Leadership: Being a Buffer

Every Monday my team runs a retro/planning meeting for the past week and the week ahead, where we run through 3 things in our retro;

  1. What went well?
  2. What could have gone better?
  3. What could we change?

This week the team felt really focused for “what went well” but I felt there was a lot of “noise” and “distraction” – this was interesting to me, so we explored why there was a difference.

As it turned out, I’ve been doing my job properly by handling the tasks that would have prevented the team from doing their core work. Which is great, as I’m being the buffer that they need! 🙂 They could then focus, and complete the tasks towards the team goals.

What was even more of a win to me was how open they were to give me that feedback! It validated some of the work I was doing and gave me confidence towards the week ahead and the processes I’ve been putting in place behind the scenes.

A not so routine, routine!

I recently wrote about my remote routines and there’s a line in there that is quite appropriate for this week 🙂

Just take it day by day and make adjustments as you see fit.

So, with our governments recent changes to our lockdown levels, they have required teachers to start going back to work, even if they aren’t teaching classes yet. My wife is a teacher, and that means she’s no longer at home during the week until the afternoon.

That leaves me at home with my 2 young kids.

We’ve had to adapt our routine and this week is the first week of doing this, but it’s pretty tricky as this new routine so far relies heavily on my discipline. Here’s basically how it goes:

  • 6-7am wake up, my wife goes to work.
  • 7-8am kids wake up, I feed them, get them dressed.
  • 8am Do my quiet time (if there’s quiet) and make coffee.
  • 9am Let the kids play because…they’re kids.
  • 11am Teach my eldest and get her doing her school work
  • 12:30pm Lunch
  • 1:30pm Put my youngest down for her nap
  • 2pm-10pm Start work for the day. I’ll finish up at 10pm with a break for supper, cup of tea with my wife, and the kids bedtime. If I don’t have a hard stop at 10pm I won’t get enough sleep and the next day is utterly broken 😛

It’s not the best solution, but it’s a workable one until these lockdown restriction are over.

Remote Routines

Let’s talk about morning routines for a few minutes in the life of a remote worker.

I’m someone who benefits greatly from structure. I do though perform really well under pressure, and I’m usually open to change, but I definitely feel I’m at my best when it comes to my work when I’m following a regular routine.

My preferred morning routine is:

  • 5am wakeup and read my bible/pray.
  • 6-7am kids wakeup, feed them, get them ready for school.
  • 7-9am school run/I run.
  • 9am coffee then work.

Where this has been failing massively is when I’ve been working late into the night – which has been a lot lately. There are a number of reasons why this has happened – some my fault, some because of the nature of timezones, some handling stressful circumstances.

The biggest problem with this has been that it’s knocked out my 5am wakeup and “quiet time” – and this really sucks 🙁 because to be quite frank, I’m less of myself when I’m disconnected from my prayer life. Simply put, I’m not awesome to be around!

This often produces a snowball effect into the rest of the day. And you’d think that after remote working for 10 years I would have this down to an art?

Ha, you are sadly mistaken 🙂

So why did I write this? In light of all the people heading into remote work with all this worry about COV-19, I thought I’d offer some perspective on heading into a much less structured work environment.

When I moved into remote work it was complex, but at least at Woo we had a slow descent into it over a long period of time so the change was less abrupt.

But also, if you do fail at your routine – don’t beat yourself up about it 🙂 it will happen! Just take it day by day and make adjustments as you see fit.

If you feel like me, that the start of the day is super important – then do your best to keep that going! Whether it’s a prayerful start as in my case, medication of some kind, exercise, or simply making a coffee – you do the thing that gets you that first “win” for the day!

Keep iterating just like we do when making software 🙂 It’s never perfect!

Also, if you are looking to get out of an office based environment and make the switch into remote work, we’re hiring!

My First WooTrip

There are some things about my time at Woo that I remember vividly; the many heated Fifa games, the conversation where we decided how to get WooCommerce launched (for another post), as well as the one time that Adii came up to me in the office and asked me

“would you like to go snowboarding?”

I thought he was joking 😀 He wasn’t….

Woo was small in 2010. Technically I was the 3rd full time employee, and even though there were a few part time employees as well, that brought the full time employee total to 6 – including the founders.

I don’t know who’s idea it was to go to Austria, but I was in!

The thing about this trip was it was the first real opportunity I had to get to know my coworkers. Up until then, I’d only spent time with Adii, Cobus, and Malan at the office. Mark and Magnus I’d only worked with online.

The trip is still one of my career highlights for a number of reasons…

  • It was my first international trip as an adult – I’ve travelled at least once a year outside of South Africa since 2013, so this was formative.
  • We were featured on Mashable.com which was a huge deal at the time. We were a case study for social media influence!
  • I got to work on a crazy innovative piece of software at the time – the Express iPhone app we had developed by a third party, and the tumblog themes/plugin which used the XML-RPC protocol to post from an iPhone app to WordPress. Waaaay ahead of its time. I’m still proud of this! The plugin has been downloaded 63,324 over the years, and the tumblog themes did pretty well too.
  • Some say the tumblog themes even influenced the introduction of post formats….We’ll never know….
  • I became acquainted with beer and Jägermeister properly 😀 Après ski….good times!
  • Most importantly though – I also built solid relationships with the other 5 guys.

This proved to be invaluable.

After the trip I recall Adii chatting to me about how important it was that I came on the trip because until that point, there wasn’t anyone full time that had been added to the team. Cobus and Malan were there from basically day 1 of Woo, so I was the “fresh” teammate who was the unknown factor to the existing culture.

Ultimately this is something I’ve seen over and over again as Woo grew, and has served me well at Automattic. Building relationships IRL with coworkers has probably been the single most important thing I’ve learned. Team meetups and grand meetups at Automattic are things I look forward to a lot for this very reason!

We didn’t do a lot of work on that trip to be honest. But to me it strengthened how we worked with each other when we got back home. It built deeper trust and a whole lot of camaraderie.

From snowball fights in the streets, falling many times on a snowboard, an extremely late night conversation about faith and evolution with Magnus 🙂 to heated pool fun (here’s looking at you Mark!) and many many beers – it set the tone for the next few years for me – Woo was innovative, Woo was effective, and Woo was fun!

And yes that is a picture of Mark, Fox and I in our underwear in the snow…on Mashable.com…the crazy things we did 😀

Thanks to Mark, Magnus, Adii, Cobus, and Malan for the memories, and the photos. The good shots were most likely taken by Mark or Adii 😛


Ten years can feel like a long time. But when so much happens in that time, it can feel like it flew past like you just drank your morning coffee!

This month, ten years ago I joined Woo.

My first day…

Ten. Years. Ago...

I’ve been reflecting on that the last few days and I’m feeling very grateful. Grateful that the choices I made have worked out well for my family, that I’ve been able to experience so much travelling around the world, and for the people I’ve built (and broken) relationships with during this time.

Last year I tweeted this:

My original intention was to write a book about my experiences and then release it this month.

Things didn’t quite work out that way, but I’m going to blog my thoughts over the next few weeks – specifically talking about some of the stories and experiences over the last ten years – almost like a scratch pad for ideas – and then once I’ve got all my thoughts down, I’ll compile it into an easier to read book format.

If you are interested in reading those experiences, you might wanna sign up to get notified, or subscribe to the RSS of my blog. I’ll post to my Twitter and LinkedIn too if you’re connected to me there.

Join 1,648 other subscribers

Podcast Appearance on WP Hacker Cast

Recently I was invited to appear on the podcast WP Hacker Cast by a prominent WordPress Cape Town community member, and an all around great guy – Jonathan Bossenger

We had a great conversation about my development career, how I ended up at Automattic, WordPress, and just had a great time for an hour and 20 minutes! Let me know what you thought in the comments on his site, or here!

If you aren’t subscribed to his podcast, you should check it out here!

Go Go Gutenberg!

I was browsing the WordPress.org plugins repo looking at a few block plugins, and there’s a bunch of them! And that made me wonder about my minor obsession with creating a great landing page experience using WordPress. I haven’t talked much about that, but I’ve done quite a lot of (possibly too much) research into it.

In my head I have this vision of creating simple landing pages using WordPress without having the need to buy page builders or additional templates etc. I really think that a simple landing page should be possible using the native WordPress editor (Gutenberg).

So, who would like to see a short blog/vlog series where I put up some landing pages using only free plugins in the WordPress.org plugin repo?

The format would be:

  • Showcase a type of landing page.
  • What would the elements be?
  • What free WP products would we use?
  • The build process!
  • A finished landing page demo on this site.
  • Downloadable block content so you try it on your own site.

Let me know what you think in the comments below…

Making Things Again

For the past few years I’ve either been maintaining existing products at work, or working on compatibility with complementary products like making themes WooCommerce compatible.

This year I had the opportunity to work on something new, building something from scratch, and seeing as I’m still part of our theming team at Automattic, naturally it was a theme 🙂

We released 6 new themes, all with a similar but slightly different feel. They are aimed at creators of business websites, but as you can see, I’m using the Calm Business theme on this site!

Go check them out on WordPress.com – I’m pretty proud of what our team created, and the designs by Takashi are superb!

One last thing, they ALL support the new WordPress Block Editor! 😀

Canvas Theme for WordPress

As some of you may know, I work over at Automattic on WooThemes themes within the Themes Team. My primary project is the Canvas Theme. I’m currently in the middle of making it even more awesome, and I thought I’d put my money where my mouth is and set it to be this site’s theme of choice.

I previously used The One Pager, and it was great for a while, but I no longer want to generate leads from the site – I’m just going to be blogging for a while 🙂

So sit back, enjoy the posts, and keep an eye out for some cool updates coming to Canvas soon!

Thoughts on 2015

Yes, I know, another year in review type post…but for me this year has been profound in a variety of different ways.

Today I finish up my 2015 working year, and return in early Jan, but it’s also the end of the first 6 months since Automattic acquired WooThemes. It’s been quite a time of nostalgia for me, particularly yesterday when some framed photos of each year’s WooTrip arrived at the Cape Town office.

It’s funny how after 6 years so much has changed. I look at that photo of the 6 of us, and even though only 4 are still around, it’s pretty crazy and extremely humbling to see what has been accomplished since then.

Woo Photos
Woo Photo wall, I’m furtherest on the left in the top left framed picture.


When I joined Woo, WooCommerce was merely a thought, no code, just an idea. And we wondered when we would get to it. It’s funny how a single product can change a business and capture the embrace of a community.

It hasn’t been all roses to be honest over the past 2 years for me. There have been times where I’ve been unsure of things and my future, but I’ve sought prayer and wise counsel throughout and I’m grateful for those people in my life.

Probably the biggest change this year for me was the shift away from doing additional freelance work (outside of Woo). I did freelance work mostly for fun and if there were interesting projects, not as a “have to”. But looking back, I probably took on more than I should have, and that sucks.

It’s been well documented by several people that Automattic has a COI policy – and, I don’t think it’s bad, I actually think it’s great. For me, I’m pretty drained at the end of my work day these days, and I don’t want to see a screen! I just want to relax with my family, pickup my guitar, have a swim, see my friends, basically detach from the world of tech.

This has been a massive mindshift.

I used to be “always on” but now I try to focus all my energy during my work day and detach after hours. The funny thing about that, is I’ve found I’m a lot more productive these days. I feel more focused at work, I get more sleep, and I’ve built a more meaningful relationship with my wife and daughter.

All in all, it’s been a tough year (in a good way), but has been a very rewarding year. I honestly feel proud of what I’ve been part of accomplishing at Woo, and now at Automattic, how things have changed for me personally, and the outlook for 2016. It’s an exciting time and I’m looking forward to connecting again next year, whether it’s online or in person.

So, for now, I’m signing off. Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year period.

See you later!