around £6.50 in the Xbox store, with hours of split-screen multiplayer fun) with my boys and Forza Motorsport 6 with my mates. My friends and I seem to have fallen into having Tuesday nights scheduled as gaming nights, and I’m feeling like a teenager again. Inspired by the Virtual Chinese Grand Prix at the weekend, we’re planning on playing F1 2019 ourselves.
  • Watched more TV and films with my family than I have done in a very long time. I introduced them to the wonder of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, although I don’t think they were quite as taken by them as I am. We all enjoyed watching The English Game on Netflix about the start of professional football in the late 1800s, as well as the Race Across The World. It’s been really lovely to have a couple of shows that we can share and enjoy together. Recommendations for similar programmes would be welcome!
  • After getting a puncture on my turbo trainer — something that I thought would be a near-impossibility — I have dropped my old cyclocross rubber for a ‘proper’ turbo tyre. The difference it has made to the riding is incredible, with hardly any noise and what feels like much less resistance. Since switching over I’ve upped my FTP setting from 122 to 170 and am still not sure I’ve got it right. I’ll keep tweaking.

  • Felt as though now may be the time to try and learn the guitar. I bought a relatively cheap acoustic from Tanglewood and have started to play a few chords. I think that the key is going to be having the guitar in easy reach to be able to pick up and practice a little bit each day, so I’ll have to think about where best in the house to put it.

Next week: Continuing to push on with all the projects, in all of the countries.

Beech tree watch: So it seems that what I usually notice as a spontaneous flourishing each year is actually a slow, gradual process. Every day there are more leaves unfurling, and in normal years it passes me by until the process is complete.