10 weeks note


This is my 10th weekend of essentially self-isolating. I mean to some extent I am always self-isolating. I mean I live alone and am not the most social person but between work, family and my close friends I usually occasionally see a few people in person!

Since I got back from Oslo on March 13th I have –>

  • had my birthday,
  • had my first Zoom party,
  • started a new role,
  • badly sprained my wrist,
  • thought I was ill,
  • got really ill,
  • eaten too much sugar,
  • drank too much beer,
  • cooked more than I ever have before,
  • bought some fancy, expensive chefs knives,
  • used Deliveroo for the first time,
  • ordered a beer delivery for the first time,
  • walked the same route approximately 50 times,
  • started yoga,
  • stopped yoga,
  • started a different yoga,
  • tried Couch25K again
  • gave up Couch25K again
  • listened to more music than I can ever remember,
  • smashed another phone,
  • bought another phone,
  • tweeted two semi-viral posts,
  • run my first 100% remote workshop,
  • tried to get my Sticker Stories project going,
  • shelved my Sticker Stories project due to lack of interest (for now),
  • been unable to read for pleasure,
  • been unable to concentrate on TV/movies,
  • written a lot of blogposts,
  • paid for an anti-bodies test and messed it up,
  • came very close to starting a podcast (because I am a cliche),
  • started getting back to reading for pleasure – but only comfort authors,
  • spent a fortune with Amazon but saved a load of money compared to usual,
  • bought a lot of art,
  • and trainers..

My mental health has been…well lets call is changeable. There have been days where I have been productive and pretty upbeat, days when I haven’t wanted to get out of bed and at least a couple of days where I got seriously drunk. I know I have it easy compared to a lot of people – no home schooling, no care responsibilities at all, still got a good job, great broadband, books for days, every streaming service known to man…but it has still been pretty sucky and truth be told I have no confidence about going back out into the world post-lockdown. The idea of getting on a train, bus or god forbid the Tube scares the crap out of me. I can’t even imagine getting back on a plane – I had enough issues before.

At the moment I am planning on carrying on much the same until August when I’ll re-evaluate. That is another 10 weeks.



Let’s call it COVID’s cousin

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

“If you get sick during a pandemic and no one is around to test it, is it really COVID?”

I don’t know whether what I have had is COVID-19. What I do know that in a lifetime of illness, disease, broken bones and hospital visits there were days when it was the worst I have ever felt…and certainly the most worried I’ve been.

This blogpost by a professor of infectious diseases at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is almost exactly what I went through – but I am only about 18 days in so far.

I started to feel off in the last days on April but it was hard to tell whether it was just a combination of my always horrific hayfever and a general lockdown malaise so I shrugged it off to be honest. Then Sunday May 3rd I basically found myself entirely fatigued from the moment I woke up with a headache and general feeling of meh-ness. Also my cough (which has been present throughout my hayfever – as usual) felt like it stepped up a notch.

On the Monday I tried to work but felt fatigued and foggy headed and started to get wheezy with my breathing.

Tuesday 5th I realised I was properly ill –>

By the end of Tuesday I felt like I’d been caught at the bottom of a ruck in the Rugby World Cup. Everything ached, I couldn’t stand without needing to catch my breath, I was so weak lifting a cup of tea was an effort. The fever was getting up there as well.

Tuesday night was bad – I slept very little and when I did I had weird vivid dreams that woke me up feeling even more out of sorts. It was unpleasant. The next 24 hours were essentially a repeat and the worst of it by far. The addition of the sleep deprivation and with all the other symptoms kicking up a level meant I genuinely freaked out a bit – I couldn’t distract myself at all as trying to read, watch TV or anything was impossible to concentrate on for long. So I basically just lay in bed listening to Spotify worrying.

At 02.30 Thursday morning I was sat in my back yard trying to cool down.

Sometime on Thursday the fever started to ease and so did my panic but nothing else really shifted. I was still weak, coughing and my breathing was laboured. Oh I guess I did feel a little less beat up. I spent the weekend barely moving but with the fog clearing a little I became more aware of just how little I was able to do or concentrate on and I just started feeling more sorry for myself.

Last week I aimed to go back to work – just for half days (spread over the day). I just needed to get back into a routine and break up the days which were feeling frustrating and long. Honestly it was probably a mistake – Monday to Wednesday are a blur and while Thursday I felt more up for it I was wiped out on Friday (and yesterday). I also had a bunch of random symptoms that aren’t usually associated with COVID including an upset stomach, headaches and dizziness throughout the week. Though they are all things mentioned in the blogpost from that professor.

Today I left the confines of my property for the first time in 15 days. I didn’t go very far and it was a bit of a struggle to be honest but it was nice to escape for a bit. I have an antibodies test – £90 to find out if I was the right type of ill – which I’ll take later in the week and see what it says. I also got one of those little blood oxygen widgets and mine has been improving from a low but not dangerous level (by the time I received it).

I am still pretty weak and very easily tired but my breathing is definitely improved and the cough has calmed down so unless it gets a second wind I suspect I am – as they say – past the peak!

There were some weird things – I had this crazy spell of blogging during the worst of it…I had these lucid moments everyday and my brain just wanted to write. My appetite didn’t go but my tastebuds definitely vanished – one night I woke up with a taste in my mouth that was just awful – I was cleaning my teeth and swilling mouth wash at 3am. I’ve been incredibly emotional – songs, ads, sitcoms had me sobbing.

How did I get it? Well I have been in lockdown since the 14th March but I definitely started to get complacent with the mountain of deliveries I have had and my trips to the little Tesco Metro I use so one of those seems to be the culprit.

Here is the thing. I still don’t know if I had it for sure and if I did I suspect it was relatively mild. There still isn’t any real evidence having it gives you immunity anyway and with so many people with diabetes succumbing to it I just can’t see my moving from a stay home by default approach for a long time.



Ok. Ok. What’s next?

I’ve been reading a lot of speculative pieces about what things are going to be like in a post-COVID world from my sickbed.

Some things seem pretty clear:

None of this is great. For me I’ll likely have to make some trade-offs between physical and mental health. Working at home all the time is not great for me but given my current state, various long term ailments and generally crappy immune system my days of London, hotels, trains and Tubes are clearly over for the foreseeable. Also my international travel has been my main way of recharging for the last decade or so – if that becomes too expensive or simply too much hassle what will I do to replace that?

I’m investing in a shed office and am basically setting my stall out to be a predominantly distributed worker come what may. This is not an easy decision for me as I’m one of those odd beasts who likes being in an office and around a team. I even ~ whisper it ~ don’t mind meetings a lot of the time. I’m good at them. I can read a room, make my points, influence outcomes and generally feel productive (in the good ones – an awful lot of meetings could have been an email or a conversation – but I’m good at spotting those now as well and can usually shut them down or at least my attendance when I do.)

Honestly I don’t know how this will work with work at all. At the moment with everyone in a similar boat it is happening but really people pay to have me around and a lot of what I do is based on observation and relationships which I’m not sure will work in the same way in future however this all lands. 

It is noticeable that a lot – heck most – of the opportunities coming out on DOS are still talking about being ‘on-site’. I think this will start to change if for no other reason than I suspect there just won’t be the space. A lot of offices have found it hard to accommodate our teams in recent times anyway and if offices need to redesign their spaces with social distancing in mind there will be fewer seats than ever! So the model will have to evolve but into what? There is a pretty wide continuum of options available and I think we’ll have to get used to a bit of a messy mix while things settle.

What I was planning on doing this year was building a product management proposition within the company – a mix of services, training and coaching – we have some brilliant product people in-house and in close proximity but now I am just not sure what that looks like – we’ll have to see. In a world where agile and product shifts much more to a distributed model there is going to be a lot of reimagining and realigning to do around ways of working so getting out ahead of that is going to be important.

This babble was really just a clear my head post and has – if you have reached this far – absolutely zero answers and a lot of questions but that feels like where we are at the moment….and I am not sure reading more and more speculation is helping me….but I doubt I’ll stop.

Avoid learning too many lessons from these ‘unprecedented times’

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has radically changed the way many people are working and has accelerated the take up of digital tools more than anything…ever. 

There is excitement about all the previously barricaded doors it is opening across institutions (to be fair this is partly a displacement activity from all the stress and anxiety of everything else that is happening!) as long held prejudices against remote working and digital tools are crumbling. It is even clear the double whammy of security and productivity are not the show stoppers they had long been held up to be.

Other people are writing and will write much better takes on these new opportunities than me. I have some small ambitions of my own – not least spending much less time away from Bristol – but generally I’m just muddling through like everyone else.

The big thing I just want to keep reminding people though is while there will be lessons to learn from all this we need to take them with a grain of salt. There are not normal times and I think the change in attitudes is probably a lot more fragile than some people think. Digital services and ways of working are going to come in for a lot of scrutiny after things settle down and for many people they will forever be associated with a crisis response – not business as usual. We’ll need to pick our battles – this isn’t going to mean carte blanche for every digital transformation plan that has previously stalled.

There will definitely be changes that stick and opportunities to grab but also lessons to be learned about the limitations of digital and the need for truly inclusive services for citizens…and staff.

I just want to make sure we don’t just roll a crisis response into business as usual without taking the time to let people recover a little and actually design what we want things to look like in the future.

Picard perfect

I am enjoying the new Picard series. It is a bit jarring to hear so many eff-bombs being dropped in the Star Trek universe and some of the violence is pretty un-Trek like but I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than any recent forays in to this world. Catching up with Riker, Troi, Hugh and Seven has been fun.

This isn’t actually about that. The Picard Tips Twitter account has long since proved that JL is a goldmine of leadership guidance but in the recent episode the following really hit home.

“We have powerful tools. Openness. Optimism. And the spirit of curiosity.”

Everything feels pretty bleak at the moment. I can’t remember anything like this – even the days after 9/11 didn’t feel so fraught. However I’ve been going back time and again to a couple of talks at Service Design in Government. The keynote from Cassie and Will‘s talk. They were both talks that were interwoven with optimism and curiosity presented with such openness. They were full of examples of challenging the status quo and not giving in to a dystopic world view. Instead they were about making connections and strengthening society. About being positive and ambitious. About breaking down barriers instead of building more walls.

I think we need more of that at the moment. We need more Picard.

Openness. Optimism. And the spirit of curiosity.