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Writing Challenge Day 9: I Didn't Think I'd Ever Need... to Plan Properly

MVP

I’ve never been very good at planning. I’ve gotten through life on a wing and a prayer. A little luck and a fair amount of determination.

 

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This year, things changed.

Suddenly everything we enjoyed and took for granted was gone.

There was part of me that felt a little annoyed my freedom had been curtailed. The annoyance was surpassed by the community spirit instilled in us all to protect those we loved.

Then, there was another part of me that secretly thought lockdowns could be interesting for an introverted, studious, pod-dweller like myself.

It became clear to me there were benefits to lockdowns:

  • No more commuting. (I dislike driving as I was involved in a road traffic accident in January of this year and so I was glad to be off the roads for a while.)
  • No more fuel costs.
  • I had time to plan, to learn, to automate.
  • No more annoying shopping trips.
  • No boss peering over my shoulder.
  • I could spend more time with my children and my wife.
  • I could sit in my garden pod and plan whatever I wanted to achieve. I had time. I had space. I was extremely lucky.
  • Food whenever I wanted it.
  • Endless coffee.

Most importantly, I could buy whatever technology I wanted and learn about it (as long as it was for business of course).

 

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The planning started.

I started by researching and planning to buy myself a new display.
I researched about a hundred displays looking for that sweet spot where performance meets resolution.
I settled upon thirty-eight inches of 144Hz OLED ultra-wide 3840 x 1600 screen real estate. It had a whirly LED color wheel on the back too.
I planned to upgrade the memory in my laptop from 16GB to 32GB DDR4.
I bought an Android drawing tablet to create some art and to take notes during meetings at work.
I took a long time to decide which specification I wanted for a new tablet, as I specifically didn’t want a fruit-related technology product. I found a suitable device with attached stylus that fulfilled my requirements.
I had the best tech to serve my customers and I had everything I needed to be the most efficient I could be. I learned to utilize Microsoft Teams properly. I used the planner to plan my time.
I organized my passwords effectively. I used a free password manager.
My planning came in handy when toilet rolls started flying off the shelves this year.

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  • Pasta was popular. Almost impossible to get hold of.
  • Self-rising flour all sold out. Everyone was baking.
  • Supermarkets started to ration customers. Marshals were appointed to control consumption and greediness.

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I wrote down everything I needed and visited small shops and local farm shops to get the things I needed rather than going to the supermarkets.

 

 

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A change of routine.

Without the normal fun things I enjoyed and the social aspects of life I couldn’t do. I discovered other fun things to do:

  • Spent time with the family (something commuting four hours a day ruined before the pandemic).
  • I baked. Small loaves, large loaves. Practical bakery.
  • I walked more.
  • I fixed up my bicycle and went for a cycle.
  • I followed the news, like we all did. I followed the data and the graphs that came out daily. I became a little obsessive.
  • I played far too many games. I’m terrible at most of them.
  • I tinkered with WordPress websites.
  • I picked up a bit of AWS knowledge—mainly how to host using Lightsail. It’s very easy.
  • I studied the intricacies of internet scam artists via a plethora of YouTube channels. It’s one of my favorite pastimes watching the scammers get reverse scammed.

My main client told me I was classed as an essential key worker. What did this mean?

It meant I could travel around the country when required to do so for my work. I filed this letter away, not wishing to acknowledge its existence.

Working every day has been hard but I’ve been grateful for the distraction. It’s kept me from worrying too much.

Occasionally I’ve ended up disappearing down the odd rabbit hole.

While sitting in a project management meeting, I thought I’d run “planning for the worst” through a well-known search engine. Don’t do this.

I spent a while on YouTube watching “preppers” and forest dwellers who had “bugged out” from society. I realized I should’ve stocked up a little better and I should’ve bought myself some proper survival gear in case this situation got worse.

I luckily already had a biofuel heater and a supply of bioethanol fuel. If the power was cut off, at least my family would be warm.

I had copious supplies of dried noodle pots and 48 cans of Dr. Pepper.

 

 

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Are we there yet?

So, it’s been what feels like forever and things have got better.

Two lockdowns down and probably more to come. I don’t bother paying attention to the epidemiological data anymore and I’m concentrating on NetFlow and dashboards. I find it’s healthier.

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I plan my days using Kanbans and my effectiveness is measured based upon how many Dr. Peppers I’ve consumed and the jobs I complete. I keep a lot of notes every day, a notepad and OneNote filled with my own personal event log, times, people, and the odd bit of critical information.

We have a team meeting every day to organize our other meetings and to prioritize and prepare for the day.

We always run through:

  • Defect testing
  • Requests for change
  • Incidents
  • Root cause analysis
  • Project updates, planned engineering work, and methods of procedure

With each passing day, I wonder why I ever went into the office?

Working from home is much easier and I’m much more effective. I work with a large company and many of its staff are based around the U.K., so being in a geographically remote office isn’t efficient or useful.

I’m hopeful about the future and I plan a little more each day. I realize how lucky I am, and I take nothing for granted now. It’s fantastic to work with some great people, who really understand the timescales we’re working towards and fundamentally the direction in which we’re going with our projects.

It feels like nothing can stop us… almost nothing.

I know each of us has our own methods of planning to help us get through each day. Whatever you do and however you do it, focus on the important things and enjoy life.

Have a great Xmas!

17 Comments
Level 14

@acmtix  I've played the yoyo game in and then out of the office. right now after 5-6 in I am enjoying being out for almost two weeks. You clearly outline all the great benefits of WFH. I am more efficient at home, the peace and quiet (benefit of grown kids) and the ability to take a quick walk or just step outside for 5 minutes, or the best, sitting outside working in the summer... 

As humans we adapt to our surroundings... All in all, just like you, I've adapted well.

Thank you @acmtix great read.

For me I took a new role with in the organization in January, so a lot for me changed.   I was already working from home when things went weird.   For me I really didn't know what all went in to Managing a program to the extent i am now.   I had worked previously in small arms of the business more focused.  I was the Director of IT for a company owned by the parent.   Now I manage strategic programs and often find my skills which i worked 24 years to hone and make better, change from a jack of all trades to a need to me a master at something.   I now spend more time planning, what i feel i limbo as there is little I ever do with the actual execution.   I have been a leader for years but very hands on with my teams.  Not being able to jump in and do what I see needs done kills me.   My role however isn't the be the best IT person in my area, but more some provide the vision to those who can deliver the quality and user experience I can not.  

I never knew how much I worked on an island at times, I fully believe i compartmentalized myself.   Now I am forced to bring teams, departments, leaders, and even companies together and managed resources, time, talent, and technology.   To say I was prepared for how I would have to approach it is a lie.   I was not.   I have had to learn a great deal about project management, more than I ever did in the past.   I have had to learn and read more this year than any previous.   Learning has become harder being isolated from the companies as well since you can not as easily build in the real world when you do not have the real work in your house.  By that I mean when you are working on something specific for work, in a Lab, Plant, office, you have that tech already there, and many test environments.   I work in heavy manufacturing and mining.   this is not as simple as sitting in a dark room and building some A.I. or simulating in a program, you have to put on the steel toe boots, hard hats and PPE and get to work.  I never thought I would admit it but I miss the plants, the dirt, grime, and need to wash the car after every third day to the residue of the plant sitting on it.  

2020 taught me I was not prepared for what came next.   I had my Diet Dr Pepper, Water, TP and more in ample supply, but I found my arrogance and full lack of knowledge in strategic planning was sorely lacking.  I have had to maneuver myself throughout the year to ensure I am not only getting on the right track personally and professionally, getting the programs on track, but also trying to contribute to the organization I have called home for the last 8 years in new ways.

But I always say, if it was easy it wouldn't be fun... 

MVP
MVP

Nice write up @acmtix 

I have never planned anything in my life for myself, for me most things are on the fly (be it my carrier/shopping/playing/going out etc....).

When ever i did try to plan i have messed it up (specifically for myself), i always take things the way it comes.

But when it comes to my family i always do plan and sometimes it gets onto my nerves, i always double check if everything is sorted, if everything is calculated, i don't take risks especially when it comes to my kid or wife. I always make sure every single thing is in place and there are no surprises mid way and this definitely takes a toll on me (anxiety issues 😞 )

As i said before i never plan anything for myself and maybe that's the reason why i overthink and want everything to be perfect when it comes to my family. Same is the case when it comes to my work, i always double check on things the client is asking for and try to make sure that i don't mess up anywhere and deliver things on time as expected.

MVP
MVP

@gfsutherland  I think we are adaptable folk. Like the A-TEAM. If you know where to find us...

@jeremymayfield I know exactly what you mean about being unprepared. Who could be prepared, for what we have all been through? I think as monitoring people we do tend to work alone, i'm finding it really weird at the moment because i'm working with four other excellent guys in my team and they all know stuff about monitoring that I don't so its been really good for me. I'll probably never get this experience again.

I'm jealous of your mining work... Its fun wearing PPE and boots. One of my last customers had sites where I had to get kitted out like this too. I armed myself with a spade, looking for fibre cables in the woods.

@vinay.by its so hard to please everyone. That family / work life balance is tricky to maintain. We occasionally have calls till 10.30pm at night as all IT people will understand. I understand the anxiety. I think i've combatted my anxiety by listening to loud music and playing with the children whenever I get chance. I hope your customers are nice to you, this always helps with anxiety if you have friendly sensible customers.

Level 13

I sense a trend here 😊.

At work, I have been part of planning many things and am quite organized. Outside of work, ummmm not so much... much to my kid's chagrin. I try, though. This year has required a little more planning in my personal life.

I share my son with his dad and his family. The events of this year caused us to come up with a LOT of contingency plans regarding the kids. We have a plan for as many things as we could think of regarding pandemic possibilities. While this could be disheartening, it actually makes me feel so much better knowing we all are on the same page if/when something happens. 

Outside of that, we have had more planned get togethers with extended family over virtual meetings than we probably would have seen in person. I happen to be the administrator for a couple of those meetings and have had to help mom over text troubleshoot on multiple occasions. 😂

Hopefully any planning y'all do makes you feel better, too. Happy planning!

Level 10

Lockdown was odd for my family. Fortunately, we live in a house with a large yard and pool to keep the kids from going crazy. We saw the grocery shortages, but never ran out of anything important. We did have to plan better and I spent several shopping trips going store to store to find supplies. I think this whole situation did teach us to plan a bit better and we now have a list every time we go out. Other than that, things didn't change too much.

Level 11

The food situation got scary for awhile. My boy has a bunch of food allergies and his choices are limited. Once the regular everyday food was used up people started going to the specialty food and we had no options. It is completely understood and I wasn't mad just more shocked. Maybe people found a new product that they enjoyed through all this, tried some new things. This whole process has a domino affect that we still have not seen the end to.

MVP
MVP

@EBeach being a vegetarian myself and having a newborn baby boy was fairly interesting, as the stores all ran out of baby milk briefly, people were buying it to put on their cereal and because it's powdered they could keep it for a long time in the cupboard. It tastes terrible though so I've no idea why they would want to... I know a few of the techies that work at a leading supermarket brand in the UK and they were taken aback at how quickly stocks depleted. It forced me to make new connections and explore other options to get the things we needed. It was kind of fun... In a weird, "providing for my family" kind of way. 

That was an excellent write-up; thank you for it!  Sobering, entertaining, and practical.

I, too, have created a variety of detailed plans for work, including D.R., automation of equipment setup/configuration, and specific necessary processes that are infrequently required--just so my team didn't lose the skill set to do that one critical thing every year or two if they weren't primary SME for it.

At home it's more casual for many things, most not requiring documentation.  Years ago I created checklists for successful canoe camping trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, which were copied & modified for boat / island camping trips to Voyageur's National Park.  This past summer I did a lot of Googling & Youtube watching of RV checklists, to ensure that our new pickup-and-5th-wheel-camper was ready for the road, ready to sleep in, had good heating & air conditioning, safe water to drink, no leaks, no bugs, no mice, and all the things we'd need to travel--safely! 

There's a lot to learn & remember out in the big world, no matter whether for work or pleasure.  Plan your work, then work your plan.  And modify both to do better next time!

Nice write-up.

I started having a fascination with business continuity immediately after 9/11. It became a life choice for me and my wife after my daughter was born with special needs. It became a part of my career a couple of years after that. My family is used to lockdown, isolation and preparation. We were able to transition well and have survived. However, the mental toll it is taking on my kids is killing me. No amount of Netflix, Switch, or Facetiming friends can make up for it.

Level 11

Nice article!  Who would have thought that a toilet paper panic would make lines to get into Costco wrap around the building?  We've experienced so many, but I wonder what other weird things will we see and go through before this is all over?

 

MVP
MVP

It certainly looks like you have adapted to the home working model well and have sown the benefits of such into you new lifestyle. It is hard when you realise the 'off to work' solution was having such a big impact on your life, commuting is a lifestyle for many people, but one which comes at a cost.

Great write up - thanks

I am not bad with planning, I suck at time management. I try hard not to be late for things, but I get so into a flow that I am unware how much time has past. My wife will vouch that this has been an issue at least the 30+ years she has known me. She can wake up from a nap and know what time it is without looking. Me I am lucky if I can remember if it is morning or afternoon and I am awake all day!

I make it to the theatre on time and don't miss flights, but that is because I would rather be 30+ minutes early. If I had to schedule it to arrive just in time, that isn't going to end well. I think this is from growing up in the Northeast, particularly northern NJ by NYC. If you did plan on 2 hours to go 20 miles, you were going to be late or miss the event completely. Big traffic teaches you patience and that so much is out of your control.

So work from home cause me tremendous stress because that interwoven work-life lived experience was all over the place. I won't go into all the family things that have happened since March but oh boy. Of course there was the take the entire company to remote work, when in maybe had been 10% to 15% before. That was fun. I ended up buy a device from timeular. It gives me the physical item to manipulate to track my time and what a difference it makes. I get an up to the minute idea of how I am spending my time. SO when the wife comes in and wants to talk about X, I get upset. I just flip it over to the personal side and I am good. 

TimeularTimeular

 

Level 11

My wife is a bit of a hoarder, she likes to say a prepper 😉  So I rarely plan anything in the house, as it would normally be contrary to what she had planned or wanted.

Work wise, I always plan, but I often find that even the best laid plans can fall apart.  I find being flexible, and having fluidity helps.  Goes nicely with a can do attitude I guess.  But i've always said that you don't earn the £ when things go well.  You earn it when things go upside down and back to front.

Level 18

Remembering the prompt for today is "I never thought I'd need..." and then we can all fill in the blank, I'd finish that sentence with
"...to turn things off for my own health."

I've never been one who was "threatened" by information. I may not have liked a particular piece of news, or a program, or book. But over the last several months I have found myself deciding - with greater frequency - "I don't need that in my brain right now."

While the reasons for that are both obvious and also unfortunate, I think the habit will serve me in years to come. Like actual food, it's not healthy to consume every bit of information that comes across our digital table (certainly now in the age of algorithm-directed social media).

There's a reason firewalls begin with the implicit rule "deny all". I think a little more of that would help, rather than hinder my growth.

MVP
MVP

The lockdowns have been a little different for me.  I work on some networks that aren't connected to the outside world.  You can probably guess what this means?

I don't work from home although our users went from less than 10% to 70% working from home.  I haven't missed a single day of work since SARS-CoV-2 hit.  I've probably said before in the beginning I had a letter to carry in my car in case I got stopped saying I'm ok to be out driving due to being an "essential employee" in the industrial base.  For a couple weeks here in Phoenix is was that bad.  When I was out driving there was almost no one on the road or freeways... it was weird.

I'm ready for it to be over now bring on the vaccines... I'm ready.

Bill

MVP
MVP

@adatole wise words, thanks Leon. I know exactly what you mean. 

Thankyou everyone.

About the Author
Solarwinds consultancy working within the NHS for emergency services, the nuclear industry, space agencies, covert operations, cryptocurrency companies and for a large Insurance software provider. Based solely in the UK in an underground bunker somewhere.