Still learning (#6 of 52)

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It’s time for another weekly update! And this time, yes, it’s on a Sunday. My Saturday was purely for switching off, and I have zero regrets about that.

A whole bunch of new things have happened for me during the last week, mostly in the form of my first-ever full-time on-site consulting gig.

First, my habit tracking went to shit again:

This has mostly been a function of not being at my regular desktop PC every morning. Opening a browser window (which I do hundreds of times a day) and seeing my stats is the #1 motivator for recording habits. Since going on-site with my Macbook (and without the extension) I’ve just skipped over it entirely.

Last year, I did a couple of “trips” from my native Strand into Cape Town, and treated each one like a mini-digital nomad experience.

One thing I learned: It’s difficult for me to get into a really productive flow state without a comfortable environment. Doing emails, calls, quick bug-fixes and coordination while on the move is fine, but if I wanted to develop actual software I’d need a quiet place to do it.

2018 Retrospective

This time around, I figured it would mostly be the same: I’m on-site at a customer for two solid weeks, so I booked an Airbnb way in advance and planned to set up there for the duration. But there were a few differences.

First and most importantly: a schedule. I committed to being on-site at 8am every morning, leaving at 5-ish (just like a regular working day), which meant adjusting my schedule a little further back than I’m used to.

That, in and of itself, has been a challenge. 6:30am mornings are not the norm for me, and I can’t say I’m a huge fan. Nevertheless, it’s been a productive week – and working these regular hours for a short burst is somewhat refreshing. As is being in an office full of motivated people.

Until Thursday evening.

There’s a running joke in my circle about the Republic of Helderberg, and the fact that travelling to Cape Town is pretty much like visiting a foreign country. It turns out I needed to update my shots, because it was on Thursday evening that I ate something which profoundly disagreed with me (I think it was the Long Street KFC).

By Friday morning, the early stages of gastroenteritis were in motion. I made it as far as 2:30pm before the headache/nausea/joint pain/disorientation phase kicked in, and I ended up leaving early, heading straight to bed in the Airbnb at 3pm.

That was something of a low point for me, with several factors converging at once. I was:

  • Sick and tired (literally),
  • In an unfamiliar bachelor flat,
  • In the middle of a town I’m rarely in, and don’t much know,
  • Facing the prospect of spending the rest of the weekend cooped up,
  • Potentially having to grind through a bunch of work on the Mac, and
  • Having all of these thoughts while lying on an uncomfortable bed

This was the side to the “digital nomad experience” I hadn’t yet encountered: when things go wrong. Assuming I did ever want to travel the world and set up shop anywhere I go, it stands to reason I wouldn’t be 100% healthy the entire time. I’d absolutely catch bugs, get sick and miserable, and end up in this exact situation.

By 7:30pm I had called an Uber to take me back to Somerset West.

So that was the first big learning this week: Either I was never suited to it, or I’ve just missed the window – but when it comes to feeling that miserable in a foreign setting, I can’t handle it that well. Between the loss of habit tracking and bailing out at the first sign of trouble, I’m a lot less confident now in my ability to city-hop in exotic locales.

Which is not to say I don’t like travel – I still love seeing new parts of the world. It’ll probably be as a tourist, though, and I think I’m fine with that.

The second big learning is putting expiry dates on contracts.

Without going into too much detail on this, it turns out that no matter how good you are at what you do, sometimes you’ll run into clients that just cannot get things back to you on time – and that can really throw out your planning.

As I write this, I have a contract “out” (for signature) that would commit me to a few hours/month of support work for the rest of the year. When I drafted it in December last year, it made total sense – and as of February it still isn’t signed.

Having now looked at my workload, I’ve decided to take 2 weeks off in April – which will be complicated if they suddenly sign that contract.

I now completely understand why a lot of firms do “quote valid until x date” – time marches on, and the longer something goes unresolved, the more of a risk it becomes. So this is one of those things that I’ll be factoring into every document going forward, no matter how sure I am that they’ll sign (and I was pretty sure of this one).

But the third, biggest learning of the week: I’m really into digital transformation.

When I went freelance last year, I had to decide how to market myself, and I ended up going with the option that I was most familiar with: Digital marketing.

As I’m closing in on the first year though, I can honestly say that this project has been the most exciting – working directly with business leadership to assess, roadmap and then implement a transformation strategy. Even better that it’s a small, flat business without many legacy systems or processes.

If the next 6 months go well, it will (hopefully!) mean a great case study into practical steps for making businesses more efficient. That, and an already-long-overdue update to my “company” website.

This isn’t quite where I expected to be a year into freelancing, but I’m not complaining at all.

Another few highlights from the last week:

New Noscript Show episode (2019-006). These recordings are basically a form of therapy for me nowadays. And this was a good one – a range of eclectic topics and nothing taken too seriously, except for the part where we’re (Odin and myself) collectively frustrated with the lack of basic financial literacy.

Feeling more confident in having taken this risk. There’s an unexpected side-effect to having a company account and InContact notifications – every few days I get an SMS telling me some automatic payment has gone off, along with the remaining balance in the company cheque account (which pays my salary).

It’s begun serving as a constant reminder that I’m generally doing okay, and I’ve become a lot less stressed about finances (and finding new work) over the last week as a result. This wasn’t advertised on the freelancing brochure, but it’s been a great psychological bonus.

Reached level 17 in Overwatch! And enjoying every minute – Blizzard really did a great job on this one. After a solid run as a Pharah main I’m now experimenting more with Orisa and Mercy to round out my personal roster. At this rate, I’ll be eligible for competitive games in no time.

In the coming week I’ve got another round of office hours, during which the rubber hits the road on a chaotic (and ambitious) digital transformation project. My excitement level for this is 10/10.

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Wogan May

By day, I run a software development agency focused on business tools, process optimization, data integration and automation. By night, I build tools and platforms that serve online creators.

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