Workweek 04×04: On (Semi-)Mental Labour, 1-to-1s, and Pumpkins

It’s Friday. What was I mainly up to this week, how did I do it, and what did I learn on the way?

I had two days off in the middle of this week, so Monday, Thursday and Friday were hectic yet productive. On Monday I thought it was Friday and on Thursday I thought it was Monday.

On physical being, mental labour, and nurturing the miniscule arts

One thing I’ve been doing outside of work for the last two weeks is some exercises, after seeing a physio a fortnight ago. I’m apparently at that stage of life (says the physio) – kids and all that midlife crisis stuff – where I sit down and stress de rigueur and everything stops being bendy.

I’d noticed a general tiredness over the last few years (those 6am starts knock me out for the whole day) so it’s been really good to have someone basically force physical movement on me. It’s not been much, but I do feel more active – just the way I move around the office, really. But a little bit of added physical motion does seem to do a few wonders for the brain too. Engagement with mental work seems to be linked with an ability to use the body as a whole.

The history of mental work seems odder and odder, sometimes. We want “productivity” so we virtualise work, put the manual labour under the control of robots and algorithms, and yet still convince ourselves that staring at a screen non- stop for 8+ hours is the best way to Get Things Done. From experience, the art of mental working – the miniscule, daily art that goes into every single thing we think of – is clearly elevated if it is allowed to flourish: a growth which requires a sort of nurturing, just like a plant. The physical body must match the mind, as if we can employ our limbs as extensions of our neural pathways. And the chance to rest and recuperate must be built in, like going for a walk after a heavy meal.

I’m not saying I do any of this. On the contrary, I’ve noticed the discrepancy more as I’ve gone back to heavier coding, and writing up notes. I feel the drudge of banging out word after word, and find it grimly amusing when I know I should take a break, but the lure of keystrokes-per-hour binds me to some invisible treadmill. It all seems so foreign at times.

On the passion and process of 1-to-1s

I finally caught up with a couple of the team on Thursday and Friday, with some long overdue 1-to-1s. I’m not sure why they didn’t happen for a few months – I suspect a heady cocktail of holidays, workload, meetings, fresh plans and other important things. However this post on checking people’s flow state got me re-energised. (Louise Cato’s post on Experiments in 1-2-1’s is also very relevant here.)

As it happened, I didn’t manage to bring in an assessment of “flow” in the end. But it was good to catch up. And I think I do mean it like that – over the years I’ve played with how I do 1:1s, with various things to check in on (actions from last time, annual aims, logging what’s been happening for reference, etc.) and semi-structured formats for writing up notes.

But I think I was letting the process overshadow the “friendly catchup” aspect, and I suspect I stopped enjoying it, and started turning it into me assessing myself instead of me supporting others. Writing stuff up is useful, important and all that, but also a huge pain in the arse when you’re either busy (like, always) or you don’t have a good reason for writing down what you’re writing down.

So I’m still sticking to a skeleton structure, but it’s a bit more lightweight than before. I want to spend more time chatting, listening, offering support – not writing everything down so I can look back on it in a year’s time. I’ve told myself that scant notes are “good enough”. And whereas before I would list “actions done, actions not done, actions partially done, new actions, recent work, other notes…”, now it’s as close to this as I get:

  • Aims for next time / future
  • Actions
  • Notes

The first two of these should be enough to jog my memory at the next 1-to-1, I’m e conjunction with annual aims. The last is useful when it gets to annual review time. So far, this lighter structure fits better – fits my style at least. I don’t know if other people find things different though? Maybe I don’t need to?

On the radar

On account of histories

Other things that happened this week:

  • I went through the CVs for the latest job application round, A good, diverse mix and some good applicants.
  • I introduced Obi and Emma to the latest chats about our USA work, which felt good to bring other people in and lift it out of my head.
  • I went along to a local meeting and sat through a chat on the local neighbourhood plan, which reminded me just how much what we do can affect people’s every day life and the spaces outside of their front doors. I should write about this one day soon.
  • I had a chat about our underlying technology and what it could be useful for in its own right.
  • I made a decision to re-factor something, which may have taken a day, but I think it will save time later and definitely save lots of time later on. And more importantly, it will save confusion – which is especially important as I know I’m not around much next week to help out.
  • I made some unit tests, and fixed some code as a result. I am so enamoured with unit testing now.
  • I fixed a few bugs and issues with the websites, which was nice to get back to doing.
  • We had a Cava Carve-off using pumpkins from Joel’s allotment.

On film