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.

The longest year of 2019 (#5 of 52)

This post is more than a year old. The information, claims or views in this post may be out of date.

Is it just me, or was January unreasonably long?

Technically speaking I’m writing this post on a Saturday, in that I woke up late and haven’t gone to bed yet. The calendar will tell you this was written on Sunday though – it lies.

The last week was particularly hard on me, as evidenced by my habit tracker.

Every morning, I need to take a fasting blood sugar reading in order to adjust my treatment. I’ve been really good with that since starting the tracking, managing a fasting reading every morning for a straight month – but in the last few days, that became difficult.

Whenever I have a bad week, it seems to throw everything else out of balance. The first thing to go is perspective – I get stuck on a particular problem and don’t really notice things like the passage of time, or that adhering to my habits have become a problem.

In this last week, I can clearly attribute that to something: A poorly managed project – with at least half of the blame falling on me.

In September, I picked up a project that was meant to take two months at the most, but as of end-January we’ve still not managed to go live. The application is a line-of-business app for a major enterprise, and like most major enterprises, timelines can sometimes stretch out a lot further than you might think.

In this case, there’s no one single reason why it’s taking this long. The scope has kept changing, but that’s par for the course when developing an all-new process in a shifting landscape. Feedback has been slow, but it’s impossible to align calendars. Getting it deployed has been a challenge, but there are so many parties involved in simple IT change requests that no single one of them has unduly held up the process.

As it turned out, by mid-January they had managed to finally get our first version out for testing with some of their internal customers. The feedback ended up requiring a whole new set of changes, which was scoped and priced and scheduled for delivery over the last week.

And this is where I hit a brick wall. I’ve worked on this project long enough now to have developed some really negative feelings towards it. The launch has been delayed time and again, the stakeholders and priorities have shifted back and forth, and my main concern remains launching a decent product – which seems further and further away.

But the blame for this one falls squarely on me, for once again trying to handle more than my fair share of work. The time to outsource it was actually mid-January, but after the week I just had I can’t afford to not pull the trigger on this.

Which I’m now doing. It’s a new milestone: I’m outsourcing the first bit of work I feel comfortable with, mostly because it’s starting to drive me insane and just getting a fresh set of eyes on it will already be a big relief.

Looking back on the week, though, I could have caught this one a lot sooner. I got stuck in a negative feedback looped that completely drained my energy:

  • I have this very important thing to do
  • I really don’t want to do this, it’s gotten too difficult
  • But I also can’t do anything until I do this
  • It’s already 1pm, I need to start
  • It’s already 5pm, I’ll have to work this evening
  • It’s 2am, I need to push through to the morning
  • It’s 4am, I can’t do this anymore
  • I woke up late this morning and I have a very important thing to do

Remarkably unproductive, but not the first time I’ve dealt with this feedback loop. Despite my own self-sabotage I’ve managed to get a lot of it done, including a monster VueJS refactor:

But I could have done more, had I been sufficiently motivated to tackle this yet again. I’ve just run out of motivation at this point, and it’s finally forcing me to evolve.

One upside to this: It’s forcing me to think outside the box. My problem has always been that I’m good at figuring out solutions, but bad at letting things take place beyond my control. If I ever want to grow an actual business (and not just grind out code for the rest of my life), I’ll have to learn how to delegate, and this is forcing me into that position now.

This one problem has really shaped most of my week, and it’s drained me far more than is reasonable. I’ve already decided that next week will be better: I’m travelling for work, and spending time out of the house is just what I need right now.

In other news:

My self-imposed Twitter limitation continues to work. I still open up the app several times a day, but most of what I’m getting are SABC News tweets (of which there are few), and I haven’t been tempted to dive back into the burning garbage vortex.

CIT is turning me into a libertarian. I’m a few months away from clocking my first year as a freelancer, but my financial year-end comes up on 28 February, at which point SARS gets to take 28% of my profits for the year. Let’s just say it’s shaped a few of my pointier opinions about taxes.

Ghost in the Shell: ARISE is actually pretty good. After trying to watch it in 2013 and being roundly put off by the Microsoft Surface product placement, I’ve kept away until this week. A more detailed post is in the works, but for now, I have to admit it’s got a whole bunch of merit all on its own.

I’m starting a new business venture! What started out as a semi-serious joke is now materializing into a new business, with a few potential projects lined up. With any luck I’ll be able to share more details by the next weekly update.

… and saying goodbye to my first client. The first customer I ever signed was for a retainer that they ended up not using as much as they thought they would, so cancelling this was really more of a formality at this point. But that’s another milestone I crossed this week: Ending a contract before its due date.

Next week, I’ll be doing my first ever full-time on-site consulting gig focused on the things I actually enjoy doing: Assessing business operations and guiding teams towards improving all of them. I’m already mentally drafting the case study 🙂