This is how I work…give or take

A revisit to my occasional rip-off of the Lifehacker How I Work Series 🙂

Location: Bristol, UK (sometimes Taunton..or London..or Swansea)
Current Gig: Director, Lean Product Management at Notbinary*
Current mobile device: iPhone SE & Nokia 7 Plus
Current computer: Macbook and Pixelbook
One word that best describes how you work: Openly.


First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I am very much Bristol born and bred — which anyone who has ever heard me speak can attest to — and I still live in the neighbourhood I grew up in. In fact I can still see my school from my home if I crane my neck a little.

I was pretty good at that school right up until the point it counted and then I lost my way a bit — barely scraping through my GCSEs and then A levels but eventually I did get to a small University to do my degree. At this point the plan was to be a history teacher. At some point though I realised I didn’t like children so that plan was scrapped!

I stumbled into a job at a University library and due to some reverse sexism/ageism there was an assumption I would understand this new fangled thing — the world wide web. I fell in love with it almost immediately and was able to find a way to make it a career despite my lack of real technical knowledge. That was 20 years ago.

Take us through a recent workday.

At the moment it looks something like this →

I get up at 06:00.

Bus to train station. Train to Taunton. 25 minute walk to office. Listen to audio book on the way. Currently ‘Rise Up’ by Stormzy.

Get in work at about 09:00.

Then I basically invite myself to as many meetings, agile ceremonies, workshops or conversations as I can without being too disruptive to the teams I am working with and I maintain a constant stream of thoughts and observations in my Slack channel.

Around this I am working out how to best influence the teams as well as present my findings and proposed plan in a way that will have the best impact locally.

I usually just have a sandwich at my desk for lunch (bad Jukesie! At the BBC recently I tried to eat lunch with the team a few days a week — I should try harder to do this) and I leave around 17:00 spending my train journey back reading through and consolidating my notes of the day. Regularly there is another bid or project that I need to contribute some words or thoughts to so I try to do that on the journey home or as soon after I get in the door as possible as I like to be totally switched off from work by 20:00.

What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?

Nothing too original to be honest. Evernote is my repository for anything I find interesting out in the digital world and where I collate all the links for my newsletter. I work for a remote-by-default company so Slack is our office (even if I am usually in someone else’s office on a project), I tend to write mainly in Google Docs these days despite the fact I am not really a fan — it wins out due to convenience (and I love the new shortcut I learned today — go to doc.new in the browser and it creates a new doc for you! Same for slides, sheets etc I think!) I used to mainly write in various Markdown editors — iA Writer and Ulysses in particular — but I am doing that less and less now and am more likely to just use the default plain text editor for first drafts.

Spotify is the first app I add to any new phone. I’m pretty reliant on LastPass (I know there are better options but it is the one I like best). I use Matthew’s traintimes.org.uk site most days. I’ve given up on third-party Twitter apps for my phone and now use the dreadful official app (which for all its flaws is just the only one that is reliable for me now).

What’s your best shortcut or life hack?

Something I’m trying a bit this time is a version of something the devs at mySociety do on Slack. Basically they all had open x-firstname channels where they would kind of narrate their day, capture ideas, ask themselves questions and just sort of think out loud. It is a useful discipline I find and the benefit of doing it in an open channel is colleagues can drop in, ask questions or just get a feel for what I am up to (it also helps reinforce the feeling of being part of Notbinary and avoiding going too native on these contracts!).

Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.

Not sure if it is ‘interesting, unusual, or finicky’ but the discipline with which we approach deciding which opportunities to bid for on DOS and then take that forward into submissions has been a bit of an eye opener for me — especially since David our Bid Manager joined — he literally wrote the book on the topic. I really had no idea and was just wanting to go for anything I found interesting! This more considered approach is really starting to pay dividends as well.

How do you keep track of what you have to do?

I use a pretty basic version of the todo.txt format that Gina Trapani introduced. I don’t use any specific app — I just have a plain text file that syncs with Dropbox so it is available on whatever device I am using.

What’s your favourite side project?

My ‘Internet of Public Service Jobs’ newsletter gives me a lot of satisfaction despite it being a bit of a pain in the backside to maintain. The fact that hundreds of people find it (somewhat) useful is an amazing feeling.

I’m also very proud of my small part in the popularisation of ‘weeknotes’ across public service these days.

What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?

I recently finished It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson from Basecamp. There is a lot of great stuff in it about ways of working and avoiding some of the behaviours that seem to be rife in the internet industry. There is also quite a bit I think is poppy-cock but that is the way it goes sometimes 🙂

I’m also working my way through ‘How to Think When You Draw’ in an attempt to just get a little bit better at drawing. I used to be OK at it and occasionally I still have moments but I find it hard to translate the pictures in my head to the page…but the process of doing does quiet my mind like nothing else so I preserver.

Who else would you like to see answer these questions?

I am horribly nosy so I cannot think of many people I wouldn’t like to see answer them but if I had to pick people how about Richard Pope, Kathy, Tom Steinberg and Kit Collingwood.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Not advice initially but getting the news that I was diabetic — and in a pretty unsympathetic manner — has made a massive difference to me — mind and body. That initial diagnosis led to a lot of follow on advice!

*totally made this job title up for this post but I have Moo cards now so it must be real!