2014 Resolutions Review 02: Developing Realistic Expectations

It’s APRIL 4TH (actually, it’s April 5th at the New England Give Camp, the “coding for charity” event held every year at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge), and this is the SECOND of ten monthly reviews of my year’s goals: “Groundhog Day Resolutions” (GHDRs). After picking the goals on February 2nd, I review my progress monthly on 3/3, 4/4, 5/5, and so on until 12/12.

It’s been a very busy March, but I feel generally good about my progress because I am learning to be less demanding / more realistic about what I can do in a day. I’ll never be as fast as I want, or as good as some of the people I admire, but I can still make things happen.

Review of Groundhog Day Goals

This year’s GHDRs were, to remind myself once again:

  • Take more “first steps”, with less planning. Trust in my ability to solve problems when I encounter them.
  • Write and deploy software applications
  • Share my interests with everyone to see where it goes
  • Create better marketing content for my stuff

This past month has been less about first steps and more about writing software and working on my new website theme.

  • The UCLA STEP project, which is a Javascript-based educational research tool incorporating game-like interactive graphics, is demanding a lot of my attention. The first two weeks of this month were rather brutal as I was making incremental progress on multiple fronts, and wasn’t enjoying the feeling of frustration. Then, sometime in the middle of week, something clicked and I leveled-up. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but it was like catching a second wind. My brain, after weeks of rebelling against dumb-seeming concepts, had become used to the incremental learning process and adapted to the terrain. The overall system has been performing well enough to make progress so we can test concepts with prototype-quality code, so I really can’t complain.

  • As for my new website, I’ve been slowly converting the old content to a better theme. There are about a dozen significant technical issues that I still need to solve, and a dozen content-related issues. With the time I’m spending on other projects, I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it, but it’s going to be perhaps another month.

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p>So…I’m making progress on both goals. In another two months, this cycle will be over and I can assess what I’ve accomplished.

Other Advances

I’ve been running an ongoing experiment on myself regarding fog brain that state when I am unable to concentrate or focus because the thoughts aren’t coming together. I’ve been writing a lot about it, trying to find some patterns in my lapses of concentration. Of course, I’m too tired right now to remember what they are, but I do remember that the following three areas have been helping:

  • Memory Rituals – ensuring that I have repeatable systems that help me remember what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what I expect will happen to move a project forward.
  • Mental Rituals – ensuring that once I remember what I need to do, that I’m actually able to get into the “flow state”.
  • Health Rituals – maintaining adequate hydration and physical strength

There’s one more ritual that I need to add, which is that of Scheduling daily continuity. I have come to the conclusion that my current scheduling approach is not working. I currently assign Mondays to my own projects, Tuesdays to part-time projects, then Wednesday-Friday to UCLA. The weekend tends to be a mix of personal exploration, chores, and sometimes additional work on my own projects. This schedule arose from the feeling that I liked big blocks of time so I could devote all my attention to just one project at a time. In practice, I am finding that the long gaps between projects (for example, the 4 days that pass from Friday to Wednesday for UCLA) means that I spend a lot more time “getting back into the zone”. I am thinking that I should try working on more than one project a day for shorter periods of time. Or at the very least, spend a few minutes just reviewing all active projects so they are fresh in my mind.

I’ve had another insight recently too regarding novelty versus variety. I had previously thought that I require a lot of novelty in my life in the form of exciting new ideas. However, it may be that I just need some variety in my day. The insight came about from observing my eating habits as I counted calories: If I didn’t get to eat a variety of different foods, then I tended to want to eat more. And so it may also be with project work: instead of feeling “trapped” by one major project in the day, maybe I can learn to nibble on more of them and maintain a fresher mindset. I haven’t really thought this through yet, but I’m mulling it over.

Some Negatives

I’ve been falling way behind in updating forms and filling requests for form variations. The reason? I am packed with other projects. I need to figure out a way of realistically balancing the time I spend working, playing, and doing these kinds of experiments. There is SO MUCH TO DO that I tend to feel kind of miserly with my time, but then I end up not using it well anyway. Hm.

The Coming Month

It’s more Javascript. I also have some additional responsibilities with the community that I need to put some time into, and I think being able to reduce my feelings of being “trapped” by responsibility, unlocking an effective “mental starting” ritual through increased variety in my work, might help me become a little more productive. A good way to describe the change in approach is going from a single “full-day meal” to “grazing 15 minutes at a time”. The advantage of the one big meal approach is that it’s easy to remember what I’m supposed to do, but it feels somewhat oppressive. The grazing model might actually be more suitable to my nature, but MANAGING all those grazing sessions increases the memory burden. I’m not sure which one I dislike more, being stuck with one task or trying to remember a bunch of them. I’ll pull something together.

I am also getting more excited about blogging about my interests. I’ve been experimenting with letting more details about what I’m doing leak into my posts; in the past, I’ve tended to edit-out the specifics of my personal interests. A couple people have gone out of their way to say that they like reading about them, and I like sharing them, so I hope to do it more to attract like-minded people. If I don’t say anything, how will anyone know that they have found a kindred spirit?

So that’s the plan for the month, such as it is: MORE OF THE SAME. I’ll be happy if:

  • The UCLA Step Project is at the point where it’s load/saving playback data reliably synched with a video stream…a big deal!
  • My new website Productivity Tools pages are ready-to-go in some fashion in an attractive new page layout
  • I have gotten rid of my couches so I can proceed with my Living Room Cafe project
  • I have installed a vertical herb window garden, and built my Mark III Sub-Irrigated Tomato Planter

That’s about it! Have a happy April, all!

[snip-ghdrr2014]