Weeknotes 09×05: Screeeeech. Focus focus focus.

Screenshot of a burnt-out Mini from Dirt Rally game

  • After the momentum of drift-slides and gravel over-steer last week, I think this week’s notes are about pressure and speed. Burnout is on my mind a lot, as we head into the dark seasons and hibernation time. Natural rhythms are coming under stress, on many people’s personal level, all the way up to global and social levels. There are some notes on what I’ve actually been doing too, towards the end. One day I’ll read all this back to myself and laugh.

  • 5.30am is not a great time to get woken up at to start the week. My mind is full of dreamed-up fog before I’m out of bed, and every item of furniture hallucinates itself into a pillow. Over coffee, I clear out some menial tasks – checking out a start date, clearing obvious emails, stuff that sits on the brain and . I have enough energy to pick out some small steps to lift pressure this week a bit – getting off Slack, reducing meetings, cutting non-essential comms basically (the introvert head needs some headspace right now) – so the first (ok, second) email of the day jots those down and lets the rest of management know. Got to get some sustainability back.

  • I also jot down my aims and key tasks for the week, which is something I do when I have time, something which is most useful when I’m pushed for time, and something that I haven’t done in ages because I haven’t had time/energy. It’s never a complete task, but it acts as a reference guide, map and compass, as the week fires up and gets confusing quickly. I should really stick to this practice much, much more. Maybe there should be some sort of weeknotes support group for getting weekly aims together?

  • Looking back now, the week seems long and short at the same time. Monday feels like worlds away. But everything has happened at breakneck speed. Friday didn’t feel like the end of the week. Thursday was at the beginning, middle and end.

  • Turning off Slack for a day on Monday was fantastic – I really noticed the difference afterwards, and my mind felt focused and more… complete? Everyone (or developers, at least) knows mental context-switching is inefficient. Less people understand how tiring it is. And yet, it’s so easy to do – we do it all the time, we’ve been trained to do it through our social services. No wonder depression is increasing – we’re all too knackered from trying to keep up with everything.

  • Working from home on Wednesday was also useful, but I slipped back to a tendency to converse via – and hence check the rest of – Slack. Also had to pick up kids from 3pm, so a bit of a shortened day, which I always find flustered.

  • son2 has been singing a little ditty about the days of the week, which he contracted from nursery. I think it goes to the tune of ‘Oh my darling, Clementine’ and comes with little wavy hand movements: ‘_Monday Tuesday / Wednesday Thursday / Friday Saturday / Sunday too / Every day is a different day / and every day is something new‘. It’s cute and twee and schmaltzy and unoriginal, and it’s keeping me going. Every day is something new.

  • Currently I feel like I’m holding a lot in my head, and new streams are kicking up and spinning off while the old ones are being held in reserve memory, not dumped out or stashed for safe keeping. So I’m burning on adrenaline largely, which has helped to avoid getting the sniffles at least, but is giving me some twinges. The tech strategy work has been on hold for a few weeks, infuriatingly. As has looking at project scheduling, and tying it into our new aims. It’s annoying because we had some momentum coming out of September, and timing is everything. But inevitable because everyone is ill or on holiday and there’s a bucketload of dev work to do.

  • Things that are moving are moving well though. We finally tested and signed off a big upgrade to our mapping tech (not released yet, link for sales purposes only… 😉 that will make it a lot easier to build developments into maps in the future, and cut out a big chunk of the time it takes to deploy new datasets currently. It’s something I’ve wanted to work on for years, and John has been a huge help getting it together.

  • In among all the existing work, we’ve been forced to (finally) upgrade one of our servers to a newer model. This month is the time of replacement, it seems, and work is no exception. It’s a tough call, as we’re working hard on a massive upgrade due next week already, months in the planning, etc. I talk it through with the devs involved after stand-up though, and there’s an overarching feeling that the opportunity is too good to miss. We need to effectively-disable the site for a weekend to do the upgrade, so dovetailing in with the server move seems to fit. It’s extra work, and a gutsy move, but in our techie hearts, we sort of know it makes sense? Everything will be so much cleaner, smoother, faster and more secure afterwards. It will be the promised land. That’s totally the cliffhanger for next week – WILL WE BE IN PARADISE?

  • Unexpectedly, the server move also gives rise to some protracted decisions and conversations about how costs are shared with different people. Like there’s an easy way to work out costs vs actual value (spoiler: there isn’t.) It’s a conversation that’s needed, but … ah, man, so many rabbit holes. I mean, it’s not a big rabbit hole to fall down, it’s a labyrinthine warren ready to devour any wayward tunneler. Needs some careful thought and negotiation, and right now, there are enough plates spinning.

  • So that’s where we are right now. Plates spinning. Head spinning. World carries on spinning, and the storm is coming because it hasn’t rained in ages. TOO MANY STRATEGIES. Need a strategy strategy, etc.

  • What am I doing next week? Focusing, that’s what. Getting through this and getting out the other side. Heads down, lights on. See you there.

Weeknotes 09×03/04: The Colin McRae of Software Delivery

Dear Reader. I will admit I have struggled to get this set of notes out, for all the reasons of time and energy set out below. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to post last week, so this covers a couple of weeks, referred to lovingly as “Week 1” and “Week 2”.

Screenshot of a rally car skidding round a dirt track, from the game "Dirt"

Momentum, drive, setup. Project delivery with style.

  • Torn between workflows again, and spun out across trips to London and planning birthdays. Week 1, I’m out Monday and Tuesday for half-term including a trip to London’s Science Museum, and I’m not sure where I am by the time Wednesday hits. The week doesn’t particularly want to let up either. So many jigsaws litter my head.

  • I’ve been playing a rally game called “Dirt” recently, which has super-realistic physics, in my view. I’m struck by two lessons to take from it : 1) Momentum counts. In learning that the key to rally driving is to understand the route notes so that you can set up the car in the right way – speed, position, wheel direction, etc. Once you have that, going round the corner is just a matter of momentum and fine control – trying to correct a bad setup once the corner is happening often results in things getting worse.

  • 2) Throttle is dangerous. If momentum is everything for delivery of a corner, then keeping the throttle down is the worst way of driving. It took me a couple of days to learn to brake, to learn to learn, even. I had to begin by accepting I was going to come last at first, that you can’t go quickly just because you’ve played a hundred driving games before. I started feathering the throttle to avoid hitting turns too quickly. I braked more than I needed to, to find out how the car reacted under very controlled situations. I used practice time to go through the motions 5 or 6 times and get a feel for the track.

  • All of this has real world learning. Humility in your assumptions about what you can achieve realistically. Time for practice and, in particular, to slow things down and really “exercise” in how you approach things. Thought about set-up and planning. All of it.

  • Week 1: I think I’m really not building in enough rest /thinking time at the moment – or building it out.

  • Week 2: I’m cut down by exhaustion. Looking back, September and October have been a constant barrage of organisation, and I’m not really one of those people that organises stuff naturally. Balancing work at the same time as balancing people and contexts takes its toll – jumping from work life to home life and back again with only half-hour breaks in between. The pace is unsustainable, and has left me feeling like I’ve done a good job, but with treacle where my energy was.

  • I tried to rest up from home on the Wednesday of week 2, but some server issues had me chasing old domain names for most of the day. It’s frustrating to have to clear out legacy and debt in a reactive way, but at the and time therapeutic and work that needs doing. But it means I was proper wiped out by Thursday, especially with a few hours of sleep missing. I struggled to get up, then switch off, managed to go for a walk. Felt a lot better for just a morning of my own head space and no demands. So much better.

  • Thursday, week 1, and a meeting with Flo (user support, notionally) who has been looking at redesigning our dashboard page. She’s started to look into UX more properly and thoroughly than we usually do, which is very encouraging – a few of us are interested in the design side of things, but it’s not something we spend much time on as a company, so it’s great to see more people cotton on to it. It has the (good) potential to affect our how workflow and approach to development, of course, and the discussion bounces between the dashboard itself, users, and general philosophy.

Photo of a 'Dashboard Epic' powerpoint slide

  • Friday in week 1 made up for only a three-day week. Had a really interesting catchup with Angie from Community Works on the Taking Account project, delving into charities and politics and local budgets and national budgets and Brexit. And ended the chat with some practical next steps to help drive the research forwards – we’ve now got some good ideas for follow-on work, which serves to both limit the scope of the current effort, and to sell the potential of the work when it does get released, I think. I really enjoyed that crossover between societal trends and movements, and a technical solution that acts on a particular, known point within that context.

  • I then picked up #son1 – hello again half-term. He was pretty good on the office – he’s getting a bit cheekier as he settles into being 8, but is now tall enough to play table football properly, and managed to pass a good amount of time chasing after the cat which invaded.

  • After some rewarding coding (hands in the air, I love optimisation work), I had a few minutes to start on some kind of dashboard/planner tool in Google Sheets. The aim of this is to get a concise list of company objectives, map them to the planned work for each project and product, and allow us to 1) get a rough timeline in place for concentrating on things, and 2) get an instant overview of how the plan feeds into company objectives. Spreadsheets are an amazing resource for throwing this stuff together, and I’ve realised I’m drawing heavily on the social impact work I’ve been product-managing for a few years, just without any translation into financial metrics. The bones are in place now, but the tricky bit will be working out weightings between everything. Bring it on.

  • Read an interesting piece on the end of ‘Mr Indispensable’ in the FT, on being a solution finder with a duty to those you serve. I think I’m a solution finder. But increasingly in the sense of “healing” a system in order to keep it resilient, like a gardener finding a solution to something troubling a garden. What does all this mean?

The week ahead looks pretty frantic too. Maybe see you at the end of it.