She gets me

Here’s the thing, though. I never noticed this until I was on the wrong side of it.

In Spain, I often feel exhausted just running small errands because I’m always expected to move around each person in the street. Also, I have to sidestep dog poo in every other step, so walking down my street feels like a really long game of hopscotch.

Eventually, I made a rule that only old people, young kiddos, or people with prams or other mobility issues get me to move. But that doesn’t feel better, to be honest. It feels hard.

I don’t want to be hard, but I don’t want to be a sucker either.

Did I ever notice who was moving around me in the UK? Or for whom I moved while walking? I must have moved on occasions and not moved on other occasions based on some feelings or notions I never bothered to unpack. I regret if there were people flowing around me and every other person I never noticed.

The only consolation I have is that I must be guilty of that same behaviour.

There is something very true about interruptions often being about power dynamics.

There is a person who signals to you that their time is somehow precious, while yours is worthless.

The client that doesn’t answer your email for weeks, but wants results 12 hours after they reply.

The startup that has a codetest, requires an essay, and that requires you to shoot a series of videos answering questions, edit and compress them before the form accepts them, but won’t answer your email.

The last time I worked for free, the final straw was actually setting up emails. There was a girl for whom I had reset the password and sent instructions to change it to one more memorable. Of course, I got no reply for weeks. Her time was far too precious. Then, the day before she needed to send a campaign, I got floods of messages demanding I drop my paid work and reset her password again because the original had expired.

Since we’re both from the UK, I saw the underlying attitude quite clearly. Here was a person with 14 years experience in building web experiences and consulting on web workflows being treated like BT remote support by someone who maybe had a shot at getting hired as an unpaid intern.

In my old office job, marketers emailed me for how to do the same steps over and over. So I documented those steps and sent them the links. They would reply that they didn’t have time to read the link. But it was the same instructions. To some extent, it made sense that there might be anxiety over how long the text might be and if it was an epic scrollable tome I had sent them, but not everyone replied this way.

A specific type of person would baulk at my sending the link. Over time, I realised they were upset that my time was too important to copy and paste replies to them because this signalled that their mental hierarchy was broken; I wasn’t beneath them.

This is one reason I am so adamant that work should be asynchronous. Some people get interrupted more than others as power displays, and when they try and mitigate that, get told they have an attitude. When they don’t, they get told they’re not delivering enough or managing their time well enough.

Biases are ingrained, but work habits are easy enough to change.

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In design, the wrong decision is not making one

There are two ways to make design decisions, but I’m going to start by telling you the wrong way, the way that too many companies use because it feels safer and easier. The way that’s guaranteed to crush the soul of every person in the project and result in unambitious, bland, ultimately forgettable products and increasingly lower standards.
That way is Consensus.

“Consensus: “The process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner: ‘I stand for consensus?” – Margaret Thatcher

What’s so bad about wanting a consensus? isn’t that democratic?

No. it’s not.

It’s cowardly. It doesn’t have to hurt anyone’s feelings because it’s not any one person’s opinion.
It’s an abdication of leadership and vision. It says that all inputs and outcomes are equal as long as no one objects too much.

I am no fan of Thatcher’s politics (although for many reasons, I admire her) but she nailed it about consensus. Design is about solving problems, and consensus steps around them for the sake of pleasantry and getting along.

Consensus is what gave us the Kendall Jenner coke ad. Consensus is what gives us the Eurovision entries. Consensus is what makes Microsoft products still feel shitty even though they have some of the very the best brains in the industry working for them, because at this point they have to please all these opposing interests, so the products please and cater to no one, but don’t alienate anyone too much.

This isn’t how you make an impact. You have to choose. You need to have conviction. You need to be able to see where this is going and who your people are in this journey and cater to only them. You might hurt someone’s feelings. You may be disliked. You may be seen as weird or niche, or mean.

You may even have to eat crow from time to time and pivot. And as long as you don’t do it at Theresa May frequencies and hold to your vision of how your want your product to impact people, you’ll be ok.

And you’ll be respected. Maybe even quoted.

The Creative (ADHD) Person’s Guide to Productivity at Home

I am a woman in a domestic relationship, and thus, no matter how enlightened my partner is and aspires to be, no matter how much my mom flat out refused to cook, clean, or buy my brother and I gendered toys as children, I am still affected by cultural expectations ambient in our environment. This means that while both of us work from home most days, I feel the burden of needing to shop, cook and tidy up most of the time. We discuss this. He tells me I can delegate, I can ask. I think that needing to delegate often will be seen as me being “not in control” by him subtly. We discuss why I would feel that way. We’re a two person cultural panel-cum-assignment-taskforce.

I used to be in a relationship where we “understood” each other and never discussed anything but fun things. It worked great until we grew up. I prefer this way.

While working for yourself is pleasant, being your own project manager, sales team, marketing team, HR department (what training should I do next?), head of strategy & investments, and own legal team is draining. I’m also the webmistress of my boyfriends Political Economics blog and facebook page (he’s slowly becoming a big deal) and in-house IT person. I’m planning a wedding, have a parrot who — like all parrots— needs a lot of attention to be emotionally healthy and happy, am always training for the next race and have a project on the side which tends to get ignored on weeks like this week when the wedding website has problems with translating widget content.

My time is very full.

Distractions have to go if I ever want to deliver assignments, maintain basic hygiene standards and eat one square meal a day.

But there is a difference between being focused and being effective. Effectiveness is when you focus on worthwhile things and I’ll discuss that at the bottom.

How I get Shit Done

  • Pomodoro all the things. You know how when you hear there are people on the way over you run around cleaning for ten minutes then wonder why your place never looks this tidy normally? That’s the kind of result setting a 20 minute timer gives you. Having a timer on means I have to prioritise: unload & reload dishwasher, or put the plates by the sink to be cleaned before doing dinner? Change the bird’s cage liner, or just vacuum around the cage? Do the floors NEED cleaning or just spot vacuuming/wiping? By the timer runs out, the place looks respectable, but I didn’t get sucked into it. I also Pomodoro time personal admin (emails to my tax guy, dealings with Oxfordshire country council, or my letting agency in the UK), which is by far the thing I hate doing the most. knowing I’ll only spend 25 minutes doing something makes it seems less daunting, and I reply to emails faster and worry less about the wording. It ends, and if I need more time, I will get back to it another day or in another session.
  1. Planning the week.  After I’m done with the morning swipe and have my coffee, I check my planner. This is the wireframe for my week where I keep workouts, deadlines, and day related tasks or appointments as well as plan tasks around energy intensive social obligations so I’m not drained or overwhelmed on the day. The most important thing about this system is that I only have the things I need to do this week on there. Some things might be day specific, but I like to leave tasks as for the week. This gives me a little bit of time to get everything done without a panic if I don’t get something done on a particular day.  The reason paper works better for me is because I can’t “cheat” with it and perpetually move tasks to the next day, like I do with digital to do lists.It’s either checked off, or it’s not. Also, it doesn’t annoy me with popups and alerts, which distract me from what I’m doing in the moment.  For tasks that have multiple steps associated with them (as most of my digital work does, as well as wedding planning) it’s easier to break those next actions down and space and schedule them out in trello.
  2. Scrum Points for Spoonies: Inside trello, I use an extension that allows scrum points to be added to cards, although as a solo worker, I don’t use scrum. Scrum points are an estimation of effort and that helps me be realistic about how much I can get done in a day as a spoonie. Above 21 points in a day is a sign I’ve taken on too much..
  3. Maintain regular work hours: blocking off my time -as much as possible- really helps me focus. Also, I know my relaxation time is after 8, and that I have time to workout, do the evening tidyup, and run whatever errands I need and chillax thanks to my planning steps above.
  4. Capture Inspiration While doing stuff, other ideas will pop into my head that are not related to the task at hand. I have one page in my planner for incoming ideas I want to expand one. If the idea is a good one, it can get expanded on later and added as a project in my queue. But capturing it allows me to get back to what I’m doing without spending energy trying to “hold that thought”.
  5. Block distractions. As I said about paper planners, notifications are distractions. In my mac I switch off as many of these as possible (even slack) and only have my time logging tool reminding me to log my billable time. I’m not a sysadmin, so I can check alerts on my breaks. I also use RescueTime, which only allows me to check certain sites on Pomodoro breaks until 8pm. The best thing about Rescue Time is that it tracks your behaviour on mobile as well as computer and scores you daily on productivity.
  6. Avoid email. Email is a time sinkhole. There’s always something interesting to check out, but the time to do that not now. Sending emails happens after work is done, in the personal admin pomodoro.
  7. Hide the taskbar and app-launcher.Yes, I’m serious about blocking distractions, and the taskbar and app-launcher are just reminders of OTHER things I could do or should pay attention to, like edit that youtube video for my channel with only one video on it, or that blog post on how people make decisions for my work blog. The thing is, I can’t do anything effectively with my mind of something else. The best thing I can do is focus on the task at hand and leave others for after whatever I’m working on is done.
  8. The ADHD buster: I have a column in trello called “doing” which may only have one card at any given time. I have a goldfish memory, and if anything interrupts me (answering the door for a delivery), it takes me a while to remember what I’m supposed to be doing, especially with all those other lovely ideas popping up all the time. Referring to the “doing now” column in trello stops me opening another tab or getting lost in a new tangential idea and makes me want to push that card into the “done” column.

There is one sneaky thing I’m not telling you, though.

It’s really easy to stay busy. 

Especially if — like me — you equate being busy with being useful. Yes, the opportunities for being busy are everywhere.

Being effective is hard.

It’s important to assess each would-be project in terms of positive impact on my life, or on others.  To that end, I have a page in my planner about areas of responsibility: (work, house, health, business, partner, parrot, etc.) and another page for my values.  There are just there for me to review, not to link to anything.

Every app I’ve tried that links these areas to projects and those project to tasks takes more time to manage than is worthwhile.

It’s up to me to make sure that my projects -whether building a raspberry pi powered amazon echo*, or baking an actual raspberry pie- align with those areas of responsibility and those values.

Otherwise, it’s not worth my time.

What about you? How do you manage your time? Especially for the energy or health challenged, I’d love to hear your tips!

*Designing pleasant voice interactions for products is an area of responsibility in my work and also ties with my values of making the interface as out of the way as possible. If I could, you would blink twice and think of pizza and it would arrive.