Back before the pandemic, when I ran out of steam sitting in my home office, I’d go somewhere else to work. Often that was a coffee shop, but sometimes it was the local library, or even the beach.
I don’t have the same flexibility now that it’s getting towards winter and we’re in the second Covid-related lockdown in the UK. So what is a remote worker to do when they’re feeling less motivated than usual?
Here’s three things that I do, just in case they’re useful for other people:
Take a moment to reflect — what’s going on? I’m not suggesting a full OODA loop, but I consider how I’m feeling and why I’m not getting on with stuff. Is it because I don’t have anything to do (unlikely!) or because I’m not sure how to do it, or something else?
Gain clarity — can I move somewhere else? I’ve realised that, pre-pandemic, moving physical location was a proxy for moving conceptual location. So can I go for a walk to figure things out? Or shut down something that is taking my attention (e.g. social network) and move it somewhere else (e.g. email/Slack)?
Act — what can I do? If there’s something that needs clarifying, I try to gain that clarity as soon as possible. If not, I have to decide how comfortable I am in sitting in the uncertainty. If that’s the case, instead of ruminating, I act, often by doing something else. Like writing this blog post!
This might seem like the world’s most obvious advice, but the first step is the most important. A healthy introspection helps me move from feeling stuck to understanding what’s going on, and then to action.
Did you know that ‘spork’ is a registered trademark? Me neither. So in this post we’re going to refer to the original fork/spoon hybrid from the early 20th century: the venerable ice-cream fork.
Our ice-cream fork has three prongs and a spoon-like bit. Let’s use this as a metaphor for getting started with productisation, the process of turning internal business capability into commercially viable products.
Let’s also use an acronym, ‘SIR’ to remember this:
Sense-check — is what you’ve already built wanted by other clients?
Insight — what have existing clients told you about their needs/problems?
Research — what kind of jobs do potential customers have to be done?
Once you’ve scooped up all of this creamy goodness into the spoon-like bit of your ice-cream fork, then you’re ready to give it a taste. Is it what you were expecting?
What comes next is the exciting part! It involves spending time with your team coming up with potential ways of taking what you’ve already got and making it relevant for new audiences. But that’s a whole other series of posts.
To me, the value of the Ice Cream Fork of Productisation is that it provides a nice balance between researching and building. I’ll leave you with my favourite quote to illustrate what I think is an appropriate balance between the two:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Then, picking up same book again this afternoon, I read an interview with Josh Elman, who has led product at a number of high-profile tech companies:
The hardest part of building something comes down to this: are you building it for yourself, or are you building it for how you believe most people will react and interact? It’s important and really powerful to get out of your own head and think about how other people will engage with a system or a product, and make sure you are making choices that are meaningful to them, not to you.
First, I start from the tech equivalent of the Hippocratic oath (“do no harm”). So I’m not going to work on betting apps, anything which negatively affects our societal response to the climate emergency, or ‘addictive’ services.
Second, I continue from the position of identifying communities of people to help. I spend time finding out, both directly and indirectly, where their pain points are and what would delight them.
Third, I put together a team to design and build prototypes to test with these people. We then iterate based on that feedback.
By doing this, you can have your ideologicical cake and eat it. When your values are in line with those of your users, then everyone wins.
There’s not much I can say about the US Presidential election that hasn’t already been said. All I can add is my personal perspective: not interacting via the major social networks, and uninstalling The Guardian app on my phone has improved my mental health.
Reflecting on the last five years, it’s sad that the general public in the US and UK have been so easily manipulated, regarding Trump and Brexit, respectively, that both countries are ideologically fractured. As I mentioned on Mastodon earlier this week, it’s difficult for people who act in good faith to deal with people who act in bad faith. And it’s exhausting.
On the work front, I’ve spent most of my week working with Outlandish, another tech co-operative in the CoTech network. They turned 10 this week, which led to some pre-lockdown partying.
There are two closely related streams of work that I’m focusing on with Outlandish. The more general one is ‘productisation’, the process by which you take internal business capability and turn it into tangible products. In layman’s terms, Outlandish are really good at delivering on bespoke projects to individual clients, and I’m helping them investigate whether they’d like to move into selling products to multiple customers.
I ran a ‘lightning talk’ on productisation on Thursday which was well-attended, with plenty of interest and lots of questions. This isn’t a small undertaking (one person likened it to “walking into Mordor”!), but I feel that Outlandish are more than ready for it.
The other stream of work is called Building OUT, which stands for ‘Openness, Understanding, and Trust’. It’s referenced in the playbook that I and others have started putting together. As part of this strand, this week we ran an internal pilot of a new workshop around better communication within teams. That will be ready for external sign-ups soon.
Other work I’ve carried out this week was for We Are Open with Greenpeace, which involved getting to the nub of what the client was actually asking for.
I took most of Friday off this week, mainly because of a meeting I had on Thursday afternoon. I needed to process what had happened, so took my laptop to the beach, sat in the car, and did some writing in periods between staring at the waves.
As I’ve referenced in passing in my weeknotes, there has been some tension in our co-op for a while, so I invited to a meeting those members who will still communicate with me directly. From my perspective, I spent that meeting outlining why I feel aggrieved, marginalised, and unfairly treated.
It appears, however, that they have a different perspective. It’s becoming increasingly clear that my remaining in the co-op will be difficult as things currently stand. I’m considering my options.
Next week? For the moment, I’m pausing all of my work with We Are Open, so next week is entirely focused on collaborating with Outlandish.
Photo of a beautiful spider’s web at the beach on Friday morning.
We’re at a moment in history where everything that went before seems somewhat… quaint. Both 2019 and the years that preceded it seem to me like a quieter, more innocent age. It was certainly a time when I was unaware of how quickly situations can change for the worse at both a macro and micro level.
Like many people, I’m sure, this year is definitely a candidate for The Worst Year of My Life. It has been difficult on the professional front, with attempts to stick to my moral compass bringing me into conflict on a number of occasions. And on a personal level, I feel like I’ve been hampered by those closest to me in their unwillingness for me to change and grow.
The two things that keep me going through all of this, other than the sustaining love of my family, are the words of the Stoic philosophers and the help I’ve received from my therapist. They work in tandem.
For example, in my most recent therapy session, I was challenged to reflect on the places from where I get reassurance. Having read a lot of Stoic philosophy, I already knew the ‘right answer’ to this: the only place you can get reassurance from is yourself. However, this was head knowledge; I didn’t feel it.
In The Joys of Being a Stoic, Massimo Pigliucci quotes the opening of Epictetus’ Enchiridion. In my opinion, it’s one of the most succinct, powerful, and practical philosophical statements ever made:
Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing. (Enchiridion 1.1)
This is sometimes called the Stoic Fork, as it forces you to realise that there are some things you can control (not much) and some things you can’t (everything else).
I turn 40 at the end of next month, meaning that I’m looking at the start of 2021 as marking the beginning of the second half of my life. When I look back at the first half, there are many things to be grateful for; many achievements and good decisions. But there are also things that make me almost bite my fist in their cringeworthiness; I have been at times naive, arrogant, and quick to anger.
There is no point in making resolutions or grand statements about how things are going to be different in the future. All I can do is to try and make each day better than the one before it. This includes acting increasingly in line with my moral compass, values, and the better parts of my nature. But it also includes, perhaps painfully, cutting out of my life things that do not add value and which stop me from being the best version of myself.
I’ve spent the last year and a half doing even more introspection and self-examination than usual. That’s led to changes in the way that I think and act.
This post by Ian O’Byrne is a great reminder that we’re often misguided in life:
One of the major stumbling blocks to changing perceptions and awareness of the “truths” that we’ve manufactured is that we do not want to recognize that we are wrong or mistaken. Furthermore, we do not want to admit to others (or ourselves) that these mistaken perceptions have distorted or modified our lives.
To counteract this, it is important to periodically challenge our beliefs and viewpoints. We need to problematize these perspectives and question their validity. We need to question their role and relevance in our lives.
As someone who lives and works openly, I’d like to think that I do hold my hands up and say when I’m wrong. But to do that means that it’s only fair to be honest and point out when other people are also wrong.
I hold myself and others to a high standard, and do not apologise for that.
I’m writing part of this from my bed, at home in Northumberland, and part from an Airbnb just over the border in Scotland. Thankfully, the North East has so far been spared the Tier 3 lockdown which would have rendered this trip illegal. Small mercies during a pandemic.
This week has been odd as I’ve worked ~15 hours over four days, which is around half of what I would usually work over five. Our children are on half-term holiday, so I’ve been kind of around and kind of not. It’s not ideal, but I had things to finish off and keep ticking over, so needs must.
Other members of our co-op are away. I’m particularly jealous of Laura sailing around the Mediterranean and going scuba diving. Bryan‘s stay at a friend’s house with a swimming pool sounds great, too. But I should grateful that we live in such a lovely part of the world and that, even pre-pandemic, our house was set up for me to work from home contentedly.
I’ve done a lot of reading this week. Some of this has led to blog posts (more on that later) but most has been for the sake of pleasure and curiosity. I used to track my reading habits, but it sucked all of the joy out of it for me; metrics have a way of bringing out the worst sort of self-competitiveness in me.
The amount of time I had available to read this week was increased due to me working less, but also because I uninstalled The Guardian app on my phone. It’s something I pay for, and value, but found that I was returning to it and refreshing almost as if it were social media. There’s a limit to how well-informed I need to be about things that might happen. Not all information is ‘news’.
In terms of the work I did do this week, it was divided into three main areas:
Wrapping up the Catalyst Discovery project that ended for participants last week. I completed some of the reporting requirements, met with the Catalyst comms team to give them feedback, and drafted a post for the We Are Open blog.
Continuing to help Outlandish with some work around productisation, mainly with their ‘Building OUT’ programme which you can read a little bit about in their new playbook.
Thinking about what’s coming next for We Are Open Co-op and me personally. There’s a few projects that we need to decide whether we have capacity for, and some that I may decide to do individually.
I’ll be back to working on Greenpeace stuff next week when Laura is back.
If I could wave a magic wand and instantly reorganise my working year, I would divide the types of work I do into broadly two phases. Right now, I’d be into my book-writing phase, which would last from the end of September to the end of March. During this time, I’d limit all distractions and write and write and write, satisfying my inner introvert.
The other phase would be my information-gathering phase, which would last from the beginning of April until mid-September. During this time, I’d be out and about as much as possible, working with clients, speaking at events, and keeping my finger on the pulse of everything going on.
Perhaps that’s overly simplistic, and maybe that wouldn’t be as enjoyable a life as that which I have right now. What I do know is that I want and need to spend more time doing ‘deeper’ writing than I’m doing now, and life and work is getting in the way of that.
In terms of the things I’ve written this week, here I published:
Next week, I’m looking forward to planning my work up until Christmas (and beyond) and ensuring my life is achieving the kind of balance which means that I avoid migraines. I had one this week, and it wiped me out for the entirety of Wednesday afternoon, which was not fun.
I’ve seen plenty of talk about ‘Building Back Better’ over the last few weeks.
Unfortunately, most of the rhetoric has come from people whose ideological and political beliefs conflict with mine, which makes me concerned that ‘Building Back Better’ is going to be used as a friendly front-end for an attack on anyone lacking privilege.
As a small way to counter that impending narrative, then, here are some suggestions on how we can make post-pandemic better than pre-pandemic for most of us.
Distribute wealth by mercilessly taxing people who profit from the labour of others (and/or surveillance capitalism)
Distribute power by providing worker ownership of businesses and public ownership of public goods
Reform our democratic systems by introducing proportional representation to safeguard against authoritarian tendencies
Take steps to integrate marginalised groups within society, and generously fund programmes to ensure this happens
Reimagine education to focus on more on collaboration than competition
Heavilytax organisations that make profits by exploiting scarce natural resources
Ban facial recognition in all but a very narrow range of cases, and regulate it well
Invest in mental health services, especially for young people and those hit hardest by the pandemic
Engage in land (ownership) reform to ensure that the few do not constrain the many
Ban pension funds from investing in ethically-dubious companies (e.g. conflict minerals, arms manufacturers)
It’s a mixed bag, and comes off the top of my head this morning. Nevertheless, the above is probably quite uncontroversial for the kind of people who read this blog.
Know how to suffer fools. The wise have always been the least patient, for as knowledge increases, so does impatience. It’s difficult to satisfy someone who knows a great deal. The greatest rule in life, according to Epictetus, is to endure things, and he reduced half of wisdom to this. If every type of stupidity is to be tolerated, a great deal of patience will be needed. Sometimes we tolerate most from those on whom we must depend, which fact enables us to triumph over ourselves. From tolerance arises peace, the inestimable joy of the world. Those who find themselves unable to tolerate others should retreat into themselves – if they can actually tolerate themselves.
Baltasar Gracián, The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence, 159
I’ve often said that I “don’t suffer fools gladly”. And I don’t; I have zero patience for those that mess me about, are disingenuous, or otherwise exist more for entertainment than industry.
However, Gracián points that we all depend on other people and it’s necessary to tolerate them. Further, without developing patience, we may end up in a situation where we find it difficult to tolerate ourselves.
Marcus Aurelius writes in a similar, albeit tangential vein:
[L]ook at the characters of your own associates: even the most agreeable of then are difficult to put up with; and for the matter of that, it is difficult enough to put up with one’s own self. In all this murk and mire, then, in all this ceaseless flow of being and time, of changes imposed and changes endured, I can think of nothing that is worth prizing highly or pursuing seriously.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with his assertion that there’s “nothing worth prizing highly or pursuing seriously”, but I suppose that’s the logical conclusion of a lack of patience.
My conclusion? Patience is worth practising and cultivating.
Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity, for example, and dignity; industriousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling, be frugal, considerate, and frank; be temperate in manner and in speech; carry yourself with authority.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
There’s so much to unpack in just this small section from one of Marcus Aurelius pieces of life advice. Taken at face value, it could be seen as an exhortation to an austere way of life; joyless, serious, and overly-focused on work.
Taken in context with his other writing, though, it’s clear that this is Marcus Aurelius’ reminder to himself to act in a way that would befit a Roman emperor. After all, when you have supreme executive authority, you can pretty much do what you like.
Many mornings, I get up before anyone else and sit by myself with a cup of tea studying something from my daily reading. Doing so helps start the day off on the right foot, with priorities that are important to me rather than other people. I find Marcus Aurelius particularly useful in that regard.