The why of weeknotes


A little research suggests the first time I came across a #weeknote was August 5th, 2009. It was written by Matt Webb and I think it was probably on the Schulze & Webb website before they became BERG (thanks, I seem to remember, to a conversation with Warren Ellis about the ‘British Experimental Rocket Group’ from the Quatermass show. Or something.)

Anyway I found these seemingly simple updates a fascinating peak behind the curtain of a design studio that were generally just doing really interesting things but also being open as to the how and why of it all. They regularly (at least early on) were more than status updates and instead provided an interesting narrative. It was a geek serial.

It caught on with teams for a while — I even seem to remember a #weeknotes aggregator at some point (ahhhh — it was weeknotes.com but has long since vanished).

Early in 2010 I was flailing a bit in my return to Jisc and a side effect was I was struggling with my blogging. I decided to start personal weeknotes — at the time I am not sure if anyone else was doing them as an individual — I can’t remember — Doug certainly started a few months later and I remember it was popular in the EdTech community for a while. I didn’t have any grand plans other than to force myself to write every week and to get a streak going.

Like anything blogging benefits from practice and I just wanted the discipline of a weekly commitment. I certainly didn’t expect anyone to read them — they were / are a very selfish format of writing — introspective to a fault. When everyone else has been about the ‘quantified self’ I was more about ‘qualitative self’ 🙂

I am on my fourth run of doing these personal style week notes now (though I also contributed to a long team focused run at ONS) and a few things have emerged from the practice for me over that time;

  • most obviously they are an amazing aide memoir — my memory sucks so having a searchable archive of my comings, goings and ideas is regularly useful.
  • they are a good canary check as to my state of mind and happiness in a role. When I start to struggle to write them or find myself self censoring a lot I usually need to take a breath and have a good look at things.
  • writing in this way is a great test of your organisations commitment to being open! In new roles I often find some new stealth readers in leadership or HR type roles 🙂
  • a problem shared is…well a problem shared. The handful of people who read these notes are incredibly generous with their support and advice. More than one sticky moment has been resolved by the right person reading about it.
  • it is a great conversation starter. My professional network feel like they know me better and are thus more likely to strike up a conversation or get in touch. This is huge for me as I am a total introvert if left to my own devices — I never initiate conversations (it is the same reason I give talks — means people come up to me after!).

Humans are a curious bunch — I think #weeknotes and things like Lifehacker’s ‘How I work’ interviews (which I also shamelessly rip off) appeal to the same part of the brain as reality TV and celebrity bios — we like to peak in the windows of other peoples lives!

Over time my ambitions for the notes have changed a bit. I am slowly broadening the format and getting away from the day by day diary style and instead being a little more inspired by far, far better writers than me like Warren Ellis and Dan Hon. Their newsletters are nerdy as all get out but suck me in.

The importance for me at least is increasingly about the cadence itself and being as open as possible. The themes week by week might change but the principles are there throughout hopefully.

Recently a few other people have joined in — Simon, Sophie, Dan and Ben have all been publishing #weeknotes this year — I can’t begin to speak for them as to why but I certainly enjoy their approaches and look forward to reading their adventures each week. Like I said before — geek serials 🙂

Why not give it a go — I often talk to people who say they want to blog but aren’t sure about what — well there is no easier topics than your week! It takes two minutes to set up a Medium blog (other platforms are available!) and away you go. Join the movement (well the five of us!)…