28-02-2020: Documents for Power

Up-front meta

This note from Warren Ellis at LTD struck a chord:

The day after my birthday, I started keeping a written log of what I do every day. Even after only a week, it exposes that even on the days I don’t think I’ve done much, I do a lot. It’s just that slews of emails and AV and document processing and calls don’t feel like the actual work. I need to remind myself that, these days, it is in fact a big part of the actual work.

"I need to remind myself that, these days, it is in fact a big part of the actual work." – this sums up so much of what I tell myself, and have increasingly told myself as I’ve done less on direct deliverable, and more on support and leading. Still feels like a constant reminder, which also feels a bit daft. Remember when ‘housewife’ became ‘home-maker’ in the 80s and 90s, like we were struggling to square the ‘productivity’ of family life? Yeah, don’t feel we – as a nation – have figured that out yet, either.

Current weeknoting self-imposed workflow is now:

  • Reading: I’ve started subscribing to particular people’s feeds via RSS, rather than drinking from the weeknot.es firehose, for two reasons – firstly, it just means I’m not feeling like I have a bunch of random notes to catch up with, and secondly the medium.com domain seems to open directly in the Medium app better. The reading experience feels a lot more … ‘focused’ this way, and I can always browse the weeknot.es site if I want more people to follow.

  • Writing: Take notes in open-source app Diary – one line per note, tagged with #weeknotes. Rsync plaintext/Markdown files to laptop. Grep on ‘#weeknotes’ to separate notes from all my other daft ideas. Collect relevant notes together and re-edit into something more or less coherent. Email Markdown to WordPress, then tidy it up after publishing. This is getting closer to the balance between slapdash-chaos and sensible-output that I’d like.

Ambient music to write weeknotes to:

Not quite Spring

The Sun has been out slightly this week, which – after being cooped up in the house and the car for a few days, has put a bit of a fresh spring back in my step. My senses must have picked up because I took some photos without really thinking. Got bought a free coffee by a random stranger which I will also pay forward. Pick up some second hand books for my ‘computing history’ collection which is my new mid-life crisis retro collecting brain thing, alongside (the more obvious) retro-gaming kick.

Alongside this, I started out feeling quite productive this week, helped oddly by being leftover-ill and tired, and so working from home on Monday. I seemed to spend a lot of time writing up thoughts into shared documents, as a way of kickstarting discussions and providing a space to assemble thoughts.

Structure is Power

I’m drawn to ‘document structure’ more than I realise – as, I suspect, is everyone, especially in this modern era of shared and collaborative documents. The real power of thinking-on-paper (which shared documents are a form of) is the ability to move thoughts into 2-dimensional space – beyond the single, serial, linear dimension that internal thought, and simple textual writing offer. In other words, a surface (such as paper) allows us create a structure or map which, in turn, allows us to move in (duh) 2 directions instead of 1.

People say writing was a gamechanger 8,000 years ago as writing allowed transmission of thought. I think mapping – of any sort – is just as fundamental to collaboration, as it transmits the relationships between ideas. Not just “Hey! A then B then C”, but “Hey, A then B, but also C can relate to both!” This extension of thought into space means we can navigate between connected ideas more fluidly, but also explore the actual relationships being mapped more easily.

So I’ve probably said the words “structure” and “shared documents” about a brillion times this week. But the aim is to force, uh, encourage others to think along the same lines once they head off by themselves to think through and fill in the information. There is a momentum to this process – and once information starts going into the structure, and others follow suit, it does get harder to change tat momentum. So structure is a form of power, especially if you fill in ‘example’ information. Whoever creates the document defines the outcome.

Image: Advanced Google Sheets usage:

An animation of hand-drawn lines turning into squares and then into boxes on grid paper

The flipside of settingout a structure is that one can focus on space instead of substance. I am making more concerted efforts to speak less, and am biting my tongue and resisting the urge to see a solution and jump in with it. I think there is something about time-bound conversations (like crammed meetings) that pushes people to THINK FAST and REACH A DECISION, but also to feel like they’re not wasting time on “frivolous” conversations – finding a solution quickly can be seen as more important than listening to diverse opinions and viewpoints, or even just being respectful. This is generally not so good.

But what’s the alternative? Lengthier meetings? Deliberate quiet/thinking time? Splitting meetings up into context/problem vs solutions and decisions?


Using Zoom from home for a video call, I have a quick scramble on connection to a) change my on-screen name from “Scribe” to something more professional*, and b) hide the giant anteater soft toy lurking behind my head. The dangers of working from home that no-one warns you about…

( * For reference, I’ve used “scribe” as an online name since about 2000 or ‘ancient past’. It stuck with me at the time, and it seems right to mention this fact in the context of writing weeknotes all these years later. )

I finished my week by taking some time to whittle my “response”-labelled inbox down to 1, and the “all action” inbox down to 50 or so from 100+. Most of that was outdated or unnecessary. The inbox labeller in me is very much the optimist.

I am sorting out a better flow for reading things. There are some work- and data-related articles which I would like to highlight, but I think I might keep them separate to my actual weeknotes. I’m not on Twitter so much and links always feel lost there. Maybe I will try collating them into a separate post on the blog, like post a curation every 5 links or something.

One thought on “28-02-2020: Documents for Power

  1. Holy moly, Markdown posting via email almost actually worked…

    Current settings to get that in place:

    Make sure the email client doesn’t wrap plaintext. Thunderbird: “Toggle Word Wrap” add-on

    WordPress Add-ons:

    * Postie (hooked up to a gmail account for now) with:
    * Preferred text type: Plain
    * Filter newlines: No
    * Replace newline characters with HTML: No (should be ignored)
    * Disable Gutenberg
    * WP Githuber MD

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