Fogbrain Battle One: Tuesday of Tiredness

Here’s Tuesday’s log of what I did to battle Fogbrain. It didn’t go great, but it wasn’t a total loss either.

Morning

I reviewed what I wrote last night. Did it help me remember what I needed to do today? Yes, but not immediately. On the other hand, I was able to remember the three rituals I wrote about yesterday: mental ritual, memory ritual, and physical (water/exercise) ritual. Before, I had to keep looking up what they were and what they meant; it takes me time to memorize something. Three exposures over several days, apparently.

I then drew out what I needed to do for the major programming project, using a blank sheet of paper. The project has quite a few moving pieces, and I found that the writing helped me gain clarity. It gave me time to think, perhaps. In 30 minutes I had a much better idea of where I could start defining the next piece of code. Focus! Clarity! Certainty! The drawing/writing I did are part of the memory ritual; I should do it in the morning instead of typing.

Despite the clarity and focus in my purpose, I was still feeling very fuzzy headed. This was a prime opportunity to exercise the mental ritual I had outlined last night. But first, I tried to qualify what the fuzzy felt like:

  • It feels like sleepiness. I want to close my eyes.
  • There is a slight ache to my back.
  • I feel a pressure at the sides of my head, at the temples pushing in. If I close my eyes, I feel like taking a nap, but the pressure feels slightly less. Perhaps it is eye strain I’m feeling, squinting at the text of this monitor in a bright room. I am overdue for an eye exam.

Although I’m feeling sleepy, I suspect that this is just my lizard brain trying to get out of doing something it doesn’t want to do, which is solve one of many sticky Javascript challenges to come. I assess the coming work for the day to see how I react emotionally:

  • There’s a Skype meeting coming up with my friend Britt – it’s in 30 minutes
  • There’s possibly another Skype meeting at 2PM, though I think this one is cancelled
  • There’s a Future Tech Women meeting tonight in Manchester that I’ve been invited to attend

Meetings of any kind put me in an anticipatory frame of mind, because I hate being late for them. It’s a distraction and also an energy drain that I try to manage proactively. The distraction might be part of the source of my sleepiness, having stolen away part of my attention, but I can’t say for sure.

Next, looking at the three major things to try to get done today:

  • Some quick website changes for a client – I’m tempted to do this first, but since they are simple I can probably push them to later in the day when I can make do with less energy.
  • Some review of notes from a meeting last Friday, the design of a report – This too I can probably push off
  • Getting a jump on the…what was it again…oh yes, the big programming project!

It’s that latter project that seems be generating the sleepiness. Not because it’s boring, but because there is no clear-cut approach. I am learning the intricacies of object oriented Javascript as I design elegant code structures, and it’s non-trivial synthesis work. Add to that the two other tasks, and I have a pretty hefty chunk of work to get done.

It is time to invoke the mental ritual! But before I do that, I want to test a theory: if I go do something fun, does the sleepiness go away? So I go into the basement and look for some old Apple II 8-bit gear that I was planning to photograph in the 10 minutes before my call with Britt. And as I suspected, by the time I came back upstairs the pressure headache was gone. I was still a little tired, but the pressure was gone. It also helped if I closed my eyes.

Afternoon

After a pleasant and thought-provoking call, I was ready to jump into the Javascript challenge! The mental ritual reads thusly:

  • Close all (computer) windows!
  • Clear the mind by thinking Nothing!
  • Push out all non-essential thoughts!
  • Select a small task, and expand it to fill the entirety of my mind!
  • Stare at that task until something happens

So I closed all the windows. I closed my eyes and quieted my mind. I dispelled each thought that popped up and tried to silence to the silence that ensured. It was very relaxing, and I instantly fell asleep, waking only because I had set a kitchen timer for some eggs I was boiling. After getting the eggs taken care of, I settled back down and tried it again, and again fell asleep.

I need a new plan. Maybe I should pick something to do first and write down instructions, take a break, then come back to it. So I ate some hard boiled eggs, which was the first food of the day I belated realized, and hoped for a surge of energy. Nada. I was still fake-tired. I was finding it impossible to break through my indifference to starting work.

So I used an older drill:

  • I started writing in a working document for thinking aloud about the programming tasks. I find that writing helps me connect and sequence my thoughts together, and this helped me build some momentum.
  • I also decided to do a 15-minutes of practice minimum run, and promised myself that I would indeed take a nap if I couldn’t get through it.

And this worked well. I went for 90 minutes of coding and set up a nice little code module. I was still feeling pretty foggy, so I decided to go to the gym to do my 15 minutes of intense cardio. I came back home, and promptly fell asleep for an hour. Upon waking, I left for the evening meeting with Future Tech Women. And the day was pretty much over.

Observations

The Memory Ritual worked pretty well. Looking at last night’s sketches and making new sketches this morning helped me see what I was doing and where I wanted to go. I foresee a problem, though, with managing all these drawings. Where do I keep them? I took some photos of them and put them in my DropBox folder so I could access them while mobile, but the tactile nature of the paper itself is an important part of the experience. I’ll need some way of storing these papers. Tomorrow I should look for some rugged folders to keep them in.

The Mental Ritual didn’t work at all. At least, it didn’t work by itself. The more energy I put into the ritual itself, the more resistance I faced. I had hoped that the ability to clear my mind would be enough. There might be days when I have bountiful energy that this does work, but today was not that day.

It occurs to me that the resistance I’m feeling is actually the mental strain of hard thinking, which creates a headache. Perhaps pushing through the resistance is learning how to cope with the headache and push through it. I don’t like admitting that something thinking is hard, but maybe I will save myself some grief if I just admit and accept it.

Tomorrow’s Outlook

Tomorrow is another day of Javascript programming, and I’m keen on picking up where I left off today. The Memory Ritual should tell me where I left off, though I didn’t do a good job of leaving that place marked. I’d like to spend the morning on it, then switch to other projects. I’ll try refining the Mental Ritual by incorporating the writing with the meditative approach and see what happens.