RSI notes

In early 2023 I started to get pain in my left shoulder. I took painkillers and carried on working, and although the painkillers helped a bit, the pain didn’t go away. Instead, it got worse.

After a few weeks it got to the point where I couldn’t get through a day without taking painkillers. I couldn’t type for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t really work.

I saw a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, an osteopath and finally a chiropractor. The chiropractor made the biggest difference, and eventually got me back to health.

Before the pain started, I thought I was doing pretty well with my work arrangements. I already used a sit-stand desk to vary my position; I used an expensive ergonomic chair; I regularly switched my mouse between left and right hands. But those things weren’t enough. I was sitting too still, for too long, too often. Typing was too painful. Driving was affected too.

I’ve now made a few changes:

I also took a holiday, and just Didn’t Work Or Drive for almost a week. That helped a lot too.

It’s been months, but now I’m basically back to normal and delighted at the feeling of not-being-in-constant-pain.

Putting these notes here for the next person who gets this. If that’s you, my advice is to try and do the things I did later, earlier. If possible, stop working for a while. If possible, see a chiropractor. If possible, start doing some exercise - swimming is particularly effective for shoulders and arms.

OK, lecture over. Back to your typing.

Lovely Llyn

An artistic shot of a beach, from a high angle. Golden sand and deep blue water form curved shapes. A single person and a dog are centre-frame, tiny against the landscape
Pub on the beach
View of Criccieth from the castle
Mountains in the background

Speaking at Agile in the City

A purple promo 'asset card' image about my speaking engagement, with details of when and where, and a gormless picture of me on it
Come along maybe?

I’m going to be doing the opening keynote at Agile in the City Bristol & Bath this year. It’s happening in Bath at the end of June, and you can buy tickets now if you want to. (Use promo code 15Giles for a small discount.)

For a change, I won’t be talking explicitly about working in the open or agile comms, but instead on a tangential topic that’s been niggling at the edges of my brain for a little while now: how teams remember.

I want to help people think about the benefits of memory, and about the organisational practicalities of making it happen.

More on this as I think it…

Slide inertia

Screenshot of an empty GDS slide in Keynote: a grey box with a blue title bar at the bottom. "GDS" in white text in the bottom right corner. And a set of coloured rectangles off to one side.
Brings back a few memories, this does

This is something I’ve noticed, over the years: slides in presentations have inertia. They stick around.

The GDS slide template was famously minimal, but for years, it included this set of coloured rectangles on the right side of every slide.

They were alternative coloured bars, the same size and shape as the blue one at the bottom of every slide. I don’t know who first created them, and put them off to one side in case they came in useful; I do know that those coloured bars got duplicated and duplicated thousands of times. Never used, to my knowledge.

But also: never deleted. Never removed from the organisational brain. Every time someone created a new presentation, there they were.

I’d love to know if they’re still there. I wouldn’t be surprised.

That’s slide inertia right there

Think of the best slides you’ve ever written. You re-use them all the time, right? Of course you do. Everyone does. I’ve got plenty of those.

Everyone’s busy - which I might have mentioned in the past - which means everyone does the obvious thing when they start writing a new presentation: they make a copy of the last one, and edit that.

This is where slide inertia comes from.

Thing is, it’s not confined to just the best slides, or just the most useful slides. Entire presentations get re-used this way, and therefore the inertia applies to all the slides. It’s simply so much easier to read through your newly created duplicate, make a few small tweaks to suit the audience or the occasion, and mutter to yourself: “That’ll do.”

I’m not even moaning about that. It’s true. Most of the time, it’s fine. It will do.

And so the inertia builds.

Your brain grows accustomed to the slides you’re re-using. You know how to time your presentation delivery; you know when to click to move on. You know where the punchlines to the gags work best. You’ve been performing this show for years now. No-one can blame you for sticking to what you know.

Overcome slide inertia by assuming that it’s happening

As the inertia builds, things start to remain in your presentations that maybe shouldn’t remain there.

They might be small or trivial things - they might be different coloured bars to put at the bottom, that cause no harm because they lurk unnoticed in the background. Or, they might be big things: assumptions, dates, numbers, facts, statements of vision or intent, whatever. Things that might not necessarily be wrong, but might very easily be stale.

In my experience, the best way to deal with slide inertia is just to acknowledge and assume that it’s probably happening. Keep it in mind, and try to be a harsher editor of any slides, or whole presentations, that you’ve re-used out of habit.

A more proactive technique is to re-write your presentation from scratch, probably as a set of bullet points, like you’d write any new bad first draft. Focus on that task first, get some feedback, make some edits, until you’re confident that the bullet list reflects what the presentation should actually say.

And only then grab your last presentation and duplicate it. See just how many of those old slides really line up with what needs to be said. Ditch a few, remake some of the older, staler ones.

I don’t think you can avoid slide inertia, particularly in large organisations. But you can at least keep on top of it.

First drafts are good for clichés

A yellow tiled wall, with a yellow warning sign peeling off it. The sign says: Caution - very hot water

A writer shared a bad first draft with me recently, and asked me for the usual early feedback.

“Apologies for all the clichĂ©s,” he said. “I hate using them, but I couldn’t think of another way of saying what I wanted to say.”

Most people use clichĂ©s without even noticing, so this writer was already doing better than most. ClichĂ©s are hard to spot, and have fuzzy edges - who’s to say what’s a clichĂ© and what’s just a snappy turn of phrase? Is “snappy turn of phrase” a clichĂ©? See what I mean? ClichĂ©s are slippery buggers.

But, I think they’re actually quite useful, particularly in early drafts. I often encourage writers, particularly writers who are trying to think things through using words, to make use of clichĂ©s if it helps.

That’s because clichĂ©s are clear: everyone knows what they mean, despite them being over-used. Because they’re over-used.

If you’re in that position, and using a clichĂ© or two helps you get meaning out of your head and on the page, then fine. Use clichĂ©s to start with, and don’t worry about them. We’ll both know what you’re getting at early on in the process.

And remember, there’s always a process. There’s always time for us to do some back-and-forth re-writing between writer and editor. That’s when we pay more attention to those clichĂ©s, and see if we can find better, non-clichĂ©d ways of expressing the same sentiments.