Wore a face mask on our family walk yesterday. Very hot, and very uncomfortable, but I’m trying to do my bit to normalise it. I want to form a habit of putting it on before going out.

There Are A Thousand

I recently discovered Helena Deland via Bandcamp, and now cannot get her song There Are A Thousand out of my head. Particularly this amazing live version recorded outdoors in Paris.

The original studio version is incredible also, with its slightly distorted/lo-fi guitar. It’s so beautiful.

Instead of releasing an album, her latest music was in the form of four EPs, Altogether Unaccompanied Vol. I–IV, one EP on each side across two vinyl records. Delicate vocals, with moods that take you all over the place. Both Claudion and Rise on volume IV remind me of the early Gemma Hayes EPs which I have loved for many years.

The other big earworm from the EPs for me is Body Language, which is a masterpiece of understatement.

The EPs came out in 2018, so I have my fingers crossed that I’ve found her music at a time when there is more to come soon.

Weeknotes #74 — Monthnotes

The weeks have turned into a month. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been a quarter of a year since I went into the office. Life is so different now. The country seems to have moved into a weird phase where nobody seems to quite know what they should and shouldn’t be doing. I’m still keeping myself at home as much as I can — I have taken the car out for two short drives in three months, and haven’t been inside a single shop in that time — but my wife has gone back to work at her school and our youngest boy just finished his first week back. TV, newspapers and social media are filled with images of people in groups, whether out socialising or at the many Black Lives Matter protests, which seems to normalise being together again. The whole ridiculous Dominic Cummings affair seemed to be the turning point. I am guessing that a combination of the government messaging falling apart in order to save him, plus the length of time that people have been told to stay at home, has meant that the pressure in the system is now being let out. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that there’s still a pandemic out there, with infections and deaths still occurring. I’ve bought some face masks in order to give me some protection when I do go out, and also to do my bit in trying to normalise wearing them. I hope we don’t see a resurgence of coronavirus cases in a couple of weeks’ time, but I get the feeling that people are resigned to it.

Work has been very intense over the past month. The adjustment to everyone working from home meant that our technology rollouts in São Paulo and Beijing have been delayed and are now taking place in parallel, with us driving the work remotely instead of being there in person. Added to that we have picked up more urgent projects to complete. I spend so much of my week in meetings that I find myself ‘defensive-diarying’ each Monday morning, blocking out any free time in the coming week so people think twice before adding more meetings in. I think it’s always been like this, but I used to give myself focus time by staying late in the office until seven, eight or sometimes even ten o’clock in order to get stuff done. We all get together as a family for dinner at six-thirty now, so that time has gone. I love being able to eat with the family every day, but I do struggle to carve out that time for ‘deep work’.

I spent a good couple of weeks getting our portfolio of work in order. We have around 140 ‘projects’, of which we are executing around 25 or so — which is probably too many. The more I use LeanKit the more I love it; the tool seems to let me do 90% of the things I need to in terms of ‘seeing’ and working with our entire portfolio. We now have our day-to-day tasks on one board, the portfolio on another, risks in a matrix in a different board and one more to manage a pipeline of internal talks that we hold each Wednesday. Having got things in order, I’ve been turning my attention back to executing on the things we need to deliver. We have some very hard deadlines coming up, and it’s going to be tough to meet them with everything being implemented in time.

This past week we had a department meeting where our whole team were given the opportunity to reflect on the best and worst things of the past three months. It was interesting to hear everybody talk about things they don’t normally get the opportunity to say. Despite being short of time, which I expect I will continue to feel until my time on this planet is up, I feel extremely lucky in so many ways. We’re all well. We have a wonderful house and we each have space to work and focus away from the rest of the family, and can come together when we want to. I have a job that, for now at least, is not at immediate risk of going away. I can do my job completely from home. I don’t feel as though we don’t deserve to be happy right now, but I also appreciate that there is a lot of luck and circumstance involved in where we find ourselves. We have friends who have been furloughed, others who are going through a redundancy process and one old friend who has been given a horrible medical diagnosis. We really can’t take anything for granted.

I need to get back into the habit of writing these weeknotes, and blog posts, more regularly. I love getting things down but somehow I usually find myself at the end of a Sunday night, with everyone else already up in bed, and the start of the next week is just around the corner. I’ve ready many types of weeknotes, but Ton Zijlstra’s look like the gold standard — a short, sharp summary of what’s been going on and a few highlights to look back on.

Some highlights from the past month:

  • Tuesday night has very firmly become gaming night with a few of my close friends from school. F1 2019 is the game of choice right now and it’s brilliant; even if you crash out of the game early on it’s still fun to watch everyone else compete. I’ve not talked to my friends so often in years, and it has been lovely to reconnect.
  • I’ve never been so fit in my life. Since we locked down in mid-March I’ve been on the turbo trainer or out for a run almost every day. Last month I hit the milestone of having ridden 10,000 miles on my bike and have clocked up 1,025 miles this year alone, all of which have been indoors. It’s how I start every day, and would probably be the biggest thing that I would miss if I had to go back to the office on a regular basis.

  • I’ve not found much time to contribute much as a school governor outside of our scheduled meetings. How I managed to do this while also travelling into London I have no idea, as the time available for it seems to have evaporated. Our headteacher and everyone involved in working or volunteering for the school have been doing an incredible job through the pandemic — it is a thankless task at the best of times — and must be incredibly difficult to juggle the needs and health of everyone concerned, particularly when the country has such a poor government. I have so much admiration for the work they continue to do.
  • I’m determined to finish the jobs around the house that I’ve been putting off for years — completing the scanning of all of our old paperwork, and digitising our DVDs with a cheap optical drive so that we can watch them again. If I don’t do these things now while I am at home all the time, I’ll never do them. Good progress is being made on both fronts.
  • Watched lots of films with the family. We have a good ‘round robin’ system in place with everyone getting a choice. Everyone looks forward to it, particularly when we get one of the many takeaways we’ve been enjoying, on the premise that we’re keeping local businesses going.
  • Worked on closing down my company now that I am a permanent employee again. These things seem to take ages to do, no matter how simple the setup is.
  • Had my second lockdown haircut. There really is no limit to my wife’s talents.

  • Spent a lot of time exploring Bandcamp and finding some wonderful new artists to listen to. I’m much more trigger-happy in buying digital downloads and vinyl than I have been in the past, given how difficult it was for artists to make money even prior to gigs drying up as part of the lockdown.

Next week: Hoping to be back into a writing routine again.

Drove a car this morning for only the second time in 13 weeks or so. I don’t think I’ve been out of the house in two or three weeks. Time seems to be accelerating.

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