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Weeknote 11/2017

This week I’ve been:

Next week, I’m working from home Monday-Thursday, then heading up some mountains on Friday/Saturday.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

My Daily Routine

One of the books on my ‘daily reading’ list is Mason Currey’s fantastic Daily rituals : how great minds make time, find inspiration, and get to work. I implore you to buy a copy if you haven’t already. It’s ace.

Each entry by the author is a couple of pages about the kind of routine that people such as Virginia Woolf or Charles Darwin followed throughout their life. Sometimes this was an easy task for Currey, as the individual wrote specifically about their routine. Other time, it has taken painstaking research, putting together information for a number of sources.

Now, I’m no ‘great mind’, but I thought it might be interesting, if only for the sake of me looking back in a few years’ time, to do something similar. What follows is my daily routine when I’m working from home. This, I guess, is an update of my entry on My Morning Routine from around three years ago.


Like anyone who lives with their family, my daily routine is restricted to a great extent by various duties and constraints. I’m a morning person, so I’d actually like to get up earlier than I do. However, my wife is more of a night owl, so we settle somewhere in the middle.

Over the last couple of years, since becoming self-employed and having much more control over my working hours, I’ve come to realise that I work differently in the spring and summer months than in autumn and winter. I’m a lot more gregarious and outgoing during the former, while I’m more reclusive and introverted. Also, the additional sunlight means I tend to need less hours sleep and, for some reason, makes me want to swim more. I’ve come to divide my year by the spring and autumn equinoxes, so I’m very much looking forward to next week, when I’ll start swimming again, put away my SAD light and generally be in a more positive frame of mind.

I wake up at around 06:00 in the spring and summer, and later (usually 06:30) in the autumn and winter, using my Lumie Sunrise alarm clock. Being woken by light is much better than being woken by noise. I lie in bed and do my daily reading — a mixture of books like Daily Rituals but also some Stoic philosophy and other things that put me in the right frame of mind for the day.

Then, I get up, say good morning to my children, and take them downstairs for breakfast. They have a routine to do before school that includes piano practise, either Khan Academy or Duolingo, and getting themselves ready for school. I see my job as making sure they’re in a good mood. That takes varying amounts of effort depending on their emotional temperature. During this time I catch up with Twitter, scan my emails, say good morning to the We Are Open co-op Slack channel, and read the news headlines.

I’m the last to get ready, having a quick cold shower, doing my press-ups and sit-ups, and then heading downstairs. I have a crazy mix of stuff in my breakfast smoothie, and then walk my daughter to school with my wife (if she’s not at work). This is one of the highlights of my day.

I take my gym stuff, and head straight from dropping her off to do either my arms, legs, or cardio. If it’s spring/summer, and depending what day it is, I’ll go home straight away and go swimming at lunchtime. Once I’m at home, depending on how ‘bitty’ the things are that I have to do, I’ll either use my Trello board directly, or have already transferred things to my daily planner while my children are eating breakfast.

My use of coffee is strategic. I don’t use it to wake myself up, but to ensure I’m at peak productivity between 10am and 12pm. Sometimes, if I’m lacking motivation, I’ll head to the local coffee shop to work, paid for by the kind people who donate in appreciation of my weekly newsletter. Otherwise, I’m in my home office, which is separate to our house and complete with standing desk, or upstairs in a weird little cubby hole we created when converting our loft.

I work for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. By ‘work’, I mean write, think, plan, and make. I don’t count meetings and replying to email as work. While it’s important for me to meet people online, especially as I live up in Northumberland, I limit these conversations to 30 minutes wherever possible.

My time is precious. Four hours of solid knowledge work is what I aim for each day as research backs up my theory that this is optimal. I feel sorry for people who work in offices who have long commutes each way, have to spend time maintaining relationships with colleagues they don’t particularly like, and in meetings that are a waste of time.

When my wife and I are both at home, we have lunch together and do the crossword in The i newspaper (to which we subscribe). I will usually have an omelette or scrambled eggs with some turmeric mixed in. I’m fussy about the eggs we buy.

If I get my four hours of work done while my children are at school, then I go to pick up my daughter and talk with her about what we’ve been up to since we last saw each other. My son walks to and from school by himself now he’s in middle school. They have a snack and then go and play on their tablets (usually) or make/draw stuff (sometimes).

On the days I don’t get my four hours in while the children are at school, I use this time to get up to an hour’s extra work in. Otherwise, I’m just reading, catching up with email, or doing a bit of housework. Just as when I was at Mozilla, the time when most people want my attention is between 16:00 and 17:00, as most people in my network are online, from the Pacific timezone where people are just starting work, through to Europeans who are just clocking off.

After that, it’s preparations for the various activities my children do (football, swimming, Scouts, piano, dance, golf, etc.) and dinner. I’m trying to cook once per week at the moment to improve my skills in that area. Our six year-old daughter goes in the shower and then to bed around 19:00, and our ten year-old son does the same about half an hour later. They both are read to, and then read themselves. I’m particularly enjoying reading and discussing each short chapter of A Little History of Philosophy with our eldest.

I don’t work in the evenings, unless I absolutely have to. For some reason, it gets me down, and makes me resent what I’m working on. I don’t count recording the TIDE podcast with Dai Barnes as ‘work’ as it’s more of a conversation with a friend that happens to be made available to others. The evening is the time of the day that it’s hardest for me to obey my self-imposed rules of no sugar and no alcohol during the working week. So I tidy up, perhaps play some FIFA, do some more reading, and get myself ready for bed.

I’ve learned from experience how important rituals and routines are to my productivity. Every evening I have a really hot shower, which lowers my core body temperature, ready for sleep. I lie in bed, reading until my wife comes to bed. We talk, we both read, and then (usually about 22:30, but sometimes 23:00) the lights go off and I fall asleep quickly.

Cross-posted to Medium. Image: Loic Djim


I’m currently putting together an audiobook on productivity called #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity. You can buy it now for a reduced price, and you’ll get updates for free until it’s finished!

Badges, Proof and Pathways [DML Central]

My latest post for DML Central has now been published. It was originally a commission through our co-op from Concentric Sky late last year, so I’m glad to finally have it published! It features a great header image from Bryan Mathers.

The focus of the article is on a new open standard for badge pathways that is available in Concentric Sky’s Badgr platform. I’m hoping other platforms adopt it quickly, as it makes a lot of things possible that until now have only been hypothetical.

An excerpt:

It just happens that all of these badges are issued via Badgr, but they could be issued by any badge platform. Interestingly, the Open Pathways standard has the flexibility to require all badges, or just some badges to earn before the ‘parent’ badge is completed. These pathways can then be stacked almost ad-infinitum leading to nested “constellations” of badges. The opportunities are endless.

Click here to read the article in full.

(Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to comment on the original article!)

Weeknote 10/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Doing different and diverse kinds of work. I’ve really enjoyed the variety of this working week in particular. I’m self-employed so I get high levels of autonomy and agency in my work anyway, but the focus of the things I’ve done for three different clients has been vastly different. It’s also involved a nice mix of working from my home office, travelling within the region that I live, and travelling further afield.
  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #249 was entitled ‘Ain’t no time like the present’.
  • Catching up with Thomas Steele-Maley, who’s currently doing great things in Dubai.
  • Failing to record an episode of the TIDE podcast, as Dai and I couldn’t align our schedules this week. Still our episodes are quite long, so it will give people a chance to catch up!
  • Sad to see the Azure Window in Gozo (an island off Malta) collapse into the sea. My family visited it on a number of occasions, as Gozo is one of our favourite places to go on holiday. It’s going to be a very different place as a result.
  • Helping facilitate a Story Hack event at Gateshead Central Library. We used the Booktype platform to create a book in less than seven hours. The quality of the book wasn’t the important part; the focus was on collaboration and framing an interesting topic. We chose to question Wikipedia’s guidelines around ‘notoriety’.
  • Interviewed for E-180 magazine. I really enjoy their regular newsletter, so was pleased to be able to answer some of the questions they had about Open Badges.
  • Working with Laura Hilliger to install Discourse, an open-source forum platform for a client of our co-op. We’re configuring it so each user chooses a pseudonym and so can be as anonymous as they want to be to other users. However, those in charge of the forum will know who each individual user is. It’s reasonably high-stakes in focus, so you can’t access it without a login to the forum itself.
  • Running a thinkathon for the NCCA in Dublin, Ireland with Bryan Mathers. We stayed in an apartment that was quiet, yet also right opposite the famous Toners pub! It was good to help Fred Boss and colleagues think through Open Badges.
  • Writing:

Next week, I’ll be finishing off that discussion forum piece of work, recording a new chapter of my audiobook on productivity, and preparing for a couple of upcoming trips to record some ‘quality mountain days’ in preparation for my Mountain Leader course.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

 

My sites are now hosted in the European Union

I host my websites through Reclaim Hosting. I’ve been with them for a few years now, ever since they were known as ‘Hippie Hosting’ and an offshoot of the amazing work done by Jim Groom and team at the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.

Companies often talk about their commitment to customer service, but I’ve never known anything like that which receive from Reclaim Hosting. It’s insane. For example, in the last six months, amongst other things, they’ve:

  • Responded within a minute to a query about my wiki being down, and had fixed it for me within five minutes.
  • Worked with me to rectify a persistent spamming problem on my sites (that was my fault, not there’s)
  • Migrated my sites from US servers to ones based in the EU within 24 hours of me tweeting that I’d like them to do so.

On top of that, they charge me a very low price. I’m a huge fan, as you can tell.

The last of the bullet points is an important one as President Trump continues to rip up the good work carried out by his predecessors. For example, earlier this month, The Register reported on a joint letter sent by Human Rights watch and the ACLU which outlines in detail how Trump’s executive orders are underming the US-EU Privacy Shield. Bloomberg reckons that the EU are ready to pull out of it.

It’s 2017, so it seems strange to be talking about things that seemed more important in the early days of the web, such as where your server is located. But, of course, given the nationalist turn we’ve taken in the west, these things matter.

They matter because he location of your server is still of vital importance, despite recent protestations, that data in transit through the US makes it subject to US law. What you put on your own web space isn’t just the front end stuff that everyone sees, it’s the backend stuff as well — family photos, private emails, and the like.

Some people have asked why I’ve chosen to host my data in Germany, rather than in the UK. Well, for a start, I still consider myself as more European than British, despite ‘Brexit’. Second, Germany has stronger privacy laws than the UK (and certainly the US). Finally, and more pragmatically, it’s the EU option offered by Reclaim Hosting (mainly, I believe, because Digital Ocean offer block storage in that zone)

I perhaps spend more time thinking about these things than most, but that’s because it’s something I deem important. Ironically, most of my readers are in the US, so this move actually adds a few milliseconds to their page load times. Sorry about that…

Image CC BY Jeff Ddevjet

How to build an architecture of participation

Back in 2014, when I was still at Mozilla, I wrote a post entitled Towards an architecture of participation for episodic volunteering. I bemoaned the lack of thought that people and projects put into thinking through how they’re going to attract, retain, and encourage the volunteers they crave.

‘Architecture of participation’ is a term used to describe systems designed for user contribution. It’s a term I use relatively often, especially at events and thinkathons run by our co-op. Not only is it a delightful phrase to say and to hear, but (more importantly) it’s a metaphor which can be used to explore all kinds of things.

In my 2014 post, I made some suggestions for ways to improve your project’s architecture of participation. I’ve updated and improved these based on feedback and my own thinking. Based on my experience, to build an effective architecture of participation, you need:

  1. A clear mission – why does this project exist? what is it setting out to achieve?
  2. An invitation to participate – do you have an unambiguous call to action?
  3. Easy onboarding – are there small, simple tasks/activities that new volunteers can begin with?
  4. A modular approach – do volunteers have to commit to helping with everything, or is there a way which they can use their knowledge, skills, and interests to contribute to part of the project?
  5. Strong leadership – do the people in control of the project embody the mission? do they have the respect of volunteers? have they got the capacity to make the project a success?
  6. Ways of working openly and transparently – does the project have secret areas, or is everything out in the open? (this post may be useful)
  7. Backchannels and watercoolers – are there ‘social’ spaces for members of the project to interact over and above those focused on project aims?
  8. Celebration of milestones – does the project recognise the efforts and input of volunteers?

Most of the links I can find around architectures of participation seem to be tied to Web 2.0 developments pre-2011. I’d love to see a resurgence in focus on participation and contribution, perhaps through the vehicle of co-operativism.

If you’ve got another couple of features that lead to a positive and effective architecture of participation, I’d love to hear them. Then this can be a 10-point list! As ever, this post is CC0-licensed, meaning you can do with this whatever you like.


(Image drawn by audience members during a keynote I gave at Durham University in 2015)

Blogging for a third of my life

I was in the midst of presenting to a conference in Australia last Wednesday night when it struck me just how amazing some things are that I consider to be ‘everyday’. There I was, getting praise, pushback, and questions via Twitter in realtime while I presented, lag-free, to the other side of the world.

Similarly, I take for granted my blogs, and the ability to connect to people around the world. When I step back and think for a moment, it’s truly amazing to be able to have an idea one moment, and communicate it to a worldwide audience, the next.

I’ve now been blogging for around a third of my life. In 2005, after some brief dalliances with dajbelshaw.co.uk (no longer available, even via the Internet Archive) I was inspired to start my own blog by reading the work of Will Richardson and others.

This led to a fertile period of blogging at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk from 2005 to 2007. My main focus was on History teaching and related education issues. However, as my career developed, my writing started to cover other areas, so I started a new blog (this one!) to focus on education, technology, and productivity.

Since 2008, my interests have diversified to such an extent that it’s made sense to have several blogs, on different platforms, as well as a newsletter and a podcast. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 12 years, it’s that most people care too much about intellectual property and not enough about owning their own data.

You’ll notice that, these days, I release almost all of my work under a Creative Commons ‘zero’ license. In effect, this is donating my work to the public domain. It’s not that I over- or under-value my work by doing so. Instead, it’s driven by a desire to spend more time creating than worrying about who’s remixing my work.

On the other hand, I do obsess about the tools and platforms that I use. I try to use Open Source wherever possible which, to my mind, is just a sensible way of investing in the sustainability and longevity of my work. I don’t think anyone should be able to shut down the platform on which I share my stuff. Even on the odd occasion I’ve used a proprietary platform, I’ve at least manged to hook it up to a domain name I own.

Anyway, this was meant to be simply a brief post to mark a milestone. If you’ve been reading my work since the beginning, as I know some of you have, then thank you. For those of you new to my work, there’s a list of the various places I update on a regular basis at dougbelshaw.com.

Image CC BY Amy Gahran

Preparing for ‘Story Hack’

Tomorrow, I’m helping facilitate Story Hack, a kind of book sprint at Gateshead Central Library. It’s part of a series of events funded by Arts Council England called STORY MODE:

Story Mode is a series of events that actively explore the role that Libraries play in their communities via a critical engagement with contemporary creative digital practices and how this activity can enable Libraries to grow in capacity and profile.

It presents new ways of working by presenting experiences and approaches from local, national and international practitioners. Story Mode events will connect Libraries to current engagement practices in contemporary visual, digital and narrative arts.

We’ll be using Sourcefabric’s Booktype platform to collaborate on during the day. Facilitators have been asked to curate relevant Creative Commons-licensed (or public domain) text for remixing, as well as to prepare a short, 15-minute talk about their work.

In terms of the focus of the day, we’ve been given the following prompt:

The advent of collaborative online platforms for journalists, writers and visual artists has had a profoundly disruptive effect upon the nature of traditional media and how we access it. This situation raises more questions than it answers. Questions like: Do digital platforms have the same aura and appeal as physical media? Does the truth matter anymore? Who should we give our attention to and why?

Thankfully, my network is filled with professionally-generous people. The following are just 10 of those whose work I can confidently and openly share with others in relation to the above prompt:

In terms of my own work, I’m going to use five links to describe what I’ve worked on over the last five years:

  1. http://neverendingthesis.com
  2. http://digitalliteraci.es
  3. http://openbadges.org
  4. https://learning.mozilla.org/web-literacy
  5. http://weareopen.coop

I’m going to learn a lot tomorrow, and see myself as much as a participant as I am a facilitator!

Image CC BY-NC Thomas Hawk

Weeknote 09/2017

This week I’ve been:

  • Sending out Thought Shrapnel, my weekly newsletter loosely structured around education, technology, and productivity. Issue #248 was entitled ‘Don’t Block That Chain’.
  • Travelling to and from Rome, Italy to work with St. George’s British International School. The weather and the staff were both lovely, and you can check out the slides I used for my keynote here. I took a few photos when wandering around the centre of Rome in the evening and have started reading SPQR by Mary Beard as a result of my trip!
  • Recording and releasing Episode 77 of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast with my co-host, Dai Barnes. This episode was entitled  ‘Edtech, learning, and ‘real life’, and we discussed innovation, digitisation, missions, manifestos, learning as ‘procrastination’, fitness devices, female digital assistants, and more!
  • Introduced to the rest of the Ontario Mathematics Leadership Network team before heading out to do some work with them in Toronto right before the Creative Commons Global Summit.
  • Meeting with a couple of potential new clients to discuss future work. I do like it when people say they’d like to “give me a pretty free hand”. It shows trust.
  • Presenting (virtually) to a gathering of the  ACODE network on the future of Open Badges in Higher Education. It was late evening for me and early morning for them. The slides I used are here.
  • Curating and sending out Issue #005 of Badge News, the new bi-weekly newsletter from We Are Open Co-op for those interested in keeping up-to-date with what’s happening in the world of Open Badges.
  • Going to the doctors for a check-up. My blood pressure is 110/70, which is bang in the middle of ‘healthy’.
  • Taking Friday off as a ‘Doug day’. I haven’t had one for a few weeks, and I woke up with a sore throat and runny nose. I played, read, walked, and went out for coffee. It did the trick, I’m right as rain today!
  • Sending out the February edition of my monthly Dynamic Skillset newsletter.
  • Writing:

Next week I’m helping facilitate a ‘Story Hack’ at Gateshead Libraries and running a thinkathon for the NCCA in Dublin, Ireland (with Bryan Mathers). I’ve also got some research and writing to catch up with.


I make my living helping people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology.  If you’ve got something that you think I might be able to help with, please do get in touch! Email: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Is it the end of the traditional resume? [opensource.com]

Bryan Mathers and I have a post published at opensource.com. It was commissioned by Concentric Sky, who are the organisation behind Badgr.

An excerpt:

At the moment, we’re treating Open Badges in a similar way as traditional credentials, placing value solely on the destination rather than on an individual’s current journey. A single, big, showstopper badge shouldn’t necessarily trump a badge pathway showing a relevant trajectory. We should recognize that traditional credentials recognize activity that occurs on a very uneven playing field. Some people, for various reasons, have had a relatively smooth path to where they currently stand. Others, with less-prestigious traditional credentials, may be a better fit but do not come from such a privileged background.

Click here to read the post in its entirety.


Note that our original title emphasised the power of making credentials more transparent by bringing together open source, Open Badges, and open pathways.  As ever with these things, we were at the mercy of the editor.

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