Facing Fogbrain: Working on Tools

Physical Artifacts Yesterday I decided that this week’s challenge/experiment would be to focus on these three areas:

  • a minimum daily water and exercise regimen – very basic! 64oz water, 15 minutes hard cardio.
  • memory ritual – establishing a “starting place” where I can go and remember what I was doing.
  • mental ritual – establishing a method to clear my mind, then let a very small task expand to fill my entire mind.

Today was a fairly productive day in that I got some personal stuff done on my new website, which involved learning how to write batch processing AJAX code to automatically update all my posts to work with the new Markdown text formatting plugin I’ll be using. I actually got it working today, much to my surprise and delight, and this was a major victory.

Still, when I got home, I wasn’t really clear on how I was going to implement the “memory ritual” (which is about remembering/knowing what I should be doing) and its companion “mental ritual” (which is about clearing the mind and starting the work). So I started to doodle on some index cards to “think on paper” and see what came out.

I didn’t really have a plan, but tried to identify the kind of benefits that I imagined being useful.

DoodlesThe first card I doodled on was to illustrate “focus”. My mental model of focus is that it’s the ability to clear away all the junk from one’s attention, so whatever you select to focus on can occupy the entirety of one’s mind. The next card had some kind of bird on it, a smiling fish wielding what appears to be a set of bolos, and a hippo-ish horse head next to a screwdriver. I’m not sure what that means…it just came out. Then I drew a gearbox, thinking that this might be some kind of mechanical ritual thing that ground out productivity, but I drew a ladybug afterwards with a magnifying glass. Selecting that one small thing and blowing it up to (again) to occupy one’s full attention seems to be important to me. For the last card, I converted my website to do list into a series of squares that map what I need to get done before I can officially launch it. I’d like to do it sooner than later, but there are quite a few technical fixes I have to make to make the new blog theme compatible with my ancient WordPress 1.1 photo gallery system. Then there’s mundane stuff like making sure the old links will work on the new site, that the RSS feeds still work, and so on. This card shows the continuity and relationship of tasks in a compact form, so I’m hoping this helps with the memory ritual.

MapThis evening, I tried to write down what the three rituals (water/exercise, memory, mental) were comprised of. My first-pass draft of a mental ritual is a set of steps to (1) clear the mind of distractions followed by (2) expanding a single small task into the entirety of my mind, so I can work on it. The memory ritual is not quite so straightforward. I wrote down important concepts like “one place to start”, followed by notes on what parts of my “memory system” seemed important. The general idea is that I can do maybe three things a day, and the selection of those three things is influenced by my Trello board of infinite possibility. The Trello board is populated by my personal desires and external requests that come from a myriad of sources. What gets done is added onto a chain of accomplishments, one of several, that I need to keep in mind so I can remember what to do next. Finally, there is the sense that I can realistically only get a few things done every week, and I need to be careful to restrict the number of slots that I make available.

So that’s where I am at the moment. While drawing out all these thoughts was maybe more time-consuming than just typing them, I felt that this allowed me to engage the challenge with a different part of my brain. And, it is a LOT more interesting to use pictographs as a memory jogger than lines and lines of text. I’ll leave it all in a neat pile on my desk, and see how I react to it tomorrow morning. The goal, to again remind myself, is to create some guiding rituals that help me overcome Fogbrain, which is comprised of (1) not remembering what to do and (2) not being able to start quickly and maintain focus.