Weeknote 3

If last week I felt I lacked in productivity, this week has been the complete opposite. A mostly enjoyable—if hectic—whirlwind of a week that I'll attempt to summarise here in weeknote number 3.

What went well

Getting some fresh perspective

We've recently had a new user researcher and a new designer join the team, and I've been working closely with them to plan some improvements to the GOV.UK Prototype Kit documentation.

Working with them has reminded me how useful it is to get a fresh pair of eyes on something. They've brought ideas and suggestions that I, having accrued a certain amount of knowledge bias by now, just wouldn't have thought of. I've no doubt this is going to massively benefit the work we do over the next few weeks.

It's great that we've had new starters to bring some new ideas to the table, but they've reminded me of the value of routinely seeking input from people who don't know the project. I'm definitely going to try and make more of a habit of doing this.

Radical descoping

As well as bringing some new ideas, our new team members have also taught me a valuable lesson in descoping. When you've got an awareness of all of the problems, it can be tempting to try and fix them all at once.

But thanks to Debs, our interaction designer, we've descoped to something much more manageable. Having started the week with a daunting, unwieldy set of goals and a limited timeframe, we're now looking at a much better-defined piece of work that I'm more confident we can plan and execute.

Writing a new article

I'm really trying to stick to only writing articles when I genuinely feel I have something to say. I don't want to write for the sake of it – honestly I'm just not very good at that.

But when I do have something to say, there's little I find more empowering and cathartic than sitting with my laptop and just letting the words flow.

Case in point, after airing my frustration with the phrase "design systems solve the easy problems, so teams can focus on the hard ones" on Twitter, I followed my urge to expand on that and wrote a post about it, which I'll publish in the next few days.

Other stuff I liked

What didn't go so well

Dealing with unexpected demands, trying to control everything

I've talked before in my weeknotes about the challenge of prioritisation and, with a little effort, I feel like I've fallen into a bit of a rhythm with it.

However, this week has thrown me a much higher than usual number of curveballs, and trying to juggle them all alongside my planned work has been pretty stressful at points.

To name just a few, there's been:

  • an unexpected spike in our team's support requests
  • a number of end of year feedback requests from my colleagues
  • a number of simultaneous but unrelated requests for Design System background information and rationale for past decisions, from various different people
  • an almost laughable incident of getting stuck in a corridor without my building pass, followed immediately by a fire alarm and evacuation, during a call which I was facilitating

Aside from the fire alarm, these were all important things to deal with, but I've not done the best job at deprioritisng my other work to make space for them.

When the going gets tough, I gravitate towards overworking and trying very hard to stay in control of everything. If I sense people around me are under pressure, I'll take on extra work to try and rescue the situation, often leading to unsustainable overcommitment on my part.

This, coupled with the unexpected demands this week have meant:

  • a few missed lunch breaks
  • a few extra hours worked
  • an inability to switch off at the end of the day
  • a cluster of ulcers on one side of my tongue
  • more than one dinner skipped in favour of a piece of toast
  • a feeling of overwhelming exhaustion necessitating a spontaneous 2-hour nap yesterday afternoon

In all honesty, I don't feel too bad at the moment, but I've learned from past experience to rein it in before I crash. Fortunately for me, the pressure is only coming from myself and not my employer, so a bit of self-control is in order to keep things in check.

Lessons this week

  1. A fresh pair of eyes is always a good idea.
  2. Descoping is sometimes needed to move things forward.
  3. Writing is just great, when you have something to say.
  4. I'll always feel like working beyond my limit, and I need to exercise some self-discipline to avoid burning myself out.