This week has been better than last week, although I did have issues on Monday and Thursday with irregular sleep patterns. Thankfully, I figured out the culprit: whisky. I tend to have a couple of doubles on a Sunday night while playing PS4 with Adam and Sean, and, well, another double on what my wife and I have come to call ‘Whisky Wednesday’.
I started off November with intermittent fasting and swearing off refined sugar and alcohol for the month. The alcohol abstinence lasted a week, and I kept off sugar a week longer. I’ve been better with the intermittent fasting, most days consuming my calories between 10:00 and 18:00.
As I pointed out in a post entitled What’s your favourite month? I kind of collapse like a flan in a cupboard during the second half of November. Thankfully, I have almost complete control over my working patterns, so this is somewhat manageable. I’d love to just completely sack off the year from mid-November and return in January, to be fair.
I’m reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden at the moment. I’m (very) late to Steinbeck’s work, having never read him at school, but this year have read Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. He really was an amazing writer, and I’d put East of Eden in the same bracket as The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Recommended!
Other things I’ve enjoyed this week include a Q&A session by Jocelyn K. Glei on the topic of what she calls Tender Discipline. I’ve been listening to a Spotify playlist called Jazz in the Background a lot, although I’m still most productive when using Brain.fm.
Prompted by buying and then deciding to cancel the order on a Fairphone 3+ I’ve been deleting a bunch of apps that I don’t really use that much. In addition, I’ve deleted the Amazon shopping and YouTube apps from my phone. When I treat these things as websites instead of apps, I find I have a different relationship with them.
This week’s been a bit rubbish, mainly on the health front (migraines, erratic sleep patterns). So I don’t really want to go back through it, other than say that I published the following here, and on Thought Shrapnel:
This quotation from Marcus Aurelius really stuck with me this week:
Reflect often upon the rapidity with which all existing things, or things coming into existence, sweep past us and are carried away. The great river of Being flows on without pause; its actions for ever changing, its causes shifting endlessly, hardly a single thing standing still; while ever at hand looms infinity stretching behind and before – the abyss in which all things are lost to sight. In such conditions, surely a man were foolish to gasp and fume and fret, as though the time of his troubling could ever be of long continuance.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (Book Five)
This has been, all things considered, a good week. On Wednesday, my therapist effectively discharged me — although I’ll be doing some maintenance sessions every so often. I’m much better equipped to deal with things both professionally and personally than before I started last September.
I originally sought therapy after the death of a good friend which threw up all sorts of things that I didn’t feel capable of dealing with adequately. Now, over a year later, although I’d much rather have Dai with us, for me the growth I’ve undergone has been a small silver lining to that tragic event.
The bulk of my work this week was carried out with and for Outlandish. I ran a short workshop on productisation, did some work on their Building OUT strand, and otherwise talked to people about how to get the organisations ready to be more product-focused.
On Friday, I travelled to the Peak District to meet my good friend Bryan Mathers. As I’ve pointed out in previous weeknotes, of late things within the co-op could be better, so we decided to have a chat to figure out what that meant for our relationship. Virtual meetings are great 95% of the time, but sometimes you need to in the same place as someone, going for a walk and an extended discussion.
I’ve decided not to do any further work through We Are Open, and instead put my energies into new ventures. For now, that means I’ve been spending time updating the website of Dynamic Skillset, my consultancy business. More on that soon, no doubt.
Next week I’ve got some conversations lined up, more work with Outlandish, and planning to put together a consortium to bid for some Catalyst funding they’re announcing on Monday.
Image looking south from Higger Tor in the Peak District, England.
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.
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.
This has been a good week. Among other things both at work and outside it, the highlight perhaps came on Friday morning when I went for a run.
Picture the scene: I get my running gear on, head downstairs, pick up my phone and open the Spotify app. It notifies me there’s a new album out by Faithless. I stretch, and start my run just as the sun is beginning to rise.
As I run the bypass route around Morpeth, the sky changes from purple to pink to orange to yellow, while a magnificent sonic landscape emerges, and my endorphins surge. Perfect.
In parenting news this week, we confiscated my son’s smartphone for a week due to his consistent, albeit reasonably low-level, flouting of family rules. When he persisted a bit, I banned him from the PlayStation for the weekend as well.
The above isn’t usually something I’d share here, but I watched The Social Dilemmathis week, and thought it was so good that I watched it with my son at the weekend. Although the whole thing is a warning about the dystopian mess we’ve got ourselves into, it was nevertheless gratifying to see my own position vindicated.
Not only have I retreated from mainstream social media, but I’ve also insisted that our children go nowhere near it either. Their screen time is limited, especially compared to other kids their age. I wasn’t surprised to learn via The Social Dilemma that the those involved in Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, etc. do likewise. I remember reading that Steve Jobs was particularly zealous in that regard.
I wrote a rare post on my literaci.es blog about this after watching the film, which I entitled Notification literacy? Being very intentional and strict about notifications is, I think, the single most important thing you can do to improve your (and your children’s) relationship with their devices.
The funny thing is that, after a few days away from his phone, my son (as usual) finds other things to do, and is generally just a much nice teenager to be around. Funny, that.
On the work front, this was the final week collaborating with a cohort of nine charities as part of the Catalyst Discovery programme we’ve been funded to work with over the last month. It’s been great, and they’ve all really enjoyed it too, giving us fantastic feedback and all rating We Are Open Co-op as either a 9 or a 10 out of 10 in terms of an NPS score.
Other work has included a bit of work on a new Greenpeace project, mainly reading and suggesting ideas while Laura is away. She’s leading the project, but is currently away for a couple of weeks, sailing around the Mediterranean with her husband and scuba diving. Not that I’m in any way jealous.
The third bit of work I’ve been doing is to continue helping Outlandish with productisation and their new Building OUT programme. The sweet spot between the two is the playbook I’ve started helping them with, demonstrating how they add value to organisations by sharing the resources they use internally and with clients.
It’s half-term for our kids now, and we’ve booked a couple of nights away next weekend just over the border in Scotland. We’re on the verge of a Tier 3 lockdown in the North East of England due to the pandemic and numbers rising in certain areas. If those restrictions are introduced, we won’t be able to go, so fingers crossed!
If we do get to go, I’ll be taking Friday off, but either way I’ll be taking it a bit easier next week to hang out with my family and decompress after a reasonably-intense few weeks.
Image from the cliffs near Cresswell, Northumberland, where I took my laptop to work on Wednesday morning. There’s a lot of fossils around there!
When our kids reach their eighteenth birthday and start their foray into adulthood, I’m going to give them some books which have helped me in my adult life, and which I think will help them.
One of those books is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, a relatively slim book which contains the wisdom of someone who was not only a Roman Emperor, but a Stoic philosopher.
I’ve written both here and elsewhere about how much value I get from reading Meditations on repeat along with other books like Baltasar Gracián’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence and Montaigne’s Essays. There are certain books that have layers of depth and meaning that it’s only possible to get to via repeated readings.
The thing I particularly like about the Meditations is that it was originally intended as a journal, as a series of exhortations by Marcus Aurelius to encourage himself to be a better person. As such, it doesn’t have a hypothetical audience, it has an audience of one. We’re merely literary voyeurs benefitting from his insights.
There are 12 books in the Meditations, and some sections are more heavily highlighted in my dead-tree version than others. There’s one bit, though, that’s always kind of baffled me.
At day’s first light have in readiness, against disinclination to leave your bed, the thought that “I am rising for the work of man”. Must I grumble at setting out to do what I was born for, and for the sake of which I have been brought into the world? Is this the purpose of my creation, to lie here under the blankets and keep myself warm? “Ah, but it is a great deal more pleasant!” Was it for pleasure, then, that you were born, and not for work, not for effort? Look at the plants, the sparrows, ants, spiders, bees, all busy with their own tasks, each doing his part towards a coherent world order; and will you refuse man’s share of the work, instead of being prompt to carry out Nature’s bidding? “Yes, but one must have some repose as well.” Granted; but repose has its limits set by nature, in the same way as food and drink have; and you overstep these limits, you go beyond the point of sufficient; while on the other hand, when action is in question, you so sorry of what you could well achieve.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 5
Perhaps it’s because we live easier lives in 2020 than they did a couple of millennia ago, but this passage doesn’t really speak to me. But I feel like it should.
Others point to it as motivation and inspiration to avoid the lie-in and get on with the day. Reader, I have never had that problem, apart from when I’ve been mentally or physically ill.
To me, motivation for work springs not from religion, or fear, or desire for glory, but, as Gandhi famously suggested, from a striving for the kind of happiness that can be achieved when “what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”.
That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. How about you?
This was a four-day working week due to my taking Wednesday off to celebrate my wife’s birthday. It was a ‘significant’ one, and I’ll be turning 40 in December too. Oops. Sorry Hannah.
We had a great day. I’d been a lot more organised than usual in my gift fiving and, given we’ve been together more than half our lives, I focused on the things that I know she likes. That includes walking on the beach in the sunshine, and ordering small plates from a gastropub.
It was lovely to spend the day together and a great reminder that before Moodle I used to work four days as a consultant, taking Wednesdays off. I need to get back to that.
One of the places we ended up wandering around was Barter Books, one of my favourite places, particularly because I always come away with an unexpected find. This time around, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places jumped out at me, and I’ve loved randomly dipping into its contents.
Talking of work, this was Week 3 of a four week Catalyst-funded discovery programme with nine charities. It’s gone really well, mainly because we’ve got a lovely cohort, and I took my ‘benevolent dictator’ role seriously. I don’t think I’ve ever been more disciplined with a project!
Other work this week has included the kick off for a top-secret Greenpeace project that is going to both be exciting and challenging. We ran a pre-mortem as part of a mini thinkathon with some senior Greenpeace staff, and although we’ve totally got the talent and experience to deliver, by the end I was a bit 🤯
The third block of work I’ve done this week has been with Outlandish. My work with them has been squeezed a little this month due to my other commitments, but I’m looking forward to spending half of my time working with them on productisation and Building OUT from the start of November.
A couple of Outlandish blog posts this week mentioned me. The first was a quick update about what I’ve been doing with them over the past three months. The other was a really interesting post from Abi documenting a couple of hours in the life of Outlandish where a lot of consent-based decisions were made. It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re in an organisation that struggles to make decisions.
My therapy session again focused a lot on the internal drama within our co-op. One particular thing came out of the session was that I, like many people, look to other people for reassurance. As my therapist skilfully helped me to realise, this is doomed to failure for a couple of reasons:
We don’t necessarily receive the kind or amount of reassurance we require from others.
Even if we did receive the right kind and amount of reassurance from others, it’s only a temporary fix.
As such, we must look within ourselves for reassurance. For me, this is reminiscent of a Stoic idea that I’ve always found challenging: we should be so indifferent to the world that our happiness is independent of our current circumstances.
While I didn’t write anything here this week, on Thought Shrapnel I published:
Next week, I’ll be finishing off Catalyst stuff, diving more into the Greenpeace project, and spending time on Outlandish work. We’ve got a couple of nights booked just over the border into Scotland for the weekend after next, so we’re hoping the North East doesn’t go into Tier 3 lockdown…
Image of Dustanburgh Castle from the beach at Low Newton, Northumberland.
I like the balance in the numbers of this week’s weeknote 🙂
This week has been pretty intense, in lots of ways. It’s been the first week of a four-week Catalyst-funded discovery programme, with We Are Open Co-op as one of 11 digital partners helping 103 charities. The aim is for them to have identified a problem area, done some user research, performed some ideation, and prototyped an idea.
It’s going well, and although there wasn’t enough lead-in time, we’ve got a great cohort. The hardest thing, I think, is for them to think of something which isn’t a huge change management project for their organisation, but rather something testable and achievable inside the month-long window.
Another thing that has led to this week’s intensity was the short notice I had to present a proposal to the Outlandish members circle about working with them up to the end of January 2021. Thankfully, a number of them had already helped me frame it, so the proposal passed and I’m looking forward to continuing helping them with some productisation.
There’s yet another thing that has added to this week’s intensity: the huge spike in COVID-19 cases around where I live. It’s got to the stage where we’re wondering whether to send our two children to school next week. I don’t want them to get ill, and I definitely don’t want to get infected myself. After all, I don’t get sick pay.
Finally, there’s ongoing tension within our co-op. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but mediation has proved unsuccessful, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.
Due to the above, I didn’t end up writing anything here this week, but on Thought Shrapnel I published the following:
It’s been a busy week, yet here I am at 05:30 on a Saturday morning writing my weeknote. Why? A combination of having a cold, an increasingly weak bladder, and things swirling around my head.
I shared in a previous weeknote that, although I’m at my desk in my home office between 08:00 and 16:00 every day, of a 37.5 hour working week, I’ve been getting paid for around 27.5 hours. This week, I knocked off early at 14:00 on Friday, reducing the total number of hours I was available for work to 35.5, and I got paid for 34.25 of them.
I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, any time you track numbers and try to make them go up, you can do so. Second, a few people have asked me recently about our co-op’s model for getting paid, so I thought I’d write a few words about it here. I will just add a disclaimer that it’s always a work in progress, and this might have changed by the time you read it if you’re not reading this in September 2020.
As, we are open, an overview of what I’m about to say is available on our wiki. Basically, from the day rate we charge clients, we take off 25% as a co-op ‘pot’ for a range of activities. This includes paying for:
General expenses (accountant, admin support, various platforms)
In-person meet-ups(remember those?!) and monthly co-op days
Business development at an agreed internal member rate
Internal projects (e.g. updating website) at an agreed internal member rate
Relevant stuff that members want to do (e.g. events, professional development, CoTech fund)
I mentioned this is always a work in progress, and we’re only just now (four years in!) agreeing a lightweight process for internal projects over £1k. In general, we generate processes in a ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case’ kind of way. Other than ones we’re legally required to have, of course, like safeguarding, privacy, and various fairness policies.
All of which is a round-about way of saying that one of the reasons I got paid for most of my hours this week was that I got paid at the agreed internal member rate for business development.
Another reason was that I spent a good deal of time setting up things for the Catalyst and The National Lottery Community Fund COVID-19 Digital Response project that I’m leading from our side. We kick off on Monday with an full-day session for a cohort of nine youth-focused charities and non-profits, teaching them how to do discovery work. This is an intense user-focused four week process where each organisation:
Identifies a problem to be solved
Performs some user research
Comes up with some potential solutions
Tests one or more solutions
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, and the main thing is to try and prevent organisations jumping straight to ‘solutioneering’ (as I’d call it).
Mercifully, I’m not alone in doing this for our co-op, otherwise I’d collapse like a flan in a cupboard. There will be four members involved in this project, plus my lovely wife, Hannah, who will be joining in to help support organisations through the user research phase.
Other co-op work kicking off at the moment is some web strategy work for Greenpeace International, which I’m looking forward to getting involved with. Greenpeace is a network of organisations, with National and Regional Offices (NROs) ensuring that global campaigns are translated and contextualised for the areas they serve. They also run their own campaigns.
Some of this work will build on what we’ve been doing with the Greenpeace Planet 4 team over the last six months, and Laura has been doing with them for the last five years. It’s great to be involved in work like this that has the potential to make such an impact at scale.
I’m also continuing to be on loan to Outlandish, another CoTech co-op which contains absolutely lovely and talented people. I’ve been working on productisation with them, and developing the soon-to-be-renamed Sociocracy stream of work with them. I’ll have to go down to one day a week in October due to everything else that’s on, but I’m hoping to continue working with them into 2021.
On the home front, our son had a cold at the start of the week which, because he’s asthmatic, meant he had a cough. The upshot was that he had to have a COVID-19 test, which of course came back negative, but did mean that we all had to isolate for 24 hours until the results came back. It’s going to be a very disruptive school year for our two children, I think, but at least their schools are upping their remote learning game a bit.
Due to all of the above, I didn’t do as much writing as I would have liked, only managing to publish a short post here entitled Running with the wolves, and the following on Thought Shrapnel:
As a side note, my decision to only auto-post to Twitter a few months ago means I’m a lot calmer and less anxious than I would have been, I think, about the state of the world. I mention this because I logged in for the first time in a while to check something and realised just what a doomscrolling hell pit it’s devolved into in the past few years.
The advice I’ve been giving those wondering how to quit mainstream social networks is:
Connect to the people you care about via other means (e.g. chat apps, email)
Tell people you’re going to be quitting the platform at a particular date
Delete the app off your phone
Limit the time you spend on the social network and try to post as little as possible
Deactivate your account
Once you’ve deactivated it, you may, after a period of reflection, do what I did and turn your account into broadcast-only mode. You can use services like IFTTT and Zapier to auto-post from pretty much anywhere.
This weekend, I’m going to focus on getting better. Specifically, although I feel rubbish when I don’t do any exercise, it also tends to delay my recovery from cold and flu symptoms. So I’m going to try and do as little as possible.
Next week, as I’ve mentioned, I’ll be working on Catalyst Discovery, Outlandish, and Greenpeace stuff. It’s good to be busy!
Finally, for those wondering, this post took almost exactly an hour to write, as it’s now coming up to 06:30. Time for me to go back to bed…
Photo of a Tux sticker (Linux mascot) that I bought to replace the Windows logo on my keyboard this week. Sometimes it’s the small things in life that bother you the most.