New job!

I’m joining IF.

Earlier this year I left GDS to try out a bunch of different things. In the last month, my jobs at IF have touched on transparent organisation design, R&D for consumer advocacy groups, describing governance models for automated decision making, plus writing talks for new people. Later today I’ll be standing out in the cold with a prototype to learn about things I can’t see. Different things = ✓

As I’ve said before, the team’s great. I’ve already been snapped typing with my headphones on in the middle of a corridor (I think about four colleagues at GDS took that picture at different points) which is a very good sign.

I’m properly excited.



Clever people, stacked

I spent a bit of the day watching for the oral evidence on the Digital Economy Bill. Exciting, right?

These things are (can be?) interesting. A completely alien format to most people, these committees are how law gets unpacked in the UK. And mostly they look like this…


…a bit like a court case.

I was mostly tuning in to watch Sarah from IF, but I dipped in and out of a few sessions, including one featuring Jeni Tennison from the ODI and my old boss Mike Bracken.

All of them made me feel differently stupid. There’s a lucidity to a clarity to their arguments that makes me think ‘Oh, man, that’s obvious. Why didn’t I see that?’

I forget, when I watch, that the things they tell the MPs on the panel are the results of chats and work and arguments and a bunch of reading. That there’s rigour in this stuff. That each of them are the eloquent endpoints of a stack of reckons.

(Then, after Sarah’s session, a little snippet of audio picked up by the mic…)

A month by the river

Recovering from a heavy cold and an excellent holiday. The northern lights are insane, and Iceland is full of lovely people.


Doesn’t Ste look creepy in that photo?


I joined IF part time last month and it’s been great. Three projects – two we’ll be talking about soon, one building on the work I did for them earlier this year – each very different and asking new things of me.

On top of that I wrote a speech and started work for two new clients. That’s probably about my limit as far as context-shifting goes (six chunks of my brain spinning roughly in tandem) and it’s been good to see that and not add another job to my plate.

Some of that’s about taking time out. Holidays, and little moments.


It’s nice being back by the river. I moved to London twelve years ago and spent every day walking back and forth across Waterloo Bridge, from halls to seminars or work, and it’s nice having the Thames in the rhythm of a day again.


(If I’ really thought about it, I’d have nabbed a screenshot, but…) I’ve just finished a quick session of No Man’s Sky, a game I’ve been playing a few hours a week since release. This last session involved finding a broken ship and repairing it, a knotty exercise in resource management and pointing a gun at stuff.

I had a pretty chill time, and by the end I’d sort of achieved something and sort of hadn’t. But the feeling I’m left with is not quite like being satisfied and not quite like being bored.

Using other feelings to try and triangulate the sensation doesn’t really get me anywhere. Like, it’s not ambivalence. It’s not irritation. It’s not delight. I don’t feel like I won or lost anything, and I haven’t come away with any residual sense of novelty or wonder.

At the same time, it is a little bit like feeling all of those things.

I don’t think I have a word for the feeling I’ve got, and that’s remarkable because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s happened a few times playing this game though, which makes me wonder if it’s something people who play things like Sunless Sea or Eve get used to. Those hours where the goal or mission gets suspended for a while, and you just exist somewhere that isn’t a place.


A month of summer

You know, not much to update. August has been relatively quiet. The few bits of speechwriting and talks I’ve been doing have gone slowly as people go on holiday or spend time with family. The same’s been true of most of the bits of copywriting and spec work. A lot of people warned me about that: August and Christmas can be the times where the income sags a bit.

That said, I’ve been setting up work for autumn. Two new clients, really different projects for each, and a regular arrangement with IF that’ll point me at new problems. I’m excited about that.


After last month’s griping I managed a few nights and days off, including an excellent couple of nights in Knepp. Late this month I’m heading out to Iceland for a week off. Feels good!

Six months of habits

So, I started a company to do freelance copywriting and strategy development six months ago. It’s been good. But long enough has passed that I’m starting to think critically about my habits so I can make the next six months better.

I’m going to write them here to help me learn.


FreeAgent has been essential. It’s nearly good enough I could use it without an accountant, but I don’t quite have the confidence to do that just yet. Maybe in a couple of years.

I’ve been lucky with clients so far that Google Drive has been a suitable way of getting copy and documents to people. That won’t last forever, but it’s worked this far. I’m still bouncing between Google Slides and Keynote week-to-week. Slides just isn’t reliable enough to do what I need it to. It’s very close though.

I’ve been doing Ben’s One Notebook per project for the first time and that’s been extremely useful for separating chunks of thinking and drafting. I’m also running an occasional notebook because it’s too valuable not to. I still do my best thinking by writing stuff down; it’s the fastest way to find out whether I’m wrong.

Trello, Slack, Clear all useful. Daily utilities, but… not irreplaceable. Slack in particular has introduced different problems (more on that below).

Scheduling and estimates

This is interesting. I think my estimates are pretty good. A lot of that comes down to the practise I got into at GDS, and creating the rhythms I need to get stuff done in time.

But that means I’m not building in a buffer. I haven’t yet worked out if it’s better to estimate high and bill low (‘I thought it would take four days, but actually it took three and a half’). Right now I’m keeping them in line, but I should probably keep that in mind for a few future gigs.

What I’m not taking into account though is Slack. I’m not in the habit of fine tuning my availability there, which means I’ll check in on conversations and feedback outside of agreed hours.

A few options: be firmer about the hours, agree a ‘Slack tax’ with a client, or just accept that’s how this stuff goes for freelancers. After all, this is just Slack doing to me what email/mobile phones/afternoon post did for people in the recent past. I think I need to work out ‘What’s right for this job?’ a bit more clearly than I do now.


I was going to write something about goals, but that’s not quite right. Not when it comes to work. I have things I want to do, but very few of them are directly tied to my professional life. That’s been a common theme for years. Often those things have led to work, through routes weird and delightful, but that’s not often the point of doing them.

So something I’d like to do in the next six months is work out what motivates me to keep working outside of paying rent.

I know people who’d stop working in a heartbeat, if the opportunity came up, but I don’t think I’m there. I like making things. I’d like to get to a place in life where rent is cheaper, for whatever reason, and I want to feel like I’ll have the thrust to do the next thing even when I don’t have to.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to cut down on things that don’t motivate me. Restarting Small Observation was an attempt to kickstart a new daily rhythm. It didn’t manage that, and in some ways worked against new routines. So I’m stopping. Similarly, dropping in and out of sessions of Battlefront elevated my tension in downtime instead of letting me zone out, which is counterproductive. Cooking, jogging, painting… those are great and my mind wanders. I need to make time for more of that.

Get away

I’ve been away a lot in the last six months, but almost every trip has been tied to a job, a mission, or Marioke. I’m going to take a last-minute break in August to shake that up. Actual holidays, Matt: take them.



*flat. So, Ann went freelance last month too. For the last week we’ve been working side by side. New routines, a bit of adjustment, a list of things around the flat that need buying/changing to make life easier on us. It’s been pretty good!

Small Observation

I knew ahead of Ann joining me in the flat that I’d need to get better at a few routines, and restarting The Bureau of Small Observation seemed a good way of doing that. I also like writing in a different style to my freelance work.

Woods Bagot

I’ve started a longer-form bit of work for architecture firm Woods Bagot. Again, I’m basing the copywriting fairly directly off of a transcription. I found at the NHS that was an awesome way of delivering voice, tone and ideas back to a client, while still giving myself room for the restructuring, moving of thoughts and rewriting needed to make complex ideas much much simpler.

I’ve found something interesting with this one. Because it’s a much longer body of work than I usually do, I’ve been able to see patterns in thinking and content emerge from it much more clearly than is often the case. It’s an absolute gift for drafting.


Their new site is live! Lovely to be at their shindig the other week. I’ve also been helping them with blogging and pitch decks.


What else

Stayed at a barn on a nature reserve and watched an owl hunting, that was pretty cool. Painted some ghostly things. I’ll be spending a chunk of the next month going in and out of London helping look after some family, which means good train time/thinking time.