Setting the Tone for Themed Week #2

[Note: This was originally intended to post on Monday, but I goofed up the publishing date]

This is the second of two morning posts about setting the tone for Themed Work Week #2. The idea behind a “themed work week” is to focus on just one major project (which has many moving parts) at a time, rather than try to juggle the projects on a day-by-day basis. My hypothesis is that I’ll find it easier to handle the load while being more productive.

Recap of the Last Week

First, a quick review of last week. The standout issue, as I see it, is not starting the hard stuff earlier, because this is what takes the ramp-up time. I had instead written a bunch of blog posts—technically appropriate, but it meant that I started the ramp-up on the technical work on Thursday. As usually, the technical task took most of Thursday and Friday to get my head around it, and then the week was over. I thought that perhaps I might continue working through the weekend, but I chose to play WildStar instead.

Other than that, I thought the week went pretty well with the blogging theme, I got a bunch of blog posts out and improved my workflow at the same time. I now am back to using Scrivener for the bulk of my writing, which feels really great.

Setting the Tone for the Coming Week

Now, to this week!

This week’s theme is client work for a particular long-time client. There are a number of speculative projects that we can tackle, and he’s willing to participate in this experiment. I’m excited to see what happens! Will massive amounts of work get done? Will my stress levels rise or sink? Will distracting thoughts of projects unfinished and projects upcoming prove to be my undoing?

Since this is an experiment (all documented under tag xpr2014a here on the blog, if you’re curious), ANY experiential data I get will be a big win. That said, there are a few ground rules that I believe will be helpful:

  • Don’t worry about other projects. Their time will come later! The point of having a themed work week is to give myself the mental room to ramp-up and maintain momentum on a single project for maximum gain. An important aspect of this is to give myself permission to do it, that it’s OK. This is what a decent manager should be doing for their own people, shielding them from unnecessary distractions, right? The same applies to me.

  • Ramp-up earlier on “hard” projects. There are certain tasks I find more difficult than others. For example, writing WordPress custom functions and plugins, or even modifying existing ones, requires attention to detail and meticulous process, and it can be very slow going.

  • Remember that this is about establishing a baseline for measuring work, not a race to be productive. In other words, the goal of this week is not to judge myself by “how much work” got done. Instead, it is a diagnostic exercise to see how much work does get done. Of course I do want to get a lot done, but I also want to avoid the anxiety and uncertainty that comes from setting unrealistic goals. This week (and the next) is part of the ongoing process to establish a realistic baseline of performance.

I’ve already tweaked my process to help alleviate “startup energy cost” by keeping “continuity journals” (now moved to Scrivener from Google Docs) and “how-to tech documents” that remind me how to do certain things. For example, when I restart the Blogging project, I have a continuity journal called “2014-0716 Website Launch” with Day 1, Day 2, etc entries in Scrivener. It describes, in as compact a way I can, what I explored and tried. It also describes what I need to do next, what specific function calls to use, and the algorithm I need to try. Supporting this work are two technical documents called “Local Web Development Setup” and “LZIL Bulk Updater Reference”, which respectively describe the terminal commands to enable my local test website for testing and how LZIL (a chunk of image processing code I wrote 9 years ago) works so I don’t have to look it up again. Hopefully, all these documents will help me remember where I was in a few minutes, rather than the four hours it took.

Handling the Side Projects

There are a few other regular side-projects that are going on this week. We’re recording our local podcast today for the Nashua, New Hampshire area. I have some ongoing chores and a major car maintenance repair to deal with. I also have several meetings scheduled; I am trying to limit them to two a week, because I find remembering to go to a meeting very distracting.

With a single client as this week’s focus, it theoretically will be easy to “bounce back” from a side project to where I left off, because I’ve removed the need to prioritize tasks for the week (there’s just one main one) and therefore have also reduced the amount of reactive work I do in response to someone else’s priority. By reducing reaction and emphasizing proaction, I suspect that my feeling of control will improve. If that feeling of control is accompanied by a measureable number of concrete achievements, that is what I would call a productive week.

Go!

It’s just about 3PM. I’ve gotten the podcast and podcast postmortem lunch out of the way. Future posts this week will be limited to 30 minutes of writing time a day, followed by 15 minutes of cleanup + posting.