Open Thinkering


Tag: life

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps14

TL;DR: as I’ve done for the past few years, I’ll be spending some time away from personal email, blogging and social networking during the months of November and December. You can see what I got up to last year here.

‘Belshaw Black Ops’ is the name Paul Lewis gave to my annual time away from personal email, blogging, social networking, and writing my weekly newsletter. The aim is to recharge, both mentally and physically. Due to Seasonal Affective Disorder and living at 55.2° latitude, I’m a different version of Doug in the winter months.

This will be my fourth year of ‘black ops’ and it will be the second time I’ve spent two months away from email, blogging and social networking. I’ll be reading more books, watching more films, and generally pursuing longer-form, less emotionally-draining things. Boone Gorges summed it up well when he said:

A life spent on Twitter is a death by a thousand emotional microtransactions. I want to be pouring these energies into my family and my friends and my work.

Unlike Boone, I’m not saying ‘goodbye’, but merely ‘adieu’ for a defined period.

So if you need to contact me in November/December, first think about whether it can wait until January 1st. If you decide that it can’t, then you can find me in the places I hang out for work (Skype/IRC, mostly). It’s also not hard to find/guess my Mozilla email address.

Oh, and if you’ve got any recommended reading/watching to add to my list, please do add a comment below!

Image CC BY-NC-SA Stéfan

I needed to write a blog post this morning…

…I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s something to do with self-actualisation. While I use 750words in bursts, the words I write there are private. There’s something about writing for an audience that’s qualitatively different. I guess it’s a different form of communication, even if the means we use to get there are the same.

While I write my weeknotes regularly, they tend to focus on ‘hard’ stuff, the things I’m working on, the places I’ve been. What I often let slide are the things I’m thinking, the things that have inspired me, the relationships I value. So let’s rectify that a bit. Apologies in advance if this feels a little stream-of-consciousness.

I’m writing – or, to be more precise typing – this in my local library. I walk my son to school most mornings and then come here. And then,  until ~10am I ‘work’ on things that are important to me. Whenever I talk to people about money and salaries, these are things on which it’s impossible to place a numerical value.

Until very recently, I checked my work emails as soon as I got up. I knew it wasn’t advisable, but I wanted to ‘be prepared’ for the day. Now I’m learning once again that there’s better ways to do that preparation; getting something under your belt in the morning is important. It’s about doing something that emanates from your own thinking rather than someone else’s. I’ve seen people talk about taking their ’emotional temperature’ for the day, which I think is a great idea:

Finding my baseline is like checking to see which version of me showed up. There’s some thing which some of us aren’t so good at, but we’re good at other things. Restless me isn’t so good at sleeping, but he can read like a motherf***er. Yelling at him isn’t gonna get him to sleep any faster. (Zefrank, via Vinay Gupta)

Some days I wake up bouncing, and ready to get ALL THE THINGS done. Some days I wake up melancholic. And some days I wake up angry. On days where my emotions are sub-optimal, I find it’s helpful to keep myself to myself and read some Marcus Aurelius or Montaigne.

A couple of people on our team (Michelle and Laura) are based in Germany, so are an hour ahead of me. However, like me, they tend to time-shift their working day to overlap more with the bulk of our Mozilla colleagues located in places that use Eastern Time (GMT -5) and Pacific Time (GMT -8). While I enjoy the slower start to the day, I do find it awkward to balance the need to have meetings between the time my children come home from school/nursery and the time they go to bed.

Working from home isn’t what I expected it to be. It’s better in lots of respects, and worse in others. The thing I find hardest is being ‘present’ but not ‘Present’, if you see what I mean. I have an office in a converted garage separate to the house, but I need to pop into the house now and again to grab something, go to the toilet, or get a drink. Having to turn down playing with your kids on these occasions sucks, but it’s the nature of the beast.

The great thing about working from home is the lack of commuting time and the ability to work from places you choose. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m currently in the library, and I’ll switch to my Mozilla work before heading to the gym later. On Friday I’ll work from places in Newcastle after dropping my wife off at work.

I know some people struggle with the performativity of remote working, but I’ve found that, in general, people treat you in ways that you allow them to treat you. Things that help with that are over-communicating things – “I’m going to be…”, “I am…”, “I was…”. At Mozilla we ‘ping’ each other a lot. If the other person doesn’t respond, then we use an asynchronous means of communication (or find someone else to ask). Setting my IRC status and Skype status to ‘Away’ when I’m having lunch or at the gym helps manage my colleagues’ expectations.

Routines help a lot. As I’ve written before, habits are things you get for free. Every lunchtime we can, upon returning from the gym/swimming, I make eggs and coffee for my wife and we do the crossword together. It makes me feel old saying it, but I can’t tell you how much pleasure that brings me.

One thing that feels a bit odd having just bought the house we’ve been renting for the last few months is that, unlike previous places we’ve settled, this time it feels like we could be here for a long time. I’m not great at sustaining friendships, and I’ve previously been able to justify that by knowing that I tend to change jobs (and move house) every couple of years. But this time feels different. I’m pretty happy in my current role, and everything’s set up for us here in Morpeth to put down some roots. I need to make the effort.

A colleague of mine got married recently and on return from honeymoon said that they had “done some thinking about what [they] want to do with their life”. Someone else on Twitter who I hadn’t heard from since leaving teaching said that they were “still looking what to be when [they] grow up”. It’s an interesting dilemma, as on the one hand, we want to reject the ‘job for life’ approach that previous generations had. We don’t want work to define us. But yet, on the other hand, we struggle with our place in the world, our identity, because the transient nature of our ‘knowledge work’ doesn’t define us.

No matter how many amazing trips we go on, no matter how many letters we have after our names, no matter how happy our family lives are, there’s always something missing. Part of the problem, I think (and I honestly think this) is that we over-educate ourselves. We’re forever analysing situations that should just be experienced. The other thing is that knowledge work tends to be collaborative, but you don’t tend to get the feeling that you’ve crafted something into being.

Since moving house at the start of the year, I’ve started going back to church. The rest of my family never stopped. To be honest, it’s not that I’m a believer and that I’m going for the biblical teaching. I’m going for the community, the feeling of being part of something that’s not your work and not your family. I know there’s other outlets but, for men at least, they tend to be competitive. I’ve put our names down for an allotment, so perhaps there’s an answer there, too. There’s definitely something cathartic about gardening and growing stuff.

So there we are, a blog post of >1,000 words. If you’ve made it this far I’m not sure if it’s enriched your life in any way, but I feel a lot better for having written it and knowing that, at least potentially, other people have read it. 🙂


A tribute to Chris Allan (@infernaldepart)

This morning I woke to the tragic news that Chris Allan had been found dead. I wasn’t sure whether to write anything here. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate. But given that news of his death reduced me to tears, I thought I’d better.

Despite only living 40 miles or so away from one another, I only met Chris in person a few times – interacting with him more regularly via Twitter and email. He was a great guy: enthusiastic, brimming with ideas and, as an ICT teacher, keen to try out new technologies with his students. In fact, he’d been working on integrating Open Badges within the curriculum at his school.

Chris came along with his son to a #MozParty Newcastle event I organised last year. I like this photo of them together as I believe that’s how he should be remembered – as someone who went out of his way for the young people in his life. In fact, I can still remember a couple of years before that when he came round to my house to buy a computer from me for his son. My heart goes out to the family Chris leaves behind. What a loss.

[I’ve redacted the last section to keep this focused on Chris]