Weeknote 8

A week of heavy learning, community kindness and continuing to wrestle my demons.

What went well

Cross-gov design meetup #27

On Tuesday I went to the 27th cross-government design meetup to hear about all things innovation. The term “innovation” makes many of us balk and quietly disengage from the conversation. But the speakers did a fantastic job at cutting through the eye-roll-inducing associations and providing examples of when innovation really works.

Kay talked about her work as a service designer on GovTech Catalyst, which awards funds to selected public sector projects, enabling them to explore how emerging technology might help them solve problems. Kay called for us to change the narrative around failure, reminding us that healthy failure is a key part of innovation.

Charlotte and Mark presented about their work on improving the success rate of passport photo submissions. They shared their research on the barriers people face when it comes to taking a compliant passport photo and how they’ve worked to reduce them.

Finally, Matt presented about how progressive web apps could be used to improve the performance of government web services, enabling users to access content offline or in areas of poor connectivity.

It was a really thought-provoking day and I count myself very lucky to be able to go to events like this and benefit from the experience, research and knowledge of people outside of my team and organisation.

Remote-first ideas session

This week we’ve been wrapping up the research we’ve been doing into the Prototype Kit documentation. On Thursday, Rosie, our researcher, played back the findings and then Debs ran a session to help us come up with some ideas for how we could tackle the highest priority needs we discovered.

The session was run remotely, with everyone joining from their own laptops, regardless of whether or not they were in the office. We added our ideas to columns in a Trello board and then took turns to share them back to the group.

As someone who gets pretty serious FOMO when I’m working from home and can see a big group sitting together in the office, I really liked the format. More of those, please!

Talking openly about mental health

As I wrote about in last week’s weeknote, my anxiety’s been pretty bad over the past few weeks.

I’ve been letting all of my important routines and mental health maintenance slip and I’m really starting to feel it.

I think it’s important to normalise conversations about mental health, and I also just really needed some motivation and help with getting back on track, so I asked for some advice on Twitter.

I have to say, I was expecting 1 or 2 suggestions and perhaps a couple of well wishes, but I’m pretty overwhelmed by the response I got. So many people got in touch to share ideas for getting out of a bad spell and to show solidarity and understanding.

Twitter gets a bad rep sometimes, and it’s not hard to see why, but honestly it really helped me this week. Knowing how common anxiety and depression are, and having my admission met with such care and acceptance really did make it all feel a bit more bearable.

So thank you, Twitter community.

Other stuff I liked

  • chatting weeknotes in person with Paul—we talked about the challenges of sharing an honest view of your week when there are a number of things you can’t really discuss in the open.
  • editing Adam’s article on semantic HTML and ARIA—I learned loads from helping out with this article and it’s been quite a journey, which you can read more about it in Adam’s weeknote.
  • saying goodbye to Al, our Head of Accessibility—the goodbye component itself was of course very sad, but it gave me the chance to reflect on what an absolute privilege it’s been to work with Al and that, because of it, I get to work in an organisation that puts accessibility and inclusivity at the heart of everything it does.

What didn’t go so well

Persistent anxiety

Despite receiving a great deal of support this week, I’m not going to lie, the anxiety continues to be pretty sucky.

I’m really struggling to concentrate, feeling short-tempered, disconnected from people I care about, feeling constantly exhausted and nauseous and waking up at 4 or 5am most mornings with a racing heart.

While I’ve genuinely enjoyed hearing clever people’s talks and ideas, editing their articles and reflecting on the great work they’ve done, it does somewhat contribute to the heightened feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt that’s plaguing me at the moment.

It’s not fun. And the trouble is I’m very good, too good perhaps, at making it look like I’m absolutely fine.

I’ve taken a number of steps to help myself this week, like going for a long walk, doing some yoga, meditating, eating a bit better, drinking a bit less coffee and wine, and journaling. And they really have helped, but I know from past experience that it’s just going to take a bit of time.

At the very least, it does seem to be moving in the right direction.

Lessons this week

  1. Having endless opportunities to learn new things is the best thing about my job.
  2. Remote-first is better than remote-supportive.
  3. There is such a lot of kindness out there.
  4. Anxiety is really common and normal.
  5. It still sucks though.