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 fresh start

In the first quarter of 2018 I stepped back from the comfort of my full time role at a medium sized software development agency to take on a new challenge.

The proverb ‘A change is as good as a rest‘ is one I’ve quoted regularly to colleagues, friends and family during my career in the tech industry, and once again it proves itself to be true.

As 2018 draws to a close and 2019 is almost upon us, I’m looking to continue building new relationships which allow focus on my strengths supporting development teams with productivity and well-being. Especially those struggling to sell or deliver agile projects, or suffering with capacity issues and challenged by the onboarding process of juniors or inexperienced new starters.

Although now more broadly experienced, my history started with freelance development shortly before the millennium, and software—web and mobile and cloud—have been regular focuses of my time ever since.

In recent years I’ve been a teacher of web best practice, Scrum Product Owner, line manager and mentor to those in development teams, and this ability to see projects and priorities from both the business and delivery angles, while supporting the actual nuts and bolts development work, puts me in a bit of a niche position when it comes to helping teams be great.

What I’m looking for in 2019:

I’m now looking to spend more time focusing on the following areas and would love to hear from you if you’re looking for support personally, with your business or to help your team be happier, better and more productive:

  • Improving agile teams – Working with development teams and their managers to implement or improve agile processes. This includes the client facing aspects, the estimation struggle, the software itself, building velocity and ultimately helping the team enjoy the challenge of creating more value in the same amount of time.
  • Getting immediate value from new starters – Mentoring juniors and inexperienced new starters using pair coding, code review and coaching to build their confidence, autonomy and consistency, as part of a larger team. This allows an immediate growth in development capacity from the early days of a new hire.
  • Consultancy – Advising on and implementing process and technology strategy. Making people the best they can be through management and developer coaching and mentoring. Creating better outcomes with product management, agile and business process support.
  • Speaking – Taking a spot on diverse tech panels. Speaking to groups about small business advice, the technology landscape, diversity & inclusion challenges, developer wellness and development topics.
  • Product and service design – Helping ensure that when you have an idea or a client requirement, your first steps aren’t in the wrong direction.
  • Non-exec / board chair roles – Offering regular support to your board have better meetings, make data based business decisions and accountability for actions.

If you’d like to get in touch, you can find me on LinkedIn or Twitter.


If you’d like to know the full story, check out my review of 2018