Fogbrain Battle Two: Wednesday of Wandering Attention

Wednesday saw an improvement in concentration and productivity, but it took a while to transition to “focused” from the “distracted” mode, where I kept turning to Facebook, mail, and twitter to find something else to react to.

The Morning

I was up at 815. Started deleting mail until 845. Now getting into showers. I’m still feeling slightly tired, actually. Perhaps I should go back to sleep, or at least drink some water. Let me nap for a bit more. Slept in and had a dream about falling into a swimming pool with a defective parachute. Felt slightly better. Still sleepy and feeling the fogbrain. Is it possible that it’s (1) dehydration, (2) lack of nutrition or (3) thinking just feels like this all the time and I never noticed when I was driven/excited? Is this the equivalent of feeling “the burn” when working out? Or is it because I’ve already mentally assigned this entire day to hard work, and this has killed any joy to look forward to? It doesn’t help that I’m on a low-calorie diet.

OBSERVATION: Lack of clarity, confusion, and uncertainty demands hard thinking to work one’s way out of it, and this might actually have a physical sensation associated with it. Does thinking ACTUALLY hurt? If so, maybe I am falsely thinking that mental strain is something to be avoided, much the way I thought that physical strain was not desirable when exercising.

I fell asleep again, and woke up at 1130AM. I was STILL tired. I grabbed my laptop like an idiot and checked my mail, and spent about 45 minutes responding to emails that were about future commitments that I didn’t really want to make, but have accepted as necessary for being part of the local community. I’ve been thinking about civics and my role in society, and I want to step-up my participation even though my natural inclination is to do my own thing. There is much to learn about people and collaboration…but I digress.

The Afternoon and Evening

At noon I had my weekly catchup with Ben, who’s working with me on the big hairy project (or rather, I am working for him). and then I spent the rest of the day coding and sharing notes. From around 1PM to 1AM, I spent about 8 hours on actual coding / code-related activities. The rest of the time, some 4 hours, were spread between about 8 snack breaks (including lunch and dinner), 4-5 email/facebook/twitter breaks, and a couple of cat-initiated play sessions. The actual code progress, in visible features, is still where it was last week. This is that frustrating phase where the building of many systems has to occur before something magical happens.

OBSERVATION: The various breaks I took often were to get away from the programming, in search of something to stimulate my numbed mind. It was only after I started to gain a deeper grasp of my code that I got pulled into making tweaks and improvements. My understanding of Javascript and web development is quite improved from the time I started two months ago, and I’m starting to (gasp) enjoy exercising my new-found mastery of unfamiliar (heretofore labeled by me as “stupid”) concepts like prototypical inheritance and and functional programming.

There were several times where I fell into the flow of programming. At the beginning of the programming session, I had managed to come up with a specific place to start, where I could write according to an outline and piece-together the necessary code fragments. Verifying it worked, I then needed to add real functionality, and then I realized I had to write yet another module to do it. Which led to another module. What kept it straight in my head was the time I took to think aloud on paper, writing out how I would like it to work and how I would LIKE to write that code in day-to-day use. I was able to garner and use very small bits of clarity and push forward even though the greater system design is still mysterious and undefined in many areas. Still, this is necessary progress, and it actually is going well.

OBSERVATION: Initially, the continual need to revisit my code and extend it to another module was irritating and demotivating. It’s only when I deliberately stopped and acknowledged the need for additional high-level design thinking, and then spent the time doing it, that I was able to experience a deeper flow. Before, my mentality was just “get it done fast, but get it done correctly”. That mentality undercuts my own enjoyment of the process.

Conclusions for the Day

I would say today was a productive day, though I’m not quite sure how that happened. I haven’t achieved the “magic point” in my code where it’s suddenly complete and able to stand up by itself, but I am mature enough to recognize that I made significant progress, and I can see what tomorrow brings.

I did not use the mental ritual of clearing my mind, etc. Instead, I think I drew upon the shared sense of mission from Ben, who I talked to on Skype and on FaceTime throughout the day. I could see him set up motion tracking equipment and see what he was doing, and this perhaps put me into the mood to work.

I did use the memory ritual, which is looking at my growing pile of written-out thoughts on paper. There is something compelling about this that I don’t quite understand yet, and it may be related to new processes and approaches to try in the future. It’s not that I’m writing on paper that is the difference. It is the way that paper is making me think big picture and also in terms of sequencing, identifying directions, and coming to a decision that makes sense for an immediate next step.

I drank 80 fl.oz of water, and was still dehydrated! Must keep it up tomorrow. I did not go to the gym, either, so I will have to go tomorrow. I should have tried at least low-intensity podcast listening or something, but I really wanted to stay and work on the code.