Towards the end of July I realised that my daily practice of writing ‘Today I’m grateful for’ was becoming a chore not a delight. I was writing just a few simple words for each thing. This seemed to defeat the whole point. So I had a rethink.
For my birthday a friend bought me a beautiful creamer jug. It had sat in its box for a couple of months while I decided what to do with it. I could use it as an actual jug, but I felt that it wouldn’t see the light of day that often, and that seemed a shame for something so pretty.
I’d read of the concept of a gratitude jar many months before but hadn’t thought it would work for me and, at that time, I was happy with my gratitude practice. But, armed with my pretty jug, some brown paper cut from a notebook, and an ink pad and stamp I decided to give it a try. (I used the stamp and ink pad to prettify the outside of the first notes I wrote)
The size of the notes encourages me to write a few sentences, rather than a few words, which, in turn, encourages me to write more descriptive text. The fact that they sit on the bookshelf in our spare room, the room in which I spend a lot of my research time, allows me to easily pick one out and revisit it whenever I want or need. This is something I never did when they were hidden in my notebooks, and they probably wouldn’t have enough depth to them to give me that pathway back in the memory either.
Last week I emptied them all out in front of me, and then randomly picked them out, read them, refolded them and put them back in the jug. I’d written more of them than I remembered writing, and they took me back to places that weren’t at the front of my memory. They left me feeling full of emotion, and with a wide smile on my face.
As with all things like this, it’s a work in progress. While it works for me I’ll continue doing it. When it doesn’t, I’ll shake it up and change it around. For now, though, it feels like a beautiful use for a beautiful jug. And for that, I’m very grateful.
As I’m happily working two days a week with eConsult at the moment, I’ve got some spare time to do some voluntary work. As is probably true for many of us my voluntary work to date has been a little every now and again - I write letters for the Silver Line, and for From Me To You - but I haven’t done much other volunteering that wasn’t just about fundraising. At about the time I started my testing role I saw an advert from the Martlets asking for volunteers to help visitors find the snails, keep the snails looking at their best, helping people with the app, and generally being an ambassador. It was a project that fitted in with my contract time, my love of Brighton, and sculptures, and the message of #BeMoreSnail resonated with me. So I applied and was accepted.
I’m now about a month in. And so far I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I’ve helped get the junior snails ready for their launch event, I’ve done one Route Master shift (my second is on Friday before I then revisit the snails as part of the Sponsored Snailway Safari - my poor legs!), and I’ve stood at the front of a crowd to welcome Harry and Meghan on their Royal visit to Brighton (this was a strange, but good, experience. Ask me about it sometime!). It’s great to see this wonderful city get behind a lovely local charity, and I’m loving playing a little part from it.
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.