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How does James Norton make life work?

The one when Si talks to James about building trust in your teams, setting time boundaries at home and an x-ray of his daughter’s broken hand.

The one when Si talks to James about building trust in your teams, setting time boundaries at home and an x-ray of his daughter’s broken hand.

Show Notes

Automated Descript Transcription

[00:00:00] Si: Welcome back to the Make Life Work podcast with me Si Jobling, father of two full-time engineering manager and side project hustler. This is the ninth season of the podcast, which takes a slightly different direction from previous seasons, and now focuses on how people find that work-life balance, so ideally you can learn some little tips and tricks too. Nobody has pure harmony, but everyone has their own approaches that work or possibly don’t. 

[00:00:30] Si: This week, I’ve invited along my old podcasting friend. James Norton, head of engineering at Cazoo, not the famous British actor. 

[00:00:39] Si: James and I go way back through the years so know each other really well, and I’ve always respected his opinions on creating a healthy engineering culture between work and home life. The pandemic has definitely made James find a new balance though so i was keen to dive deeper and share some of his insights. 

[00:00:56] Si: Let’s get into it, how does James Norton make life work?

[00:01:01] Si: So welcome along, James. How are you doing mate

[00:01:03] James Norton: I’m pretty good. Thanks. How are you doing? Sorry.

[00:01:06] Si: for a Monday? Not too badly. How about you?

[00:01:08] James Norton: Yeah, pretty good. Pretty good. We’re a few hours into the week now. So I’m sort of over the Monday blues.

[00:01:14] Si: You’re over it busy morning though.

[00:01:16] James Norton: Busy morning, always a busy morning,

[00:01:18] Si: Always in busy morning on busy days. I’d imagine with you as well.

[00:01:21] James Norton: Always. It’s always busy, but it’s good. It’s good. It keeps me entertained. but it is, it is tough cuz there’s, uh, there’s a lot going on in life seems to have only ever get busy and never get easier.

[00:01:33] Si: Yeah, but that’s probably a good thing. Keeps us in demand. We keeps us in jobs.

[00:01:37] James Norton: I guess so I guess so I, I, I wouldn’t mind a little bit less, but,but it’s not just a job, you know, it’s everything at home as well as, you know, it’s, it’s all, it’s a lot,

[00:01:46] Si: Yeah. All the things, which I’m sure we’ll go through at some point.

[00:01:49] Si: So for the benefit of our listeners, cause I’ve known you for many, many years now, what is exactly you do? And, uh, can you tell us what, you know, how you got into it all?

[00:01:57] James Norton: I wish I knew what I did, but, um, so

[00:02:00] Si: It someone should.

[00:02:01] James Norton: my actual job is head of engineering for Cazoo. well known used car sales website, looking for a new car, go to Cazoo. I’m sure you’ve heard the adverts and, and seeing our sponsorships, et cetera.

[00:02:15] Si: have you can’t get away from the sponsorships.

[00:02:17] James Norton: exactly. So I’ve been been with Cazoo for a couple of years. I started off as a developer.

[00:02:23] James Norton: Or a coder. 

[00:02:25] Si: Back in the day.

[00:02:26] James Norton: when did the term software engineer become a thing? Cause I think like these days I’d have been called a software engineer, but I would never called myself a software engineer ever in my whole working life.

[00:02:37] Si: Nope, me neither. No

[00:02:39] I was a coder or just one of those weird geek people.

[00:02:42] Si: webmaster. That was a classic.

[00:02:43] James Norton: oh, I was never a webmaster, but I, I like to think I mastered the web, but I’m not sure I did.

[00:02:49] But, yeah, so I, I started back in like 1999, The turn of the internet when it’s sort of taken off.

[00:02:55] Yeah, yeah. it was just beginning. and I got into it then pretty much by accident. didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I dropped out of uni hated, uh, uni, which is entirely my fault, uh, picked the wrong university, wrong course, everything.

[00:03:09] James Norton: So, uh, dropped out and then. I was like, what, what am I gonna do? And, and my mom said to me, she said, if you don’t get a job, I’m gonna kick you out the house.

[00:03:18] Si: Nice. prerogative.

[00:03:19] James Norton: So I had to get a job. I really didn’t have a choice. So, so I got a random job. And then I got interested in doing a bit of web stuff, and then someone decided that they would pay me to do web stuff.

[00:03:30] James Norton: And then I got more and more into it from there. It was a bit random if I’m honest, but it was great. So, yeah. and then ended up becoming a little bit of a, I wouldn’t say an expert, but quite good at, building websites in the, uh, the early two thousands. What was that decade called the naughties?

[00:03:46] Si: naughties I’ve heard. it makes me cringe a bit.

[00:03:48] James Norton: yeah. Well, I’m not sure what to call it, but I either way that, that was like the peak of my, development capabilities came through, uh, learning JavaScript and building websites and working for various different media agencies and client side and all sorts of different things and eventually developing myself and, and, going for slightly different types of jobs than ending up where I am, which is far away from any code.

[00:04:13] James Norton: don’t know when the last time I actually saw production code for a company that was paying me, uh, was I think it was a long time ago. but yeah, so now I run a bunch of teams for 

[00:04:24] Si: Very cool. 

[00:04:25] James Norton: obviously we met when I was working for ASOS.

[00:04:29] Si: We did. And, um, I think that goes back to about 2014, maybe

[00:04:33] James Norton: 13, would you believe 2013 I think is when I

[00:04:37] Si: We’re coming to nine years this year. That’s insane.

[00:04:40] James Norton: That’s unbelievable. We, we we’ve almost hit a decade.

[00:04:42] James Norton: We’ll have to 

[00:04:43] Si: Wow. The Norton Jobling decade has nearly finished

[00:04:47] James Norton: we to celebrate.

[00:04:48] Si: We will do actually one of those rare opportunities when we meet up as well in person

[00:04:52] James Norton: Yeah, it happens once every like 18 months or something. Well, three years at the moment, I mean, obviously. Things have been a bit different, but, but yeah, that’s, that’s kind of what I’m up to.

[00:05:03] Si: Cool. So quite a journey from like yeah. Forced into webmaster coding roles out into running teams now. And I guess you say you don’t see code much, but when it comes to software engineering, what does that actually mean for you? And what kind of, what does your typical day look like? That sort of stuff you to get up to.

[00:05:20] James Norton: Yeah. So my typical day doesn’t involve a lot around software engineering, to be honest. So. We’ve got a really good culture, around software engineering. I don’t need to do too much to keep that moving forward. I’ve got a fantastic team underneath me that, that do most of that work. So my days are far more thinking about the structure of the teams, and how we should organize ourselves thinking from very much a domain driven, design concept and how we should create bounded contexts that teams can operate within.

[00:05:49] James Norton: And then thinking about. What I guess we call projects, but projects isn’t really the, quite the right word. So what I really want to see is teams continuously delivering against a product roadmap. and not necessarily delivering project project project, but instead delivering small increments that build out new capabilities on the platform that we’ve got.

[00:06:12] James Norton: So thinking about how we’re gonna structure all of that, how we’re gonna take that forwards, what the right sequencing should be the skills that we’re gonna need, but also the capacities within each team. So each team has a bounded context, essentially. They own one vertical slice of our value. And the amount of work we need to do in each of those contexts can shift over time.

[00:06:32] James Norton: So I spend a lot of time looking ahead thinking. What are we gonna do over the next quarter, the next two quarters in each of these contexts? And what do the capacities of the team need to look like? that doesn’t always change very much, but sometimes it does. And so there’s, there’s a lot of planning that goes into that.

[00:06:48] James Norton: And then, it’s around ways of working. So trying to make sure we’ve got the right agile practices in place in order to deliver those increments, to deliver at the right sort of pace, to be consistent and predictable. And the final bit of it is, is, is largely around team health. So trying to help keep all of my, uh, fantastic software engineers, happy, keep the teams operating well.

[00:07:10] James Norton: So thinking about the right sort of training, which we need to provide, but also just thinking about the way the teams work. Do they have enough? Space and at the right level of, of load on the team. So the, I ideally every team should be doing it the most complex work that they can handle without going into the area where, where they dunno what they’re doing or where it’s too complex.

[00:07:30] James Norton: So you want to have some load on each individual, but the right amount. So that everyone’s stretched very slightly, but no one feels it’s beyond them. To do the work that they’re doing, and that’s both at an individual level, but more importantly at a team level. So I spend quite a lot of time thinking about that.

[00:07:45] James Norton: Like how, how do we make sure each team has the right level of load?

[00:07:50] Si: So very strategic in a way, sort of a little bit of, you know, tactical changes here and there by sound of it. But that’s the worst case scenario for you? You should be thinking more long term, bigger picture, but how often do you get into detail with the teams? Do you mention like the team health, you know, like yeah.

[00:08:07] Si: All that sort of stuff. Do you get to sit in the standups at all or any of the other sort of ceremonies or meetings that they have.

[00:08:12] James Norton: Uh, occasionally, but, but rarely, what I’m looking to do is, is coach my engineering managers to do a great job in that for themselves. where I’m getting into the detail is far more on the other aspects of team health.

[00:08:24] James Norton: So thinking about the type of, safety that’s within the team and by, by which I mean psychological safety.

[00:08:29] James Norton: So are we creating the right environment for people to speak out for people to be individuals be who they are? And hold each other to account. So that’s really important. Do we have the right type of trust within these teams? so I’ll go into the detail there. Occasionally I’ll have to go into some technical architecture type details.

[00:08:47] James Norton: So thinking about how the systems were building and how those bounded contexts come together into a customer experience. So I’ll talk to people about not shipping our org structure. I don’t necessarily put it in quite those terms, but you, you run the risk when you break down your, your, customer experience into these tightly bounded vertical contexts that, you, you can just ship that org structure.

[00:09:09] James Norton: So as you go through the customer experience, you see different things at each step because different teams have built those things and we want each team to be as independent as possible. So how do we bridge that problem? So that that’ll be more in the detail and that’s not really an engineering problem per se.

[00:09:23] James Norton: But it’s more of a customer experience, problem, more of a consistency issue. so that’s where I’ll get into, into sort of slightly lower level detail, but it really depends. So what I’m looking to do ideally is have each team tell me on a regular basis how they’re doing so we have various reporting mechanisms that pretty lightweight, and that tells me where I need to go and deep dive and get in some detail.

[00:09:44] James Norton: each month, it could be a different team that’s struggling with different things and they’ll come and talk to me about it and I’ll help them out with that. And then they’ll be fine and get on with their thing. And I might not need to talk to them for some period of time, at least in the detail. so yeah, I can’t be in the detail of too much because there’s a lot of people involved and orchestratable that’s complex.

[00:10:04] Si: It sounds quite complex and complicated in a way, but you’re trying to keep it as simple as possible, especially from a customer experience perspective, from the team perspective, the operations side of things. And as you say, like the projects, inverted S they’re not really projects they’re products in a way with smaller to feature ship shipments, and using best practice around that. Imagine

[00:10:24] James Norton: Yeah, that’s right. And, and, shipping in increments allows us to, to measure very quickly. So ideally we want to always measure everything we do, which is why, whether it’s team health, whether it’s software quality, whether it’s production stability, whether it’s product market fit. If we can do a small incremental change measure that. And see whether we were successful or not see whether our, hypothesis was correct. that’s, that’s the way I want to operate. So, you know, we might have a, a product, you know, talk about stability in production. We might say, okay, well, if we put some additional login or some additional observability in place, does that allow us to respond more quickly to certain types of incidents so we can make that change, very quickly push that to production and we can measure that. So we’ll have account of the number of incidents for each team. And if we see that count, go down in principle, we’ve done the right thing. And, or if our time meantime to, restore normal operations is, is faster than we’ve done the right thing.

[00:11:18] James Norton: So it’s things like that that, uh, we wanna do where we’re constantly measuring small change measure. and then move forward from there. Sometimes we go backwards. Sometimes we’ll make a change and it’s wrong, but, as long as we don’t impact the customer experience, that’s probably fine. That’s the right way to operate in my view.

[00:11:34] Si: Yeah. And I agree with you. I think that too many engineering teams get, they don’t get into the detail with the numbers. Isn’t enough and the impacts of what they’re doing to send, make those adjustments further down the line. It shouldn’t even be that far, far down the line. It should be pretty much straight away.

[00:11:45] Si: What’s the next best thing, most important thing for us and our customers, because that’s what we should be focusing on.

[00:11:51] James Norton: Yeah, totally.

[00:11:52] Si: So based, based on all that, you’ve got a lot of strategic thinking to do some sort of, you know, in the weeds as it were, or, you know, real hands on sort of stuff. How, what sort of balance are you looking like in a typical week? Like 50%, you know, meetings, 50% actual thinking space or do you, is it just complete all over the place?

[00:12:08] James Norton: I mean, in terms of working hours, It’s probably something like 75% meetings, maybe even a bit more at times. so the, the thinking time can be a bit limited, but a lot of the meetings that I’m in are about moving things forward in the way that I’ve described. 

[00:12:27] Si: And collectively. 

[00:12:28] James Norton: Exactly. Cause if, if the, if all the thinking is left to me, We’re gonna fail, but, I’ve got a big team underneath me and what I wanna do is give them the context.

[00:12:37] James Norton: So I spend a lot of my time giving my fantastic team, the context of, of what’s going on in the business so that they can do the thinking and come and tell me what to do. and they’re just seeking to make sure that they’re aligned with each other. And with the wider context, they, I, I do not want teams asking me for permission to do things.

[00:12:57] James Norton: All I want ’em to do is, is make sure that they’re aligned to the goals of the business goals of other teams, and, and help enable them to, to move forwards. Really a lot of that strategic thinking is done by the teams themselves. And I’m just there trying to make sure that they’ve got the space to then go and execute when, when it becomes time to execute.

[00:13:17] Si: Mm-hmm and a little bit of accountability by having that conversation with you, that they’ve kind of agreed to the next steps and you are involved in that. You’re more, it sounds like you’ve kind of shifted away from being like the contributor to the co the conversation, more of a informed or consulted mode and, you know, making sure that things are on track or aligned in a certain.

[00:13:36] James Norton: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I, if, if I’m contributing directly to all of these things, Nothing will get done. I’m I’m, I’m one person, but there’s, there’s so many other people who are way cleverer than me, who can work all of this stuff out. So I just really need to find their way to get out of their way and let them get on with it.

[00:13:55] James Norton: But obviously I’m accountable for various things. So I’ve gotta make sure that I I’m executing my accountability correctly.

[00:14:01] Si: Keeping on those numbers and using the dashboards that you talked about just to make sure that and the reporting and the login and that sort of stuff, that he is all looking good. We could probably talk about this a lot, but I’m, I’m more mindful of like how your day’s impacted by this. What, what sort of times do you typically work from the start to end?

[00:14:17] Si: Or is it a bit gray around that as well?

[00:14:19] James Norton: Oh, it’s, it’s pretty gray. I mean, we have sort of, we have informal call hours, I guess, that, that we’re all working. I’ll I’ll often be logged on that sort of hop past day in the morning, start picking up on what what’s happening for the day what’s been going on. I’ll work pretty normal hours. You know, I’ll, I’ll clock off at six maybe. Get a bit of a, you know, a couple of breaks during the day. we do work hard, but we don’t tend to find people working long hours. we’ve got, I think, I think for most people in my teams anyway, the work balance is, is pretty good. Work life balance. for me personally, yeah. I, sometimes I can get into a bit of a workaholic mode and no one’s asking me to do this, but I’ll put extra hours in because I want to, because I enjoy doing the job.

[00:15:03] James Norton: And, so, so I’ll end up doing that occasionally, but it’s, it’s, it’s, I’m, I’m happy to work pretty hard during the day and then try and switch off

[00:15:12] Si: Are you good at turning off at the end of the day though? Cause I I’m, I can be in a mode where I’m just like, hang on. I just wanna check teams or clear out some of the emails that I missed throughout the

[00:15:20] James Norton: Yeah. Oh, I’m terrible at it. Terrible. I’m I’m just constantly looking at slack, constantly checking my diary. What’s next? Constantly thinking about stuff. It’s it’s yeah, I can be lying in bed at 11 o’clock at night, making notes on things that just dawned on me for the next I’ve gotta do the next day. So I’m, I’m a bit of a night owl.

[00:15:37] James Norton: So the problem is that I’ll get to 11 o’clock at night. Think right time to go to bed. But then my brain is fully active thinking about what’s going.

[00:15:45] Si: Yeah. And actually thinking back to our old days, when we used to do our podcasts, verbal diary, that was a pain in the ass to try and arrange because you were a night owl, I’m an early bird and we just couldn’t find the right time to do it.

[00:15:57] James Norton: It was always a struggle. Although I think if we picked it up again these days, I think, I think mornings would be more viable than they used to be because I’ve, I’ve had to become more of a morning person 

[00:16:07] Si: that’s interesting. We might have to hop.

[00:16:09] James Norton: It’s the, it’s the change in the world. Yeah. So, because I don’t commute anymore very much.

[00:16:15] James Norton: Mornings have become mine again. 

[00:16:17] James Norton: So it used to be that, you know, get up, leave the house at half past seven in the morning, spend an hour getting to an office. And by which I’ll be in the office, you can’t really do your own thing. Whereas now I’m still up at quarter past seven or whatever it is, but I don’t have the whole morning is mine most days of the week.

[00:16:38] James Norton: So I can do other things that previously I wouldn’t have been able to do because there just wasn’t time.

[00:16:44] You mentioned you’re a bit of a workaholic. You not saying you are, but do you feel like at that time of the day you’re up, you might as well get on with it and that then you realize, oh yeah. Now it’s 6:00 PM and I’m, I’ve lost the day again.

[00:16:55] James Norton: No, no. Cause I’m terrible in the morning. So I, I tend to not log on until my daughter’s gone off to school. For instance.

[00:17:02] Si: got it.

[00:17:04] James Norton: So it’s normally about eight 30 is the earliest that I’ll I’ll be online doing anything. So, no, but it, it is the evenings, which are the problem for me. Cause I’m a night owl. So, you know, I, I will slack have this great feature where you can schedule messages for the next day.

[00:17:18] James Norton: So I will often go to bed with 20 messages scheduled. So nine all for 9:00 AM. So 9:00 AM a whole load of people just suddenly get a bunch of stuff from me.

[00:17:26] 9 0 5. You’ve got all the replies to deal with.

[00:17:28] James Norton: And then, then I wish I hadn’t done it, but

[00:17:30] Si: Yeah. you needed to stagger it, like almost buffer.com. All my work dates.

[00:17:36] James Norton: maybe I should start doing that. But yeah. So often, often be in that position there. Cause I, I don’t like to send messages out of hours to anyone because you have to be conscious when I think when you’re a leader in a business, just be really conscious of the impact that you’re talking to someone has. And, and so for me to be sending a message to someone at seven o’clock at night, they may see that as something they have to respond to, and I don’t wanna put people in that position.

[00:18:00] James Norton: So I, I will do my utmost not to send messages to people outside of working hours. You know, I do my absolute best. Cause I don’t, I don’t want people to feel like they have to respond to me out of hours. They

[00:18:10] yeah, I’m similar. And I always set expectation. If I do send you out of hours, I’m like, you do not need to reply until tomorrow. I just wanna get yourself my brain for when you’re next, looking at your phone or device.

[00:18:20] James Norton: Yeah. Everyone has everyone where I work has slack on their phones. So, gotta be careful. Gotta be careful. Cause I do wanna respect people’s you know, working hours and personal time, like, like I expect people to respect mine as well. I don’t want people contacting me at seven o’clock at night.

[00:18:34] unless it’s, something urgent.

[00:18:36] Si: No exactly. I mean, you mentioned it a few times, the fact that you now got this time back because of the pandemic, how, how was there any other things that have affected you in that.

[00:18:47] James Norton: I mean, there’s been loads of impact from the pandemic. But I think from a sort of time and working perspective, working at home, I find has, has helped me with that strategic thinking. So that even though there’s a small amount of time, To do it in because I can shut, I, I’m not gonna have to have, have a little office at home.

[00:19:03] James Norton: I can shut the door and I can, I can actually switch off the computer and just sit and think. And it’s it’s, I don’t have to worry about how that looks. I don’t have to worry about the perception of other people. If I’m just sitting back in a chair, And thinking rather than actively on the computer, for instance.

[00:19:21] James Norton: So in, in an office, I find it far more, difficult to, to do that. Cause I think people would think, oh, he is not doing anything. I think perception’s really important. as well. So I wouldn’t, I kind of dunno if that would be the perception I’d want to give off I haven’t actually thought about that, but it’s great that at home I can just shut the door to my.

[00:19:37] James Norton: No, one’s seeing what I’m doing. And I can just sit and literally sit and think, or I have a whiteboard in my office. I can just scribble on the whiteboard, a few ideas. and I find that much harder to do in an office, surrounded by people, sitting at a desk and, you know, an open plan space, like, like, like we all work in.

[00:19:53] James Norton: And I think this is a real problem with open plan offices. That it’s it. It’s weird if you saw someone in, in your open plan office, just sort of sitting back in the chair, not looking at their computer, maybe their laptop’s closed, just literally sitting and thinking, you’d be like, what are they doing?

[00:20:10] James Norton: What’s going on? Actually, that can be a really important part of work.

[00:20:17] Si: Totally I think, and that’s a thing we’ve struggled with. Maybe not pre pandemic actually slightly sooner than earlier than that. When you know, like that presence was important and you would always expect people to be proactively doing stuff all the time or looking busy and actually, yeah, like you say, the thinking time, you just don’t get the opportunity.

[00:20:36] Si: I, I think at times, even when we were in the office, I’d book a meeting room just for myself, To get away from everyone and have a think about some bits, cuz it was easy that way.

[00:20:45] James Norton: Yeah. I think, I think that was a great tactic, but it is, it is funny how the pandemic has shifted the ability for, for me personally, anyway, to, to think a bit more in, in a, in a structured way, not worry about meeting rooms is fantastic. but there is this temptation to work more because at home, you know, I’ve got, I’ve invested in a good office setup.

[00:21:06] James Norton: So it’s not like before where I might have had a laptop with me, I’m I said, I’m lucky enough to have an office at home. And I’ve invested in a good, nice desk and a good screen and all of these things that allow me to have a fantastic working environment.

[00:21:17] James Norton: So to sit in here and do another hours, work of an evening is not so much of a chore. And maybe that’s a bad thing. 

[00:21:23] James Norton: In fact, maybe what I should do is put a lock on the, my office door so that my wife can close it and lock it and hide the key from me 

[00:21:31] Si: And lock you in there.

[00:21:32] James Norton: Oh, yeah. That’s what will happen? I was think you lock me outta it bad. You’re right. 

[00:21:37] Si: All you could do is like a time lock. You just make sure it closes at a certain time. You can’t get out before then almost like crystal maze.

[00:21:43] James Norton: Oh yeah. Gosh, we should definitely have the crystal maze in our homes. That’s a great idea. I like that.

[00:21:49] Si: yeah. If, if you’re working longer than 7:00 PM, you’re locked in for 

[00:21:52] James Norton: What what was the name of the guy who, was the presenter Crystal Maze at the.

[00:21:55] Si: It’ Richard O’Brien wasn’t there. And

[00:21:57] James Norton: Brian. I, I quite like him to be in my house, shouting at me that I think that’d be quite good fun 

[00:22:03] Si: You’ve got Ayoade now haven’t you? Who does it instead? 

[00:22:05] James Norton: what was it? Okay. I haven’t seen in ages.

[00:22:08] Si: it made a weird comeback, like in the last few years, but people love it cause it’s like such a cult following.

[00:22:12] James Norton: Do they still start the fans please?

[00:22:14] Si: Yeah. And I, I say that when I’ve got teams on a Mac, cause it start the fans, please. It just kicks in and goes mental.

[00:22:20] You obviously haven’t got one of the new Macs then.

[00:22:22] Si: No, I’m still on the older ones, not the new one or twos. 

[00:22:25] James Norton: yeah, these new, new M1 Macs are unbelievable.

[00:22:28] Si: We’re gonna a tangent here now, but,

[00:22:29] James Norton: We have gone off on a tangent. I feel very sorry for you having to use teams as well in a way. Cause, I, I have to do the occasional meeting with teams with, with suppliers and partners we work with and it it’s nowhere near as good as, as some of the other stuff that’s out there.

[00:22:42] And it is interesting how obviously people you get used to the tools that you’ve got, but it is quite interesting how different, these different tools are so teams, which I’ve used a little bit is a much more, it’s a very Microsoft thing. It’s an all in one platform. You never have to leave teams.

[00:22:56] James Norton: You’ve got your chat, you’ve got your video. You’ve got document sharing all of that stuff, 

[00:23:01] James Norton: but each bit of it is just not quite as good as the competition. So, you know, we are a Google company. I mean, we’re not owned by Google, uh, 

[00:23:10] Si: No, but you use their suite. Yeah. 

[00:23:12] James Norton: Yeah, and mean Hangouts was, was pretty bad. Two and a bit two and a half years ago.

[00:23:17] James Norton: It’s now it’s good. Um, but it’s the document stuff that I, I could never give up again, ever. It’s the sharing on there is so good and slack we use, which again is it’s, it’s fine, but it’s really improved. Quite a, I think it’s improved quite a bit. And, yeah, when I have to log into a team’s meeting, I’m like, Is this like the 18th century 

[00:23:38] Si: Tell me about it. Yeah. I mean, we, yeah, we have to, use what we got basically, but I think it, it goes back to that point and do one thing well, and that’s what zoom and slack have done, you know, they they’ve identified a product and they’ve made it really good, whereas most go do all of it. Okay. And that’s, that seems to be their attitude. 

[00:23:54] James Norton: it’s it’s all a bit middling, 

[00:23:56] James Norton: but nothing’s bad, but 

[00:23:58] Si: works. It’s a first world problem. But as, as geeks, we’re gonna criticize these things cause we can

[00:24:03] Do you do a lot of white board in your job? 

[00:24:06] Si: not in my current role. No, but some of the teams do. And that’s where again, teams has got mixed sort of, you know, solutions available.

[00:24:14] James Norton: Team’s got white boarding in it.

[00:24:16] Si: It’s got native Microsoft thing. Then you can plug in stuff like Miro or mural or any other sort of online whiteboarding tools. 

[00:24:23] James Norton: Oh, okay. Myro I’ve called it Miro, but whatever you call it, that is a revolutionary product for me. 

[00:24:31] Si: So do you use my Miro a lot, then? Not Myro.

[00:24:34] James Norton: Unbelievable. Yeah. Tons, tons. 

[00:24:36] Si: I guess with your role, again, being quite strategic across so many teams, it’s so invaluable from a remote perspective as.

[00:24:42] James Norton: Yeah, actually, I don’t create a lot of boards in Miro. I tend to use it more for, uh, reading staff for learning about what what’s going on within teams, understanding what they’re trying to do. Um, seeing what they’ve been working on in, you know, I get asked for input quite a bit. so it’s more that side of, of Miro, but it is, it is pretty cool.

[00:24:59] James Norton: It has to be said

[00:25:01] use that quite a bit. 

[00:25:02] Si: Um, but obviously that’s more remote friendly, but you know, in your role now, do you go to the office at all or is it Mo or still very 

[00:25:08] James Norton: Yeah, no, I, I go to the office once or twice a week typically, so I really enjoy going to the office actually. 

[00:25:15] Si: And what, what do you prefer the best out of going in? You know, what’s the, what’s the good, best thing for going in for.

[00:25:21] James Norton: I enjoy the change of pace that day of the week. Or maybe if it’s, you know, a couple of days, I, I actually genuinely just enjoy having a different sort of day. It breaks the week up. I enjoy seeing people in person having impromptu conversations, and, and sitting in rooms with, with people and being able to sort of look ’em in the eye as you’re having a conversation.

[00:25:39] James Norton: It’s fantastic. I, I really enjoy that. So, yeah, actually, I, I quite enjoy going to office. I’m lucky. I’ve got a pretty, pretty easy short commute. If I had like a two hour commute, I’d probably hate it. so that, that helps, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really those, it’s those impromptu conversations where I’ll bump into someone say, we need to talk, let’s grab five minutes and you can, whereas when you are remote, Everything has to be a meeting.

[00:26:04] Yes. And, and that structure is very expensive. 

[00:26:09] James Norton: So it’s, it’s nice to not have to bear that cost when I’m in the office, but I don’t like to go in too much. It’s it? Yeah. Two, two days a week, I think 

[00:26:18] James Norton: me very 

[00:26:19] Si: And you say you’re quite close to the office. How long is your commute then? If you, if you do own

[00:26:24] James Norton: So it kind of depends. Whether I get the bus to the station and whether I get a fast train or a slow train, but if I get a bus to the station and the fast train, I can be 40 minutes door to door. But typically the averages out a little bit longer than that. So 45 minutes maybe, really not bad, it’s one train.

[00:26:43] It is really not too bad. So I, I, I don’t mind the bit that yeah, I do find funny is, is trying to grab lunch in the office. So. When I’m working from home, I often don’t have a lunch break, but I’ll often have lunch during a meeting. There’ll be something I can, you know, be half concentrated on if I missed.

[00:27:01] James Norton: Um, whereas in the office that’s a bit more challenging. So you have to remember to build time in, to go and go and grab some lunch, but then I really enjoy going and having some variety. 

[00:27:09] Si: True. And it’s not just the same old stuff from the kitchen. You actually get a selection out in central London 

[00:27:14] James Norton: Yeah, and my wife loves it when I go into the office, cuz it means I don’t spend the whole morning asking her, what should I have for lunch today?

[00:27:22] Si: That’s fair point. I mean, we met for lunch last week. Didn’t we, you know, we’re both in London, we managed to arrange our calendars to work, but you, you talk about your meetings. Do you tend to have a clearer day on a, an office day or is it still full of like different things going on?

[00:27:36] James Norton: It’s full of everything. So I’ll give you a, let me have a look at my, my diary from when I was in last week, not the day we met up actually, but 

[00:27:46] Si: Yeah, cause you managed to free that one up a bit better. I, how did I, 

[00:27:48] James Norton: Yeah, the day after I was in meetings from nine till six in the office, and I did manage to carve an hour out for lunch 

[00:27:56] Si: So you did find out an hour, but you had to literally shoehorn it into your calendar to make it happen. 

[00:28:01] James Norton: Yeah. no, it wasn’t a problem to create an hour for lunch.

[00:28:03] James Norton: That was fine. Um, but yeah, I was in meetings nine till six, and I had a 15 minute break in the morning This hardcore 

[00:28:10] James Norton: That’s pretty hardcore. I was exhausted. I mean, that’s quite rare when I’m in the office. It’s quite rare to be quite that bad normally. I’ll try and build in a couple of breaks.

[00:28:20] James Norton: Some sort of just in the office and people can come and chat to me if they want to, or if I want to chat to other people. happened to be a bad one last week. But, um, typically I will try and create gaps cuz that, I think that makes life a bit easier. 

[00:28:33] Si: Do you find the days in though you are a lot more tired in the evening and you actually will probably sleep better.

[00:28:40] I don’t always find that. I often go out after work as well. When I go to the office, like if I’m in town already, I’ll meet up with friends or whatever.

[00:28:47] James Norton: So it’s yeah. So it negates the sleeping well, cuz I’ll often be out late, but, um, I do sometimes find that that that’s the case, but not, not always, not always.

[00:28:59] James Norton: I I’m, because I don’t have of, of, I kind of get into a meeting room and sit there for three hours as different people come in from various meetings. It’s not that different from being at home in some. 

[00:29:10] Si: Totally. I mean, you’re in your meeting room. I’m in my meeting room at home and it’s all of my door entries are through online 

[00:29:18] James Norton: Indeed 

[00:29:18] Si: More interruptions. Cool stuff, man. Um, also wanted to find out a bit more about how, what you do to unwind apart from obviously socializing outside of work. Do, do you do anything like with your family, with your, your daughter?

[00:29:29] Si: What, what, what do you do.

[00:29:30] James Norton: yeah, yeah, yeah. Obviously at the weekends in particular, go out and do stuff with, with my daughter. As a family we’ll go and, you know, maybe head into town go and do stuff there, go out for a meal or go and see a show or something. We love going to the theater. Um, things like that. Evenings are more just, yeah. Sit on the so and watching TV, nothing particularly exciting. Um, 

[00:29:53] Si: But that’s the dangerous point where you stop picking up your phone for a bit of doom scrolling and slack?

[00:29:58] James Norton: Exactly. Yeah. Too, too much slack, too much Tiktok, um, but

[00:30:03] Si: I can’t imagine you’re on TikTok. Oh, are you doing many dance music 

[00:30:07] James Norton: Oh, yeah, it’s all I’m doing all the dancing on TikTok. No, I, I, I’m very passive on TikTok. I’m far more a consumer than I am a creator to the point where I’ve created precisely zero

[00:30:19] Si: I think I’ve got one just to test it out. And that was it 

[00:30:21] James Norton: Right. But I’m not, I, I know you are into your side hustles. I don’t really have any side hustles, to be honest.

[00:30:27] I’m just sort of like Puting around the house, you know, just doing different stuff. So whether it’s even just the washing up, it just changes the mindset a little bit,

[00:30:35] Si: It, it, it changes your mindset. It gets you away from the screen. And you know, that thinking time when you’re just washing up, I find it’s really useful actually. And maybe catching on some podcasts or something like that.

[00:30:46] James Norton: Yeah. Yeah. Every day. I, and I’ll often pretty much every day, I’ll go out for a walk for an hour, as you say, listen to some podcasts and just. Just sort of get some fresh air really

[00:30:57] James Norton: it’s it, it, it, does do wonders. So yeah, that’s the extent of the unwinding. I’m not very good at unwinding.

[00:31:04] James Norton: I’ve never been very good at unwinding.

[00:31:06] Si: winding up. 

[00:31:08] James Norton: I’m good at winding up much less good at winding down. And I’m terrible at side hustles and side projects 

[00:31:13] Si: We, we had a stint didn’t we with a Verbal Diary podcast.

[00:31:17] James Norton: We did. And we should probably do that again, cuz it was quite good fun, but the, but I’m still terrible at it cause I’m terribleat carving time out and I’m terrible at, um, being committed to more than like one thing at a time.

[00:31:30] Si: That. I mean, that’s one of the tricks though. We should know this one, not no more than one thing at a time focus. Will we?

[00:31:35] James Norton: Exactly, but it, it, you know, I have a pretty full on job, so it, it could be hard, find the motivation to do other things that involve sitting in front of a computer. 

[00:31:46] Si: Uh, and that’s the thing for me. It’s like, especially with lockdown, people just looking at screens all day, they didn’t wanna do it at nighttime as well. It just makes 

[00:31:52] Si: things 

[00:31:52] James Norton: Yeah. Yeah. And the thing is like the whole lockdown thing was, obviously a period. Um, and I do feel a little bit like I’ve been trying to make up for the lost time there. So I have been probably going out socializing with friends more. Then before lockdown, now that people are sort of back at normal activity levels on the whole, because it, it felt like a lot of lost time.

[00:32:16] James Norton: And for me personally, it was, uh, it was a really toughperiod. And, and, um, yeah, I sort of didn’t really do anything for a year. And then we sort of started to do stuff again, and I wanted to really take advantage of that.

[00:32:33] Si: Of course you would. But like I say, back in that time, we were very limited and restrict to what we could do. So yeah, I mean, I, I noticed with the, on the side community, it was the slight community I got for side projects. It was so busy here, the pandemic, and it’s gone quite now. Everyone’s got other things to be doing.

[00:32:47] Si: I’m like, cool. As long as you’re happy and enjoying itself, on.

[00:32:51] James Norton: Exactly. And I’m, I’m, I’m sure that there are less side hustles going on right now. And, 

[00:32:58] Si: I kind of hope so. Cause I think there’s more to life than a side hustle. That’s the point of it. It’s just be a bit of fun when you’re bored.

[00:33:04] James Norton: Yeah. quite quite, 

[00:33:06] James Norton: So I, I wanted to, uh, I wanted to drop something on you 

[00:33:09] Si: Go on then flip the 

[00:33:10] In the spirit of, of verbal diary.

[00:33:13] James Norton: I thought I’d, uh, you, I’d send you my picture of the week.

[00:33:17] Si: Oh, you got a picture of a week.

[00:33:19] James Norton: Yeah. 

[00:33:20] Si: Right. So just for context, when we used to do verbal diary podcasts, we’d have every week, we’d take turns to choose a picture of the week and to talk about it. So I’m gonna get my images up. 

[00:33:30] James Norton: there a link to the week as well or something? 

[00:33:32] Si: all sorts like that. Didn’t we, it was like link of the week, picture of the week.

[00:33:36] Si: There was tweet of the week, I think at one point I’m just sent you in our secret, uh, chat channel, secret, private chat, my picture of the week.

[00:33:44] Si: Oh, hello. So I’m looking at an x-ray of a hand. Is that right?

[00:33:50] James Norton: That is right. 

[00:33:51] Si: The or is it your left? 

[00:33:52] That is right. In fact, that is actually my daughter’s hand

[00:33:57] Si: Okay. 

[00:33:57] James Norton: Now that I thought this was quite amazing. So my daughter broke her finger recently. And you actually can’t see the breakon this particular picture,but she broke her finger, uh, playing basketball in the garden. She hyperextended her finger anyway,

[00:34:13] James Norton: so we weren’t sure if it was broken. So we thought, you know what, we’ll take her to hospital.

[00:34:19] James Norton: So I took her to hospital and we waited for a few hours, obviously. And then we got seen and, uh, we were sent for an X.

[00:34:26] Si: Okay. 

[00:34:27] James Norton: For me, I’ve still got this picture in my head that you go for an x-ray and then someone takes out this huge, like negative of your x-ray puts it up on a light box, looks at it, sort of, you know, rubs their chin and a think.

[00:34:40] James Norton: That’s not how it works these days. And I was the reason I thought this was interesting is the technology around this astonished me. So first of all, look got the clarity of that, that, 

[00:34:49] James Norton: you can really see stuff it’s unbelievable. And that picture you’re looking at is me taking a picture. Using my phone of a screen of a computer screen in the x-ray booth.

[00:35:03] James Norton: So the x-ray takes the picture and it instantly appeared on the operator’s computer screen. And I just took a picture of it. It appeared instantly, which I was slightly unexpected to me. Even I should have known it would happen like that. And then the clarity was incredible. Anyway, and then we leave thex-ray room, go back to the consulting room. We, we were, um, speaking to a nurse who then immediately loaded it up on her computer and started zooming into it and moving it around, doing all the sort of image manipulation you would expect to be able to do. And I was pretty astonished by two things in this, first of all, by the technology leap, that seems to have happened where x-rays can happen instantly and is all passes around. But I was also pretty astonished to, um, by my own astonishment of that. 

[00:35:45] Si: Very meta. 

[00:35:45] James Norton: Cause I somehow not really thought that, that this technology would’ve kept up with the March of technology in general, but it somehow has. And anyway, I thought it was pretty cool.

[00:35:57]

[00:35:57] Si: It is pretty cool. And I agree. I, I think we get carried away with tech innovation and progression without realizing how it could be really applied in the real world. And obviously after 20 years of healthcare, you’d hope that x-rays would keep up. But again, our wonderful NHS, I wouldn’t expect it to, to be off the time either, but, uh, yeah. 

[00:36:16] James Norton: You see the thing at the top of the picture. That’s not the hand, but it’s like a marker.

[00:36:20] Si: Yep. 

[00:36:21] James Norton: The computer can use that. It knows the size of that thing. 

[00:36:25] Si: Okay. 

[00:36:26] James Norton: So what she was able to do, the nurse was zoom it right into areas she thought might be broken and measure them. And it was coming up with like, I think two decimal, places of a millimeter, the measurement she was looking at, it was unbelievable incredibly.

[00:36:41] I thought that was an incredibly clear image of my daughter’s hand. 

[00:36:45] Si: And long story short. How is your daughter now? Is she okay? 

[00:36:49] James Norton: She’s watching. I mean, she’s got a broken finger, so she’s in a little bit of mild pain, bit of strapping on her finger and, um, yeah. 

[00:36:58] Si: Bless 

[00:36:59] James Norton: She’s okay. 

[00:36:59] Si: She’s right. I love how your takeaway was the tech, not the actual situation.

[00:37:04] James Norton: I mean, the situation is what it was, you know, obviously I’m trying to look after my daughter. Um, But that’s the easy bit that I thought that was actually the easy bit. 

[00:37:14] Si: Now it’s just getting your head around the idea of x-rays evolving so much.

[00:37:17] James Norton: Yeah, I was, I was pretty impressed. So I, I, I enjoyed the visits to the hospital in the end and, and this is the third time my daughter’s broken something on her right hand in just over two years. 

[00:37:27] Si: Were you saying it’s weirdly timed as well with her breakages? They always need to be bang on the year. Every time of this year, 

[00:37:34] James Norton: Yeah, it was beginning of July 20, 20, beginning of July, 2021 and end of June, 

[00:37:39] Si: Bless her. Maybe you should stop playing basketball this time of year and you’d be alright. 

[00:37:43] James Norton: Well, I mean, I, maybe she needs calcium. I, we actually, we asked the doc, we asked the doctor, do you think she needs more calcium? And the doctor? I dunno. 

[00:37:55] James Norton: Great. Thanks That was really, that was, that was really useful. Thanks for that. 

[00:37:59] Si: Bless you, but they’re interesting. And I like the idea of a picture of a week. Here we go. That’s a new, new, additional feature to this. We can bring it back. 

[00:38:06] James Norton: I I thought I had to give you a picture of the week now. I potentially got another picture of the week, but I don’t think it’s uh, it’s not safe for work. So 

[00:38:13] Si: We’ll 

[00:38:14] James Norton: I think we should. 

[00:38:16] Si: Um, we’ve rambled a lot. This is probably rants and bants mode. Isn’t it like the old days? I’m just thinking, have you got any final tips for anyone that is listening still? Um, on how to find that home life balance?

[00:38:28] James Norton: I think don’t stress about it. So it’s really important to have a good work life balance, but everyone’s different. So don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t stress about it. Find something that works for you. And the most important thing is to just stick with it. Be consistent, communicate to your colleagues at work when you are not going to be working so that it’s super clear, make sure all your status is on like slack or teams, whatever system you use reflect when you are and when you’re not working so that people can respect. um, and know, and respect when you’re not and respect others in the same position.

[00:39:05] James Norton: Uh, I, I wouldn’t stress about it too much. Awareness is the main thing. So if you can practice some level of mindfulness, if you can be self-aware to know when it’s too much and you’re getting the balance wrong, then you can adjust. But that’s, that’s the way that I will think about it the way I think people should approach it. 

[00:39:25] Si: I think it’s a very good one. And like I said, I like the idea of the, um, the status settings in your chosen comms channels. I’ve noticed a lot of people put it on. They’ve got a team status saying my core hours are eight till four, for example. And I’ll catch up tomorrow if I’m not. Cause I’ve got a child and that’s, I think it’s a perfectly valid reason to sort of go, I’ve got these core hours for my child’s benefits. Um, but yeah, good. I like that shout and don’t stress about it. It’s probably crucial cause otherwise you’re not doing it very well.

[00:39:51] James Norton: Yeah. I think what I do is in, go with Google calendar, you can say what your working hours are, and then there’s a plugin for slack that can pass that through to slack. So it’ll put you as not out of office, but away, I think it is. I can’t remember what say 

[00:40:05] Si: Do, yeah, not do you don’t disturb or something else? Yeah. 

[00:40:07] James Norton: Whatever it is other everyone can see. So that’s quitegood. Cause I can just set it in one place. Um, but yeah, awareness is of these things is everything. So, you know, we talked a little bit about software and product.

[00:40:20] Si: Mm. 

[00:40:21] James Norton: Sometimes its gonna work. It’s gonna sometimes break. The questions, do you know, do you need that observability and the same counts for people you need to be aware.

[00:40:31] James Norton: So some people can work 12 hours a day, 5, 6, 7 days a week and feel fine, some can’t. But are you aware, are you mindful of, of your own limits? That’s the thing to focus on. So if people in my team come to me and ask for advice, you know, I’m feeling stressed. I’m feeling burnt out. What I’ll normally focus on is not what’s going on today, but actually, how do you build the awareness to know that you are heading in that direction earlier and can make the right changes sooner?

[00:41:01] James Norton: So you don’t get all the way to burnout so you can stop yourself sooner. And I think that’s, that’s far more effective than trying to fix what’s going on. 

[00:41:09] Si: And it goes back to your earlier point about creating that culture, that safe culture around the teams, being able to communicate like that. And you being able to observe, or some of the teammates being able to observe and help anyone. That’s not in a good place. 

[00:41:20] James Norton: Exactly. It, it, it all, everything starts with trust. If you have trust, you can have these conversations. So my, my recommendation to everyone on the who’s listening to this podcast, is go and read The Five Dysfunctions Of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. I’ve just found out that there is actually a Manga edition of the book, which I’ve got right here. 

[00:41:40] Si: Oh, very cool. Look at that. 

[00:41:41] James Norton: So I haven’t actually read this Manga edition yet, but I’m going to. Read the full book, read the Manga edition, whatever you like. Um, listen to it as an audio, but that is, I think pretty foundational to how to think about, effective teams and, and, um, like I said, the five dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni, talks about trust an awful lot. And it’s a, it’s a great starting point for anyone looking to, um, understand how to build safe environments. 

[00:42:10] Si: I don’t think I’ve ever read it, but so I’ll, I’ll get in and put the details and the show notes, anyone does wanna find out more about that.

[00:42:15] Si: Nice one, James. Well, it’s been a pleasure as always fella I’m, uh, we could have gone on a little bit longer, I reckon.

[00:42:21] James Norton: We could, but it is been really my pleasure. Great to have a chat about something different. 

[00:42:27] Si: Something different. and we might even get that verbal diary going again at some point, if that’s the case.

[00:42:31] James Norton: Yeah. I mean, I’m aware of my limits. So if you want to do it, that’s one thing. If, but don’t rely on me to edit it. 

[00:42:38] Si: We’re always coming out. it’s it’s on the record now, so we can think about that. Um, if wants to get hold of you mate, what’s the best channels to use socials, 

[00:42:47] James Norton: I’m on Twitter as nortools.

[00:42:50] Si: N O R T O O L s

[00:42:51] James Norton: That’s me. That’s me. I’m not really anywhere else.Uh, I’m not on the book, Facebook that is, uh, or the gram. 

[00:42:58] James Norton: That’s an Instagram. That is, I’m not on the talks really. That’s TikTok.

[00:43:02] James Norton: I just, I’m just, I’m just consuming content. That’s all I do over there, but yeah. So best way to, if if you wanna reach out is through Twitter 

[00:43:08] Si: Cool. We’ll get that in the show notes as well, but, um, mate, been a pleasure and um, yeah, hopefully we’ll get back together in soon and do something else.

[00:43:17] James Norton: That’d be great. 

[00:43:17] Si: Cheers, buddy. 

[00:43:18] James Norton: very much. 

[00:43:19] (Thanks again to James for his insights and thoughts on finding that healthy work life balance. He’ll openly admit he can be a workaholic but has those handy tricks to set boundaries and expectations with his family and team mates. Connect with James on Twitter at nortools if you want to chat more.)

[00:43:19] Si: Thanks again to James for his insights and thoughts on finding that healthy work-life balance. He’ll openly admit he can’t be a workaholic, but has those handy little tricks to set boundaries and expectations with his family and teammates? You can’t connect with james on twitter at nor tools if you want to chat about it more

[00:43:37] Si: That’s all for me for this week. Remember to like review and subscribe to the podcast. Reach out to me at Si on Twitter or email hello at make life work podcast.com. 

[00:43:48] Si: I’ll be back next week with another wonderful guest sharing their stories about how they make life work.