Death by Commute

I’ve recently been working on-site with clients, and with that has come a fair amount of rush hour travel.

I generally try and balance my week with some time working remotely at home, some close to my home and some with clients. This balance hasn’t been an option in recent weeks and I’m starting to feel the effects.

I have a strong desire for regular focused periods and to carve out time for deep work, and when the day requires two hours or more just transferring between my home and my place of work for the day, it can be hard to find a means to make progress, or a rhythm to create any measurable value.

There are some techniques I’m going to put in place on days where I have an hour or more of travel in each direction to see if I can make those blocks of time at very least supportive of work I do at other times in the day. No more black holes.

I will usually consider using a car when it cuts a commute in half (or more) by doing so. This rule of thumb comes from the acknowledgment that driving a car limits any form of work beyond thought. Public transport however can allow work, where legs of the journey are long enough to support ‘going deep’ and seating is available which suits work.

To get the most from time behind a wheel, a plan needs to be made beforehand which defines a challenge, or problem, and enough information to help more towards a solution. Given, A, B and C, I need to consider and decide upon X. Here X could be the draft of a blog post, or a report. It could be a talk, or presentation. X could even be a technical solution, or a process solution to document more thoroughly once I’m at a computer.

To get the most from time commuting via public transport, tasks need to be considered which don’t require internet access. They may also need to consider that only part of the journey will allow for a comfortable position to write or use a laptop. It’s best not to expect more than note taking, or draft writing.

I’ve stopped aiming to work a specific number of hours each day. Where a client requires hours as proof of value creation, a conversation is required about why that’s a terrible measure of the impact a member of staff or consultant is having.

I will generally do between 6 and 8 hours depending on the progress I make, challenges I solve and energy I expend. If I have to commute a long way at each end of the day, that’s likely to compress the hours I do on-site, which often means I actually get ‘more’ high value work done thanks to deprioritising the low value shallow work.

For much of my work, and indeed much of most people’s work, they don’t need to be in a shared space with other people. Even paired and team tasks can be successfully completed remotely using screen-sharing, voice calls and a shared location for progress reporting and transparency.

If you currently require your team to work on-site 5 days a week, consider testing out a remote working day each week and see how the team get on with it, and what impact it has on value creation.

If all of us worked at home just one day each week, imagine how much quicker and less stressful commuting would be for the rest of us?

A return to proper cycling

I’m not unfit, but nore would I win any sporting medals. I do generally choose to walk reasonable distances, rather than get a taxi or a bus though, and I know that cycling regularly improves my physical and mental wellbeing.

I stopped regular long distance cycling a while back. A car pulling out on me and doing some serious damage to me and my previous bike took away my confidence for riding as speed, then I started to doubt myself and make excuses.

Children, how I felt, what I’d eaten, having to get my bike ready, the weather, what I needed to wear once at my destination. Any excuse to not go out on a ride that wasn’t a simple 5 mile commute started to be the default.

I’ve called myself out on it. I’ve joined, and ridden with a local cycling club. The first ride was 50 miles and towards the end I benefited hugely from the experience and support of the senior riders.

I’ll continue to improve my stamina. I’ll get back into basic nutrician and food preparation for 3 or more hours of straight exercise. I’ll ride regularly. I’ll share my rides on Strava.

The change includes starting to commute longer distances to clients. Macclesfield. Crewe. Anywhere within 90 minutes.

The improvement to my wellbeing is worth the investment of time. The thinking time and distraction from ‘the norm’ is work the investment of time. The fact I can eat loads more food, and even drink a couple more beers is worth the investment of time.

You’ll likely notice me posting more about cycling in the near future. I am Harry Bailey, and I am a cyclist.

300 words: Decompression

When it comes to how my brain works, there are a couple of related struggles that I’ve known about for many years and that I’m finally going to do something about.

Regularly I’ll stare at a computer screen for far longer than the task should require, making slight changes to a document, or an email draft, or some code, failing to fix the broken thing.

When working in a team I would likely find myself asking for support from others, or I would hope to be asked how I was getting on. I need to police this myself when working remotely and on a solo task.

I’ve previously tried making use of blocks or time. Pomodoro 25 minutes for example, which encourages breaks in focus to take a minute, a breath and a walk. Specific amounts of time haven’t worked for me, but prompts at regular intervals to consider a break have a more positive effect.

I see it as a three strikes rule. If I see a prompt once, I’ll happily keep plugging away. Two prompts and I start to justify to myself that I know how to get it resolved relatively quickly. When the third prompt appears I have to call my own bluff and take a break. The break needs to be a real break away from a screen thinking only with my brain and not with my eyes. Thinking in a different way, or maybe not thinking about it at all.

This change of focus, or bluring of focus, allows my brain to either solve it ready for my return to my computer, or when I do return to my work my brain is in a better place to make progress.

The other change I’ve made is how I handle the beginning and end of a day during which I don’t commute to a meeting or client.

A commute is a really useful tool when it comes to preparing for being in a work or home environment. On days where I’ll be at home in the morning preparing for work, and then suddenly find myself working, I stuggle to stay focused. On days where I’m working at home, and the only thing that happens between work and family time is a walk down the stairs, I struggle to switch off and engage with other humans.

I need the boundaries to be more defined.

For some I imagine this can be achieved by taking kids to school, walking the dog or even a short chunk of exercise. For me it can be as simple as walking slowly to the end of the road and back. It also helps with those still in the house to understand that on return I’m in work mode.

If I’m not commuting then I need this line in the sand both in the morning and at the end of the day.

The context switching or decompression time between home and work tasks is vital to allow me to be engaged with the right thing.

Two Factor Authentication on Twitter is Broken

Your online security is more at risk now now than it’s ever been. Many people use the same username and password across most, if not all their online accounts.

When two factor authentication was launched it became a saviour for these people. You would need physical hardware to generate or receive a one time code, as well as your username and password.

Twitter implemented this initially as SMS only one time code sending. You added your mobile number to your Twitter account and it would start sending codes at the point of login and requiring the code to login successfully.

The first version would only allow your mobile number to be connected to a single account, so if you wanted to secure multiple account, you were out of luck.

There is also a flaw in the SMS system though which can allow hackers to redirect the security code to any number they choose. It’s not widely used, but still exists.

More recently Twitter added the ability to use other methods of two factor authentication. Apps like Last Pass, 1Password and Authy allow you to store all your access details behind a single master password.

The trouble is, that to use a password manager with Twitter, you first have to add your mobile number to your Twitter account. You then have to manually disable the SMS option to stop Twitter always sending the SMS codes.

The kicker here is that if you remove your mobile phone number from your Twitter account, it also removes any other two factor authentication you’ve set up.

You cannot have two factor authentication on your Twitter account if you don’t have a mobile phone linked to the account.

This is an astonishing requirement, and one many security experts are calling short-sighted and even a dark pattern.

You would hope that Twitter would put security before all else, but in this case that doesn’t seem to be so.


You can find me on twitter via @HarryBailey

300 words: Fewer, better notifications

One of my focuses for this year is to reduce my anxiety levels. I wouldn’t class them as out of control, but I do have periods where they’re concerning.

I spent a little time recently looking at what triggers anxiety for me. Although I came up with a fair list, the reasons I see as simplest to deal with are ‘fear of missing out’ and feeling overwhelmed.

It doesn’t take much imagination to quickly link these two triggers back to mobile phone notifications and app badge counters.

For me the obvious change to make is reduce the triggers in terms of quantity and invasiveness.

On the other side of the fence are mobile applications who’s very life-blood is to regularly pull you back into their world. The reasons aren’t always sound, and when you accept notifications for those apps, you don’t know how vague those reasons will be.

Will allowing notifications mean you’re alerted to triggers purely designed to draw you back into the app?

The only notifications I want. to receive are those which are time sensitive and genuinely important.

I use my phone enough that just displaying an app badge can be enough to show me there is something to be aware of. I don’t need anything to pop-up on my phone or in my notification feed.

So I’ve essentially had a cull of all the apps I never want to hear from. Adobe are allowed app badges, but many are not. Those who can send me notifications are under review. If an app abuses the permissions I’ve allowed it, I just remove them.

Very few notifications I was was seeing were something I couldn’t do without. Monitoring of banking and web services are possibly the only exception.

Initially it was a strange calm. Now it feels like a pleasing silence.