Men At Arms, by Terry Pratchett, remains one of my all time favourite books, so I’m re-reading it for World Book Day 2021.
This is the inside of my office. This is not my cat.
I got my first COVID vaccination jab a couple of days ago, so for the benefit of others I thought I’d share my experience.
First off, for the first 24 hours (almost exactly) after the jab, I had zero side effects. From that 24 hour mark I gradually started to feel a bit worse –
- slight sore/scratchy throat
- body aches
In all, it was like I had a bad cold, just without a runny nose. I went to bed slightly early last night, feeling a little rough and expecting to feel rubbish this morning.
As it turned out, I woke up feeling absolutely fine. It’s as if yesterday afternoon/evening didn’t happen at all.
Having spoken to my project manager, who received his vaccination a few hours earlier than I did, his experience was almost exactly the same – right down to the 24 hour gap between first dose and experiencing any side effects.
All-in-all, it was much more pleasant than I’d expected; certainly, I’ve had much worse experiences with the yearly flu vaccination!
I’ve had my first COVID vaccination jab! I was given the AstraZeneca version. It felt a little odd to be out on public transport for the first time in a while. The centre is in a new development I’ve never been to before, so I missed the stop I should have got off at, but thankfully the bus driver let me off before he got too much further along his route.
Our first major drop of snow this winter, and the heaviest I’ve seen in a while.
So it’s done. I had my promotion panel interview yesterday. It went great, apart from one little tiny detail – I went over time. Pretty much the one hard-and-fast rule you’re given, and I broke it. Granted, it was really close – I was partway through my final slide – but it leaves a bitter taste to have come so close to getting through the part I was most worried about.
I know why I ran over. In one of my more content-heavy slides I stumbled a bit with some last minute suggested additions, adding a little too much detail off-the-cuff as I hadn’t practiced these points as much as the rest. Those few seconds made all of the difference, and while I tried to mask the dissappointment of being stopped as quickly as I could before going into the Q&A, I’m sure there would have been a split-second where my body language or facial expression gave it away, if any of the panel were looking at my camera feed and not the slide deck.
The Q&A part was fine. It was a little bit of a blur due to trying to recover, but I had the overall impression it was easier than I expected, and shorter. I received one question relating to my last slide which basically let me finish off what I would have said, and a couple of questions around Agile working practices and specifically on leading Agile teams, which required more longform answers… but overall I came out of the Q&A feeling much more confident again.
So that was it. If I had met the 15 minute criteria I’d be feeling very sure that I’d been successful. As it is, I just have to wait until I get the feedback and ultimate decision to find out how much that worked against me. That will be some time in late March/early April. I’m hopeful that everything else was above and beyond what they expected me to deliver, but that’s not going to make the wait any easier!
I have a love-hate relationship with presenting. I feel I’m fair-to-decent at delivering an ad-libbed presentation backed up by a loosely structured slide deck. I can project a decent amount of confidence even though I’m nervous and hate being the centre of attention, and can talk at length if I can control the timing of the presentation.
Unfortunately, this is one of those times where the timing is out of my hands and the format is fairly set. As I mentioned, I have a strict 15 minute limit, and there’s also a template I need to start from – although there is creative freedom allowed within the parameters of the template. Keeping to the time limit remains my biggest hurdle. I have a lot I need to cover, and nerves tend to make me throw in little extra bits of information as I’m talking. Because I know this I have spent a lot of time practicing my delivery since my first disasterous attempt.
As well as having multiple review + feedback sessions with colleagues, I’ve basically spent every spare minute repeating the script over and over – both in my head and out loud. I’m still struggling to hit the 15 minute mark, but I’m really, really, close. I’ve come in under time in a few practice runs so it seems to depend on how much detail I give to just one or two areas of the slide deck. My thinking is that if I can basically memorise a version which comes in under time, and stick to only that in the real thing, then I should be OK.
As far as the slides go, these are now set. I’ve had some great feedback on the visuals, which is a nice boost. The deck needs to be sent off to the panel by the end of today, so there’s no more time to make any substantive changes – probably for the best! I won’t be able to post the full deck, but I will leave you with a small extract from the “about me” slide:
I had my first practice run of my promotion presentation with a work colleague today, and it was nothing short of a disaster.
I arrived to the meeting already flustered. The current sprint is hard going, things have been going wrong, and I had been fire-fighting all morning. I also hadn’t had any opportunity to practice my slides on my own. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to say, but no idea of the timings or anything.
Several times I just lost my train of thought, had to stop, then restart the presentation. When I did finally manage to get off of the first slide, I’d talked for over half of my allotted 15 minutes. In the end I felt like I was wasting my colleague’s time, so I apologised for being so ill prepared and ended the session early so as to not waste any more. I was embarrassed, annoyed at myself, and even more flustered than when I started. Thankfully my colleague offered to “reschedule” our session to a later date, when hopefully I’ll be in a better mindset.
Must do better.
It looks like the first of my objectives to be completed will be my promotion. That’s not to assume successful completion, mind you. Our promotion process ends with a presentation to a three-person panel, and 8th February is the date scheduled for my panel presentation.
The format is fairly ridgid, which isn’t ideal for how I normally approach presentations, but it’s out of my hands so I’ll need to make the best of it. The biggest complication will be the strict 15 minute maximum time limit. If/when I get nervous, I can talk at length. The pendulum swung too far from my childhood deer-in-headlights freezing and stuttering. I have a lot to cover, so sticking to that time limit could be a big challenge. I have access to workshops and colleagues willing to help me practice, so I’m confident I can get it nailed down.
Inspired by Jeremy, Colin, and Cassie, I thought it might be instructive to myself and others to set out my “typical” day. I find writing about something helps focus my thoughts on the thing in question.
Off-the-bat, it’s worth noting I tend to have more of a typical week than a day, especially when it comes to working hours. My week ebbs and flows on a regular rhythm: I’m more likely to be head-down and coding on some days, more likely to be in meetings on others. My work schedule is mostly fixed around our two-week-long sprints, with the sprint “ceremonies” providing the regular landmarks to keep me on track.
As a brief aside on scheduling and organising – lately I’ve been using Sorted3, on iOS, and it’s been somewhat of a revelation. Scheduled meetings are entered first if they’re not already in my calendar (these are “fixed points in time”), then I add everything else I need to get done (with an estimate of how long it will need, if I can) and use the auto-schedule function to slot everything into place around the fixed points. I’ll manually tweak things if I need to prioritise something. It’s still early days, but I’m finding this a much easier system that needs less cognitive input from me – essential to making it a habit I can stick to better than previous apps and methods I’ve used over the years.
5:30am – 7:10am: I’ll wake up somewhere between these times. If it’s on the earlier side, I’ll generally snooze or try to get a little more sleep – usually unsuccessfully. Once upon a time I would’ve gotten out of bed around 6:10am, but the COVID Era has beaten that out of me. At 7:10am, my Apple Watch starts tapping me on the wrist. From here: if I’m feeling rested and/or awake enough, I’ll get out of bed; if not, as is usually the case, I’ll read a bit on my phone – check my personal emails, scan the news and my RSS feeds, maybe some Twitter. I try not to wake my partner, Caley, with the glare from the screen. If she is awake we’ll have some mumbling, half-asleep conversation about the news headlines, weird dreams, or whatever.
7:45am – 8am (or thereabouts): If I haven’t already, this is when I’ll get out of bed and make my way downstairs. My first step is to shower. During the week, that’s a cold shower. I find it helps me shake off the last of the cobwebs, get energised, and generally helps my mood. Right now it’s winter in Scotland, so the water coming out of the shower head is extra cold. A side benefit of a cold shower is that it tends to be quickâ€¦ but I do like to stand with the water hitting the base of my neck for as long as I can stand it. I find this gives me the most “feel good” benefit when I step out. Next is getting dried + dressed. For a while I was trying to maintain a sense of “normality” by wearing my usual work clothes during the week. That’s long passed. Well-worn jeans and a t-shirt or jumper are the order of the day now.
8am – 8:10am: Around about now, Caley tends to make her way downstairs. I fire up the coffee maker while she heads to her desk in the living room and switches on her laptop. The measures on the side of the coffee pot tell me we’re drinking a little over twice as much coffee now as we did back in March 2020. I pour my coffee into my Bodum travel mug and head upstairs to my WFH area.
8:20am – 8:30am: Time to log in to my work laptop and connect the VPN. While everything is getting connected I’ll scan my email on my work phone, just to see if there are any short-notice issues or schedule changes. I’ll post a “good morning” in the general Slack channel, along with some emoji to represent the weather report.
8:30am – 10am: Read through my emails properly, check my calendar, and plan and prioritise how I’m going to approach my day. I have an hour and a half before Daily Stand-up, so I use the time to either polish off tasks I didn’t quite get finished yesterday, or take care of any admin-y tasks, answering queries from the newer team members, or non project-related work. For the last few weeks I’ve been using this time to work on my promotion presentation. Around 9:40, I’ll wander downstairs for a 10 minute break and coffee refill. During my breaks throughout the day I’ll chat with Caley and we’ll update each other with how our respective days are going. Often this means I’ll listen while she exasperatedly describes what the latest problems she’s dealing with.
10am – 10:20am: Daily Stand-up, following the usual format: what I did yesterday/what I plan to do today/anything which might block me. If someone needs something from me this is usually when I’ll find out about it – at which point it gets prioritised and put into the plan for the day.
10:20am – 11am: I try to tick off the smaller tasks on my list during this time. These might not be the most high priority, but I’ve found this is a good time for them. Forty minutes is an awkward amount of time to fill. Once one or two tasks are done, I’ll take a 10 minute break away from my desk.
11am – 12:20pm: If I have another project-related meeting in the morning, it’s usually for 30-60 minutes at 11am, depending how many people need to be involved. Usually these meetings are for high level planning/one-to-one’s with the project management team, or responding to any potential risks. If there’s no meeting, I use this time for making progress on any user stories assigned to me, fixing defects found by the QA team, or working through any code review comments I need to resolve before a story can be merged in. This is often my most productive time, and most likely to be when I’m “in the zone”. I try not to, but often I’ll lose track of time and continue on right through to 1pm.
12:20pm – 12:50pm: Assuming I haven’t lost track of time, here’s where I try to fit in 30 minutes of exercise. I push my office chair into the far corner of the room, throw on shorts and a different t-shirt, and pull out my exercise bike. If needed, I’ll go downstairs to refill my water bottle. I load up Apple Fitness + on my iPad, which fits in a mount on the handlebars, and start peddling while I pick a 20 minute workout to go along with. Once the cycling workout is complete, I load up a 10 minute “mindful cooldown”. I’m not particularly into mindfulness, but I am finding these particular exercises to be quite good for mentally “resetting” for the afternoon.
12:50pm – 1:20pm: Get changed again and go downstairs, where I’ll have lunch in the kitchen and try not to think about work for 30 minutes. If I’m on a 16-8 cycle, this will be my first meal of the day. Caley will usually be starting her lunch around 1pm, so there’s a little bit of overlap for chatter and updates.
1:20pm – 1:30pm: Take 10 minutes to check through the various organisation-wide Teams channels and chats for anything which needs a response or I want to get involved with. Scan my email for anything which needs my attention. Respond if it’s a quick task, or file it for later if it needs more than a couple of minutes.
1:30pm – 2pm: 30 minutes of smaller tasks; typically this will be preparing a pull request of my own, or finalising a review and approving the pull request of someone else. Updating the story board and admin-y tasks like timesheets often land here.
2pm – 4pm: If I have an afternoon meeting, usually it will land in this slot. Some (like the end of sprint wrap-up) will take most – if not all – of the 2 hours; most are 30-60 minutes – the defect status call, the local office “social chat” and catch-upâ€¦ that sort of thing. If the time is free from meetings, this is when I’ll have pencilled in my most important bit of work for the day – usually it’ll be working on the main chunk of a user story (possibly a different one to what I worked on in the morning), or a particularly big code review. Other candidates include responding to anyone who needed a considered or researched reply. If there were one or more meetings then I’ll fit tasks around those, trying to keep as much progress going as possible.
4pm – 5:30pm I start to wrap up my working day. If I have anything remaining which will fit from 4-5pm, then I try to do it here. More often than not, this will be the busiest time for other members of the team asking me a technical query, or “preparing” me for something they’ll need tomorrow. I try to deal with these as efficiently and quickly as I can. I would prefer to finish at 5pm, but usually it stretches to 5:30pm. If I remember to, I spend a couple of minutes making notes on how the day has gone and what I achieved, then I put the laptop to sleep. Occasionally there will be a meeting 4pm-5pm, but thankfully those are rare.
5:30pm – 7pm Decompress from work time. I’ll head downstairs and join Caley on the sofa, or in the kitchen. We might put some short YouTube videos on the living room TV, partly as background noise. Decisions are made about what we’re eating for dinner, and generally Caley will start cooking it somewhere between 5:30pm and 6pm. I help where I can/she’ll let me, or I’ll pick a household chore to do that won’t get in the way. When dinner is prepared, we head back to the sofa to eat and find something to watch while we chat . It’ll either be one of our YouTube subscriptions, or if there’s a series like Bake-Off currently on the go, we’ll watch the latest episode on catch-up.
7pm – 8:30pm If I’m going to do anything other than chill out on the sofa, this is when I’ll think about making a start on that. Caley usually pulls out a book or a craft project while we’re on the sofa. For me, things I might think about doing include: reading a book of my own, picking a game to play on the PC or PS4, tinkering around with something on the PC (like the internals of this blogâ€¦) or, less frequently of late, indulging in some miniature painting/building.
8:30pm – 10pm (or thereabouts): Caley normally heads upstairs for some “quiet time” reading in bed between 8:30pm an 9pm. If I’d found something to do earlier, I continue on with that until about 10pm when I start to wrap things up. Otherwise I’ll be jumping between apps on my phone for a bit to keep myself amused and relaxed.
10:20pm – 11pm Around about now I start the bedtime routine: brushing teeth, checking the doors are locked, etc. If there’s anything to prepare for tomorrow, and if I’d forgotten about it earlier, it’s done now.
11pm (or thereabouts): Lights out.
Reading through all that, you might think my work day is dominated by meetings. It’s really not as bad as it might seem. For most of the meetings I have, I can multi-task in the background – making progress on other things I need to be doing while I’m listening in, waiting to give my inputs.
Like most people I suspect I have days where I don’t feel like I’ve actually achieved anything, and others where I’m amazed by how much it seems I’ve made it through. I find the trick is to just keep going steady. Those really productive days are usually the culmination of work you pushed yourself through on the slower days.
As far as general work-life balance goes, right now I feel things are “okay”. Working from home full time in this COVID Era can make it feel like you’re always working, as you pretty much never leave “the office”. This comes and goes depending on the restrictions in place and how safe it feels to be out and about. I’d love to have some more time completely away from things – the thing I probably miss the most from my pre-COVID routine is my daily commute to/from work (and to a lesser extent, my lunchtime walk). It was a combined 2.5-3 hours a day away from almost everything, and I could zone out listening to podcasts or an audiobook while I walked the 4.5KM to-and-from the office. I find it’s harder to do this while at home. But as a general rule, things are fine right now, and I find I’m generally feeling in a good spot and positive despite *gestures at the world*.