Back in March, I realised that if I didn’t earn some money I might have to find a ‘proper’ job before the end of the year. And that didn’t feel like a good option for me then. Especially after I’d briefly considered a (mostly) full-time job that sounded interesting on the run-up to Easter. My burnout was, and indeed still is, in a recovery phase. I’m doing better month by month but it is still a reality around which I have to plan.
So, I decided to look at (what I came to call) Microworking opportunities. These are little projects I could pick up from home and do when I felt like it. I started off with things like Clickworker and some retail survey sites but rapidly realised that a lot of them pay in points rather than cash and that filling in surveys didn’t feel good - it felt like I was selling my opinion. Neither of these sites provided tasks that felt like they contributed to my overall purpose of kindness.
I moved on to sites which, mostly, are related to research-based surveys - Prolific and, later, Testable Minds. Both of these are often questionnaires, or tasks, being done to assist with academic research. These tasks are usually quite short, don’t bring in a lot of money, but feel like they’re contributing a little to the greater good. I’m still actively picking up tasks for both of these sites as and when they are available when I am.
The next thing I tried was being a user on crowdsourced user testing platforms. That means doing web-based usability studies for various sites. I’ve done quite a lot of work with different providers over the past few months and have found it ultimately pretty interesting. I’ve learned a lot about how different organisations plan their user testing, and also about how different kind of sites affect me in different ways - online gambling made me nervous, online shopping is well within my comfort zone. Having signed up with Freeagent to keep a track of what money was coming in from where I know that I’ve had the most user tests from UserTesting, followed by WhatUsersDo and have done the odd test here and there for quite a few other providers. UsabilityHub deserves a special mention as it provides tiny tests, and pays cents for doing them, but has been interesting to me to realise that I’ve had to say I prefer design A over design B because I liked the colour better. I realised that I’m just as subjective as everyone else. And that felt like a good lesson to learn. I’d recommend every team signs up and contributes to see what they uncover about themselves. I’m still actively participating in these as I enjoy them, it feels like I’m helping society in a small way, and I learn about myself doing them.
I then moved on to ‘proper’ testing. QA. Bug testing. Whatever you wish to call it. Effectively I’m testing sites and apps to identify flaws. And I’ve discovered an aptitude for this. My curiosity and my pedantry/attention to detail are both great assets in this work. I’ve ended up doing testing work in my two previous jobs, but it has always been ‘just another thing’, or I’ve been a temporary solution while we found a ‘proper QA’ rather than something I should focus on, and invest time in to improve. So this has been fun. And this feels, again, like I’m living my kindness purpose by pointing out areas that don’t work as well as they could. The three sites I’ve had my best experiences with are uTest, We are Testers, and Bugfinders. All three need a bit of an investment to learn the platforms, and processes, but once up-to-speed there are many projects to get involved with.
This ‘proper’ testing, and a chance conversation with my friend Alex about what I’d been doing in the previous few months, led me to meet Steve at eConsult to talk about doing a research piece for them. I left that meeting agreeing to go in for three or four days per sprint to start the QA processes off at eConsult. I started that a month ago, and I’m enjoying it so far. It gives me a reliable schedule to work with, and there’s a whole new domain to learn about, as well as a broad remit of where I can get involved. And it turns out that having that stability in my week means that I can pick up odds and ends of other projects around my scheduled days and that I can give myself Friday off as a mini dose of Deliberate Downtime. And again, that feels good and in keeping with my wish to be kind to myself and continued recovery from burnout.
All is well at the moment. And that deserves to be celebrated.
You may recall that back in March my Mum got a letter from Lloyds advising her that it was Time to get back online. Given that she’s been dead for three years, I was somewhat concerned, and shocked, to receive such a communication. So I wrote a letter to Barry Jones, the Director of Digital Operations, expressing my concerns. I didn’t hear anything. So, after more than a month, I emailed a copy of my letter to Customer Services. About a week after that I got a phone call apologising and explaining that Mum’s internet banking account hadn’t been removed at the same time that her accounts were closed. Fair enough I thought. I’d got an answer. They’d reassured me that policies had been changed and it couldn’t happen to anyone else. They said they’d confirm this in writing.
A few days later I received a letter telling me that they’d upheld my complaint. Good, I thought. But, in the same postal delivery, there was a letter address to my Mum from Lloyds bank. It told her that
“We’ve cancelled the Text Alerts you registered for. This could be because you asked us to stop your Text Alerts, or your texts were continually failing to get through”
You couldn’t make it up. Or rather, if I saw this in a play, or a novel, or a film, I’d think it was too far-fetched, and this kind of thing just wouldn’t happen. Turns out it does!
From Me to You, radio interviews and my christening or How I came to be on two local Radio stations in a week
From Me To You’s Alison Hitchcock and Brian Greenley didn’t know each other well. But when Brian was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Alison offered to write him letters. 100 letters later, their lives were changed.
I didn’t think much more about it, but I liked the idea that From Me To You existed and were encouraging people to write letters both to friends with cancer, but also to people they didn’t know.
A few weeks later I was walking through my local library, and I saw a poster advertising a letter writing event for the very same charity. As I was on deliberate downtime week 5, I had nothing to stop me going along and joining in. So I did. At the time I wrote
On Thursday I spent a really pleasant half an hour or so with the people from From Me To You who were having a letter writing day in Jubilee Library. I’d heard about them on the Allusionist podcast a few weeks ago and then spotted a poster. So I thought I’d go along. My Silver Line letter friend is having a break for a few weeks so I thought I’d write a letter to an unknown person having cancer treatment instead. It’s an interesting thing to write a note to an unknown person, knowing that it’s a one-way exchange, that you’ll never hear back from them and so you can’t ask questions. All you can do is try and write something that is uplifting and that I feel would brighten my day a little if it were me. It reminded me a little of writing postcards to Mum. They weren’t an exchange, a conversation, either they were about giving her something to look at, to hold, and to give her some company when someone read it to her. The letter writing was an uplifting experience. And Alison and Brian were lovely people.
Since then I’ve written a few more letters and caught up with Brian and Alison at the library again, and, more recently, at WordStock Brighton. I still like what they’re doing, and try and help spread the word, and write some words for them from time to time.
This past week BBC Sussex’s show Afternoon with Allison Fernes featured From Me To You as part of Volunteers’ week. As part of this they asked some of the letter writers, and a letter recipient, to be interviewed on the show. So, on Tuesday, that’s what I did.
I turned up to the studio in plenty of time and sat in the reception thinking through all the reasons why I write letters, as that is what the interview was mainly going to be about, and it seemed an excellent way to keep my nerves at bay. I write letters because I hope that receiving one at a time when you’re not at your best raises your spirits. I write because it feels like a reasonably easy way to show support for somebody. I write because it reminds me to be grateful and appreciative of my life. I write because it gives me an excuse to buy nice stationery. I write because it makes me feel good to do so. The producer, Ollie, came out to collect me and gave me a quick run-through of what was going to happen. I made an offhand comment that I hadn’t been on local radio since I was six months old. Which led to me telling him that my Christening was broadcast live on BBC Radio Humberside. As he showed me into the studio, he mentioned this to Allison. And that is where the interview started from (it starts at 2 hours 40 minutes). It was an interesting experience, and I’m pleased with how I came across.
When it was done, and I left the studio, I stopped to collect my stuff. Ollie said that while I was talking to Allison, he’d called Radio Humberside to tell them of my link to them. They were keen for me to give them a call and tell them how this had all come about. So I did.
Thursday afternoon found me back at the BBC Sussex studios, this time in one of the remote suites downstairs ready to speak to Andy Comfort at BBC Radio Humberside. The kit was pretty low tech but functional. The lady who showed me in said that when the red and green lights on the grey unit lit up, I should put the headphones on and get ready. So I sat and stared and waited. And then they lit up. I put the headphones on. I heard a song, and a member of the ops team spoke to me and said that Andy would be coming to me as soon as the song was over, and that was all the preparation I had. My heart was beating pretty rapidly - I’m not sure that wearing my Fitbit with a built-in heart-rate checker was my wisest idea as I had proof that my heart was racing! I had a set of notes about From Me To You laid out next to me as from my perspective that was the reason I was doing this - to spread the word about them. It wasn’t about me and my Christening. Only that’s exactly what it was. It’s funny, but I’ve never really thought much about the fact that I have a recording of my Christening, and how rare that is. It is just how it is. But I guess, in retrospect, it must have felt like a great opportunity to Radio Humberside. If you want to hear the interview - it is here. As with Tuesday’s, I’m reasonably pleased with how I came across, even if I remain a bit bemused by the unexpected second radio appearance of the week, and the third of my life. I’m now going back into radio retirement for the time being!