Insights from Foggy Brain Week

POSTED Mon Mar.03.2014 by Dave Seah UNDER Musings TAGGED

A Week of Foggy ETPs

If you’ve been following my daily journals on fog brain, you probably have noticed the observations that have been accruing as I’ve fought the fuzziness.

I’ve rewritten each observation to try to capture its essence. They are presented in chronological order without comment; I’ll be mulling over them over the week to see what patterns become apparent.

I welcome any reader comments or reactions…together maybe we can figure something out that’s of universal interest to people like US: semi-neurotic thoughtful introverted process-oriented productivity-obsessed shiny goal-setting creatives that just want people to be happy about chasing their dreams while not starving to death! Or something like that :-)

From Foggy Monday

  • The fresh first hours of the day, just after waking/showering/eating protein, are sacred. Don’t sacrifice this time to distracting activities like email, news, or social media. Take that first hour and make something for yourself.

  • Email is a source of focus-destroying distractions and new responsibilities to process and react to. It is draining. Avoid as much as possible if you want to be creative.

  • Maintaining continuity helps make the day a productive one. For work that doesn’t have its own continuity baked-in, the next best thing is a tool process you can discipline yourself to use as your daily anchor. Keep it in the same place, with the rest of the materials and tools you need.

From Foggy Tuesday

  • Chores are often much bigger in my head than in reality, especially when I’m actually facing them down. The trick is not to waste energy bitterly thinking about how I’d rather be doing something else. Instead, start and see what it’s like, and channel the thinking into doing the task quickly and well until a stopping point arises.

  • Any forward motion feels good, which reduces anxiety felt toward future deadlines and goals. Believe this, and progress is mine!

  • I have a problem being creative/productive after running physical errands and meetings. It is not clear to me why. A FUTURE EXPERIMENT FOR MARCH

  • When I am fuzzy-headed and unproductive, I end up doing a lot of mindless clicking on the Internet. GET AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER and harness that nervous impulse to click by getting in front of a CHORE like washing dishes or decluttering. Put other thoughts out of your mind, and clicks will turn into clean dishes. Amazing!

  • Just FACING a big hairy undefined task and figuring some piece of it out feels like progress, if you’re NOT FREAKING OUT about getting it all done ASAP and berating yourself for being stupid/lazy.

  • It’s good to be around people who love the same things you do. I must reduce the number of commitments that take me away from that (for example, a misplaced sense of duty).

From Foggy Wednesday

  • Meetings kill my ability to focus. Anticipation of the meeting is a distraction. After the meeting, I am often unable to focus. A general goal is to have as few meetings as possible per week, because they are highly damaging to my productivity.

  • Managing tasks and planning when to do them (as with Trello) can make the day seem more packed than it really is. The very existence of an upcoming task on a list creates a mental burden due to feelings of (1) responsibility (2) unknown amount of difficulty/time drain (3) loss of freedom (4) undefined expectations.

  • Productivity falls drastically outside a temperature range of 65 degrees to 75 degrees.

  • I live in my head a lot, constantly thinking and processing. The ability to TURN OFF REFLECTION and shift the focus to what is in front of me (both figuratively and literally) is a powerful focusing tool. Focus is the ability to NOT be distracted; it is not the intensity of thinking itself. When focused, the intensity of the thinking is a byproduct of not being distracted by other things.

  • Technical documentation is bad when it creates question after question in the mind of the reader, deferring understanding and causing frustration by never providing resolution. Bad nomenclature and architectural clarity in the product just makes it worse.

  • Learning something new will give me a physical headache when I am frustrated by the available material. The state of unknowing, when drawn out, creates confusion that is mentally draining. Knowing that, I have to adopt an investigative approach and create the complete picture from scattered clues.

  • When learning something new, augmenting the documentation with a look at the physical crime scene (i.e. working code) will help fill in the gaps. There are essential patterns that are often not conveyed by third party observers because of (1) familiarity blindness and (2) compartmentalized thinking.

  • I am ready to work with a system once I completely grok it. To get to that point, I have to expand my inputs beyond documentation. Synthesizing and documenting my OWN mental model of how it should work is helpful. Observing the system directly and inspecting its operations in detail is also helpful.

  • The brain fog of confusion has been with me since I was a kid. Hard subjects are the ones that “don’t make sense” to me, and create a confusion headache. I am just now learning to cope with it systematically, by being serious about defining and kitting a learning process that is compatible with my thinking. I’m not completely dumb…better late than never!

  • When grok’ing a new system, I like to “blueprint” the critical operating routes through it so I understand its conceptual underpinnings in the context of the problem it is supposed to solve. It is only then that pre-built “recipes” for doing common tasks (as most tutorials are) become useful, as do higher-level “patterns” for common types of goals. The ability to observe the processes as they happen (as in having a good debugger in the programming context) is absolutely essential for model-refining reflection.

From Foggy Thursday

  • Only a small percentage of my time is spent in “hard creative work”. The rest of the time is spent managing, researching, or gathering. What is the right balance? I feel like I should be doing more hard creative work, and less managing.

  • It seems to take me a long time to solve programming tasks that, if I were a competent programmer, should be able to solve much more quickly. This is an unrealistic, unkind attitude to have toward myself, but still it lingers.

  • Sometimes hard work doesn’t create a physical headache. Differences noted this time: the end was in sight; rate of knowledge absorption was rapid; major unknowns were resolved; didn’t let myself have a negative emotional reaction, just focused on task at hand in front of me.

  • Thinking tools on the market today do not have an actual workspace for arranging, refining, and synthesizing data in a reflective, process-oriented manner. Scrivener is one exception.

From Foggy Friday

  • The very act of recording my activities creates mindfulness.

  • Getting together with friends feels like procrastination when I am not making the progress I want with my work. However, socializing with friends also adds energy and opens new possibilities.

  • Spending time socializing, meeting, and/or driving places makes me very tired, making it difficult to work afterwards.

  • Server administration can be a tedious, frustrating task. However, when I am not in a hurry it is like tinkering and kind of enjoyable in the way a half-compliment is.

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