Rebooting working out loud

I’m three months into my new job and that seems a good time to reflect on how things are going. I’ll save the meat of that for another post, because this one is about how I am working within my network, or rather how I’m not very much at the moment.

I haven’t posted to this blog for some time, and most of that was just links – however recently even that has dried up. I’ve not even bookmarked anything, nor saved any items to read later in Evernote. My email newsletter has equally dried up.

The reason for this is that I’m not reading much. I’m still pretty old school and use a feed reader, and the counter on that read 5,000 unread items yesterday evening. To be honest I think it’s said that for a while and it just stopped bothering counting after that. I hit the “mark all read” switch on it this morning. It felt good.

Does this matter? I think it does because in many ways I am what I read, in that all my best work comes on the back of having read something that someone much cleverer or more accomplished than me has published. Without that stream of ideas coming in, being thought about and then regurgitated with my own half-baked spin on them, I’m missing something pretty important, and I’m sure my work suffers.

Not only that but my role in my network takes a hit too. I’ve always prided myself on being a good curator of interesting stuff for the people who follow me on this blog, or on Twitter, or subscribe to my newsletter. Having that active network has helped me a lot in the past, whether by opening up opportunities or simply sharing ideas and feedback. Not having that loop in place leaves me feeling somewhat bereft.

So what am I going to do about it?

I need to find a new rhythm, one that works for me in my new role. Part of this is about technology and tools, part about how I manage my time, and part about finding the right forms to work with.

First, I need to carve out some time everyday to do some reading. The fact that I spend an hour on the train every morning and evening ought to provide a good opportunity to do that, and perhaps if I didn’t get sucked into taking the chance to write one more email, I could use that time productively to scan through what my various RSS and email subscriptions throw up.

Key to making this work though is moving from what has been a pretty traditional laptop based mode of working to being mostly operated from my phone. This is because I can’t really do this effectively from my work corporate laptop, and I’m not lugging two computers around everyday. So I need to look at the apps I am using to make it as easy as possible on my phone.

Second, I need to figure out a workflow for sharing good stuff back out to my network. This has worked well in the past through bookmarking using Pinboard, which then fires off some IFTTT applets to ping content out to Twitter, into link posts on this blog, and into Evernote to read later or consider for inclusion in my newsletter. I need to get this back on track and ensure it still works, particularly when I am mostly working from my phone.

Third, I need to experiment a bit with how I publish content, particularly here on the blog. I’m not convinced the basic link posts that dominated for most of last year are a great use of this space – they are better suited to a medium like Twitter, and to be collected together in the newsletter. I’m really intrigued by the weeknote format that Jukesie has been popularising, and I do believe it would be healthy for me to be able to post reflective pieces here to get a better understanding of how I am progressing things at work, whilst hopefully sharing something useful for readers. There are a few different formats for weeknotes, some that baldly state what happened that week, others more reflective and personal. I think I’ll probably aim for the latter, but as with most things, it’ll probably take a few goes to get the tone and format right.

I also need to consider how I use the other platforms available to me. We have the work blog of course, for which I am contractually obliged to produce content. We also have a thriving internal network of Teams, to which it’s helpful to curate and post links and content to share with colleagues. I don’t want to end up duplicating loads of stuff and copying and pasting content from one place to another, so that might need a little thought.

Restarting the newsletter is also important to me. It’s been bothering me that I haven’t sent one out in ages and it’s a shame, because it used to get a load of good feedback. I suspect perhaps switching it from weekly to fortnightly might help ease some of the burden. The newsletter though is something that I will struggle to do from my phone. Whilst it’s technically possible, it would probably drive me mad attempting it!

In summary then, I need to find some time and space to read and research, come up with a mobile-centric workflow for writing and sharing interesting things with my network, and experiment with new forms of writing that fit in with the above whilst bring value to me and to my network. Seems reasonable, but probably not that easy.

If anyone has any ideas, I’d be really interested to hear them!

A digital journey

A tweet from Simon Wardley made me chuckle this week:

It stung a bit too – after all, I started out being someone promoting social media in government, and now here I am banging on about IT and transformation.

Of course, a bit of imposter syndrome is probably a good thing now and then – it never pays to be too confident, after all.

However, there is a bit of logic to my transition from hapless social media consultant to hapless digital transformation consultant, I think.

What I preached about social media was about getting on with things, making it easier and more convenient for residents and service users to access information, or make their views known. It was in a bit of a niche, around communications and engagement, but still.

However, as time went on, it became clear that this could only take you so far – you have to turn engagement into something actionable for a difference to be made. At this point I found myself in discussions with web teams and others around making websites more useful in delivering services (it was around this time that GDS started work on the single domain project).

Again, though, time passed and things didn’t move as quickly as I and others might have hoped. This was because, it turns out, that delivering great services online doesn’t just rely on a great website. It needs (at least) two other things: decent technology on the back end, and services fully designed to meet user need.

So it was at this point that, despite having started out in the social media days trying to work around IT, I realised it was necessary to fix IT in order to get even the simple things done properly. So here I am – modernising IT teams and helping organisations transform digitally.

Could I have started out at this point, ten years ago? Probably not. I needed to be hapless at social media so I could be hapless at websites so I could be hapless at IT and transformation.

Now I just need to work on being less hapless.

Maybe tomorrow I think I’ll settle down

Toad

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?

It’s hard when thinking about the things we do to scratch out a living not to recall Larkin’s words about the manner in which work can dominate our lives.

I’ve been thinking about work a lot in the last few months, to the point where I’m making a change in what I do and how I go about it. This Friday will be my last working at Adur & Worthing, and from the following Monday onwards, I will be shifting up the road to Horsham District Council.

The main reason for the change really is a temperamental one, I guess. I’m moving from a permament job to contracting. At Horsham I’ll be an interim with a defined period of time to work in. Having a go at a permament role has been an interesting experience, but it has become clear to me, and I suspect to one or two colleagues, that I am a sprinter rather than a marathon runner. I do my best work in short bursts, before momentum runs out and boredom sets in.

The other interesting thing to me is the new role itself – Head of Technology Services. That might sound to you like a fancy way of saying IT Manager, and to an extent you’re right. Somehow I’ve pivoted from being someone who knows a little bit about how the web works to being the bloke in charge of the infrastructure, the applications, the data, the security, and yes, the web. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’m kind of pleased it has.

My role going into Horsham is to put a technology strategy together, get the programme of work lined up, and to ensure the structure of the team and the roles within it are the right ones for the future. You’ll notice that the ‘D’ word, digital, hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might be a semantical thing, but I’m trying to avoid it this time around.

There’s a thing about being able to talk about digital ways of doing things, without people automatically assuming that it is the digital team’s job to do it. It isn’t always, and I think having a team and a strategy that isn’t called digital means that one can talk about digital in a much more open way, without it being seen as a land grab, or a takeover by one particular group in an organisation.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting stuck in at Horsham. And then in six or so month’s time, I’ll be moving on again.

So the answer I’ve found to the conundrum of work, I think, lies in words from another of Larkin’s poems: peculiarly for him (and perhaps for me to choose them) amongst his most uplifting:

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

What I use 2016 edition

Here’s an update on the kit and software I’m using on a daily basis, just in case it’s of use.

My main computer is an 11” Macbook Air.

It has the i7 processor and 8gb of RAM and is the best computer I’ve ever used. I use it for home and at work, thanks to our Councils’ move to cloud based services.

I do have a work laptop, which I turn to when I need to access things like our HR and finance systems; and if I need to do some printing. It’s a Dell somethingorother.

In terms of software:

  • Chrome is running the whole time, hooked into my work Google account, where I access Gmail, Google Drive, my calendar and so on. Pretty much all the productivity work I do for my job is in Google’s suite of apps.
  • Trello and Tweetdeck are usually open too
  • Safari is often open, which hooks into my personal Google account
  • I have two other email addresses that I check regularly my desktop (I know…) which I host with Fastmail and pipe into Apple’s Mail app
  • Slack is usually open. I’m a member of about five teams that I access regularly via the desktop app
  • I use Reeder to keep up to date with RSS feeds (old skool, right?) – I use Feedly as the web service to keep it all in sync
  • I bookmark stuff in Pinboard, which then autoposts into Twitter for me via Zapier. Zapier also zaps bookmarked links into Pocket for me, so I can read them later at my leisure
  • Following a chat with Matt Jukes, I do most of my writing in Ulysses, whether taking notes, drafting blog posts or my email newsletter
  • Occasionally I’ll use Transmit for FTP, I have Microsoft Office installed but very rarely use it, do the odd mind map in MindnodePro, draw something with Omnigraffle, have a chat with someone in Skype, listen to music on Spotify, or screenshot something with Skitch.
  • I still have loads of different tools installed for editing text, most of which I don’t use very often or at all (Byword, Scrivener, BBedit, Atom, Writeroom, MarsEdit, probably others)
  • Utilities wise, I use Alfred as a Spotlight replacement and TextExpander is usually running
  • I store pretty much all my files in Dropbox
  • My blog uses WordPress.com and I pay to use my own domain and to not have adverts
  • My newsletter uses Mailchimp’s free tier

My phone is an iPhone 6, space grey with 64gb storage.

On my home screen I have the following things:

  • On the top row: photos; camera; app store; settings
  • Next row down: A folder with emails apps (Mail, Fastmail, Outlook, Inbox and CloudMagic – each app has a different email account feeding into it. I have too many email accounts); Natwest; Music; Google Maps
  • Next row: Spotify; Simplenote (for todo lists and quick notes, rather than ‘writing’); Overcast (easily the best podcast app); a folder with ‘reading’ apps (Medium, Buzzfeed, Nuzzle, Yahoo News Digest, Pushpin (an app for Pinboard), Kindle, NextDraft, iBooks)
  • Next row: Trello; HulloMail (provides a visual voicemail like tool, plus emails voicemail messages as MP3 files and transcribes them too); Wikipedia; Reeder (mobile version of the deskptop RSS reading app – again syncs with Feedly)
  • Next row: Slack; Pocket; folder with messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage); Safari
  • Bottom row: Facebook; LinkedIn; Ulysses – for bashing text in during idle moments; Twitter
  • Dock: Phone; Hangouts; Google Calendar; Gmail – the last three are all logged into my work Google account

The layout of apps regularly changes – I try and keep my most regularly used apps towards the right hand bottom corner – easily in thumb reach.

The second screen has other stuff on it, but I don’t use them on a regular basis really.

The main change over the last year or so is that Evernote has dropped out of this completely. It’s still there, but I hardly use it anymore – even to revisit notes previously made (which rather begs the question why I bothered making them in the first place).

Hope this has been useful and/or interesting!

Eleven years a blogger

15595978411_3d22af62ac_k

According to the archive on this site, I’ve been writing this blog for eleven years today – since September 2004.

This is the 2,646th post and there have been 4,263 comments on them over the years.

Lots has changed in that time, personally and professionally. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without having started it.

It’s done three things, I think:

  • helped build my profile over the years, creating all sorts of opportunities
  • helped me develop my ideas, from the half baked to the barely lukewarm
  • helped me build my network of friends and collaborators

There’s a bunch of other bits too, in that I’m sure I must be a better writer now than I was when I started, and eleven years of fiddling with WordPress have taught me a load about technical stuff (mostly to leave well alone).

I’m so grateful for the folk who read this blog and respond, for the occasional kind words of encouragement I get.

On the very odd occasion that folk ask me for advice on getting on the world of digital and/or government, I almost always suggest people start blogging.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue for at least another eleven years.

Post-post-bureaucrat

I’ve always rather liked the title of Steph’s blog and how he gives us occasional updates on how his life outside of the government machine is going. His post-bureaucrat life seems to be going really well.

I left government as a direct employee back in 2008 from which point on I was self employed, with a period working for Learning Pool as a proper employee for 18 months in the middle.

Now, I find myself employed directly by government again. Since April I was the interim Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing, but a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for the permanent role, and I got it.

So now I have gone from being post-bureaucrat to post-post-bureaucrat.

How does it feel? Here’s a few things that have occurred to me.

1) It’s great not having to sell stuff. Over the last few years I’ve had all sorts of ideas on how to do interesting stuff, to solve tricky problems. I didn’t get to test all of them though, because first I had to sell them.

Now I have this job, I’m in a position where I can just get on and do stuff, to test out some of the thinking I’ve been doing and see if it works in the real world.

2) This is exhausting. Part of the reason why I don’t blog much at the moment and am nowhere near as active on Twitter etc is that I just don’t have the energy. There is so much to be done, and having this role, and being permanent in this one organisation, has given me a sense of responsibility for getting stuff done, which means I am working as hard as I can, all the time.

3) My attitude to sharing has changed. Another reason why I’m not as active socially online as I was before is that my feelings towards it have changed. Social media was really all I had before to market myself, and I don’t have the need to sell any more.

It’s more than that though. There’s something about working at a local authority that affects your sense of loyalty. I haven’t lost my belief that being open and sharing ideas and work with others is a fundamentally good thing. It’s just that, with finite time, energy and attention, I’m more likely to do something that’s on my todo list at work.

I actually think that I need to rebalance this a little, as there is clear benefit for work if I am engaged online, finding out what is going on elsewhere and flying the flag for our approach.

4) I’m only just starting to calm down. It is a different pace when you’re in something for the long haul rather than a short term contract. Since I got here I think it is fair to say I was working at freelance pace, getting involved in everything I could, chucking out ideas, writing papers, making things happen.

It’s important to keep up a quick pace, I think, but I’m starting to learn the importance of pacing myself, choosing my battles a bit more carefully, learning when to step back and let others take the lead on some things.

5) LocalGovCamp will be interesting. Am really looking forward to this year’s event, especially after missing CommsCamp earlier in the year. This will be my first LocalGovCamp as a local government employee, so it will be a special one, I think.

I’m hoping to run a session with others on the topic of government as a platform and also to discussions about LocalGovDigital, which I feel now I can take a full part in, seeing as I’m now a paid up member of the club.

Coming home to #localgov: I’m joining Adur and Worthing

Worthing beach

I’m back, BACK, BAAAAAAAAAAACK!

Am super-pleased to be able to write that I’m joining Adur and Worthing Councils in April as Head of Digital and Design.

It’s a great time to be joining a great organisation, with fresh people in senior positions wanting to make change happen to improve things for the people, communities and businesses in the local area.

My job is to build a digital service within the Councils, building the team, designing the processes, putting the technology together and increasing capability across the organisations to deliver better, cheaper, services that people actually like using.

There’s also some interesting work to be done around innovation and creativity – enabling everyone to be involved in improving the systems and the processes within the Councils. The opportunity here is to be able to develop the Councils to be thoroughly modern, digital-age organisations.

There has been a lot of talk recently about digital in local government, which I haven’t been able to resist joining in. This is my opportunity to put my ideas into practice. What’s more, working out loud is the default for me and I will be bringing this into the Councils. Luckily I won’t have any trouble from the boss on this score, as he’s into that kind of thing himself.

For me, it’s a return to full time local government – I left in 2007 to briefly work in the further education sector, and then went freelance. Most of my freelance work has been with central government, but I have been fortunate to be able to keep my eye in with occasional work within the local sector and I’ve done my best to be helpful both online and offline, at events and so on.

It’s a full time role so means that I am going to be closing the freelancing chapter in my life. I’m more than happy to do so – it hasn’t worked for me, or my family, for a few years now, if I am honest.

Being able to focus on a single mission is going to help me deliver my best work, and also free up some attention for my wife and our two kids, and having a ‘proper’ job will hopefully lead to me living a more ‘proper’ life.

I’m moving down to Worthing during the week on my own to begin with whilst I get the lie of the land. Anyone who lives in the area who would like to invite me round for dinner, please do so. Our aim is to move the family down to the south coast in time – but it wouldn’t be wise to rush that.

I’ve been ruminating a fair bit on the last few years – the things that went well, those that went less than well – and will share some of that in future posts. There are also a lot of folk who need thanking, who’ve supported me in a number of ways in the last few years.

I’ll leave things here by saying that I am so excited about this opportunity, and cannot wait to get cracking.

Paul has blogged about this here.

Photo credit: Miles Davis