2018 Goals Review 06 Part II: Staying on Target with Themed Work Blocks

2018 Goals Review 06 Part II: Staying on Target with Themed Work Blocks

Staying on Target In Part I of this month’s Groundhog Day Resolutions review I talked about the tantalizing possibilities of detoxifying crunch time as a way of battling my tendency to be bored with “slow-and-steady” approaches to work. I think slow-and-steady (SaS) DOES work, but it doesn’t come easily. I tell myself that SaS works because (1) learning takes time and (2) figuring out how to make something complicated that works well takes even more time. There is no avoiding that, I might as well embrace SaS and be happy because I AM SO WISE…?

Bah! In my heart I know SaS sucks. Accepting it doesn’t mean I have to like it as is. What is missing is the sense of excitement and adventure:

  • I myself don’t have to be slow and even-tempered even when I have to let things take the time they need.
  • I can look for opportunities to elevate the drama of the process, converting “slow and steady” to “simmering and sizzling” instead.
  • If there is a chance to include other people in the epic challenge, then that’s even better!

That seems MUCH MORE to my liking! So let’s see what I can do with that idea in Part II of my Groundhog Day Resolutions Report for August 2018!

The Major Achievement of the Month

I’ve been doing a quick weekly check-in with “virtual coworker” Jakob in my Discord Coworking Chat Room. He’s an organizational development guy with deep roots in large scale tech, and during our check-in he has me share biggest win and where I’m stuck. I can see it being effective for a high signal-to-noise communication style in a company, and it has also been working for me.

In the spirit of the biggest win, let me try to describe the Javascript work I’ve been finishing over the past few weeks: I made a system to let researchers with basic programming knowledge easily pass messages+data between webapps without having to write any setup code or manage asynchronous handshakes. You don’t have to define message formats ahead of time. You don’t even have to know what other webapps understand what you’re saying or know their addresses. The system will handle it. You can talk to as many webapps at once as you want and receive all the data back with one call.

What makes this a win?

  • I could have just implemented a standard websocket/server interface to meet the feature requirements of (1) centralized data storage and (2) multiple web apps accessing that data in realtime. Implementing it that way maybe would have taken less time to concept, but I also know this approach is more prone to error.
  • I thought it was worth putting in my own time to make something I thought would be better and logged the hours separately so we knew how much time went into it. This was a way I could justify working on more stuff than the budget allowed, while using the project requirements as a real test case for an improved system.
  • Holy moly, it works!!!

While there are already systems out there that do networked asynchronous communication, this is the one that I made the way I wanted it to work. I understand every design decision I made in it, and I didn’t let my lack of Javascript, network, or database design stop me from trying to make a system that I thought would be broadly useful for my peers. I tried to make it as clear, simple, and expressive as possible both in the design of the system and the structure of the source code. It deviates from several popular ad-hoc Javascript conventions, but it isn’t entirely ignorant of them either. I would describe it as a solid “journeyman piece” that demonstrates intermediate mastery code concepts with a few tweaks of my own. It isn’t quite a master work, but certainly it is something that contributes toward the making of such a work in the days to come as more grant money becomes available.

I feel really satisfied with my progress, which is a very rare feeling. I would like to have that feeling AGAIN.

Looking Forward to August

What worked really well in July was applying the crunch mode mentality in a non-toxic way. So let me add that into the mix of Ground Rules for August Work:

  • Crunch Mode works if I maintain a non-toxic mindset about it. There is a severe social cost, though, because I basically become a hermit for the time period. Therefore, I need to schedule a mini-vacation to have good times with people before going back in.

  • The single project focus of Crunch Mode also works well for me, and suggests that I have to make some hard choices about what I keep on my “active project list”. I suspect I can only realistically keep one or two projects going this month.

  • I have to protect my time to maintain in hyperfocused crunch mode. Sadly, ANY social engagement ruins my ability to concentrate; even SCHEDULING an interaction in the future triggers debilitating “time obsession” in my head. And it takes 4-12 hours for my brain to relax afterwards, where it is almost impossible for me to practice deep focused thought. Scheduling all my social time in a block of days might work.

Triage Time: Pick Two Projects

Project 1: KM/SSG

My most critical personal project is, I believe, the KM/SSG knowledge management website/project. This is my public lab notebook design that I hope to use both as a secure replacement for this website as well as a useful knowledge management system for thinking. I have made very little progress on it, but I think it’s critical because it addresses the main bottlenecks in my creative work:

  • Having ONE PLACE to digital source and reference materials on a per-project basis. (I don’t like hunting for stuff, or wondering where I put it)
  • Using the SAME PLACE to maintain continuity notes, idea drafts, and experiments by project (I have a lot of projects, and some of them reference each other)
  • Establish a KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM and conventions that allow me to work with all stored project media directly, using only a capable multi-document text editor like VSCODE and software tools that can transform/compile collections of derived data. (This is where a potential increase in productivity could occur by making all my knowledge synthesis-friendly through multi-view data filtering).
  • Using the SAME SYSTEM to also publish my notes to a website using a static site generator WITHOUT transcribing them into another publishing format (Would make all my work available as I do it, eliminating the need to write separate blog posts in WordPress).
  • Having REVISION HISTORY baked into the entire system on the document and collection level. (Provides a way of reviewing the evolution of my work)
  • Is GENERATED ON MY OWN COMPUTER for maximum portability, but backed-up to a cloud data service. (Can work anywhere, with or without internet, without fear of losing data permanently).

Currently I have several systems that I use together to do my work, but I think it could be much better. I theoretically know how it works, but I just need to make it. So I’m thinking of allocating a time block of two weeks to this project, and setting a relatively simple milestone delivery goal of system produces website by project folder to just get the content scaffolding and information hierarchy in place. The interesting capabilities come from writing software that works within that scaffolding.

Project 2: Billable Project Work

I have two active projects, the NetCreate digital humanities project (for which I made the networking system) and some kind of programming concepts project that has yet to kick-off, so I know very little about it. We generally work using an “Agile-like” approach, so I should be able to block out the time in a way that is compatible with what I’m thinking. In the past I’ve called this Themed Work Weeks, where I could switch back and forth between personal and billable projects.

Changes to Themed Work Weeks (now Blocks)

There are a few changes I’m going to make to Themed Work Weeks:

  • THEMED WORK BLOCKS, NOT WEEKS. I don’t think a 7-day block is enough time for me. 10 days feels about right, because starting a Big Hairy Project (BHP) is so fraught with uncertainty. It takes a few days for the momentum to build, and then you want a good 5-7 days afterwards to crunch w/ rest periods.

  • SOCIAL TIME will now count as a THEMED WORK BLOCK. As I mentioned, even one planned social interaction ruins my ability to focus. During a themed work block, there will be NO planned social interaction. I will have to explain that to my friends.

  • A THEMED WORK BLOCK has just ONE PROJECT. Everything else can wait, excepting emergencies of course. Errands that do not require (2) decision making or (2) creative problem solving are fine.

  • OPPORTUNISTIC ACTIVITIES are OK. It’s only planned social interactions that are disruptive. If I am mentally wiped-out and can’t work, and a friend happens to contact me to see if I want to go do something, that is NOT a distracting commitment. Likewise, if I find myself somewhere and I happen to see something interesting, it’s ok to gather data but not act on it. Gathering data is fun, and can be noted in my ACCRUAL LOG as a way of providing closure to the activity. Otherwise, I might be tempted to surf the net endlessly.

Dropping Other Projects

With only two projects + social time in my rotation, I am suspending the following GHDR goals and related activities until it makes sense to me to start them up again:

  • No scheduled blogging, except for GHDR-related reports. Unplanned blog posts might happen.
  • No scheduled podcasting, unless the opportunity to do some specials arises during a “social block”
  • No livestreaming, because the setup and need to reconfigure my space and computer takes away from the other work, and it does take energy even in the half-assed way I do it.
  • No Patreon design work, because this is a THEMED WORK WEEK in itself. KM/SSG and billable project work are the priority. I have already posted a notice on my Patreon account inviting people to unsubscribe for a while until I pick it up again.
  • No new Amazon products, because Amazon commerce itself is a big project deserving of its own THEMED WORK WEEK.
  • No scheduled socialization or trips, outside of a designated SOCIAL WEEK, unless some arises opportunistically.

The hardest part about dropping all these projects is that they produce products that people like. And strategically speaking, withdrawing from the public feels like a promotional/marketing mistake. However, I also know I am not doing my best work in these areas anyway. Putting my energy into the new system will help me do my best work again and also provide NEW methodologies. I think my social media profiles can survive a few months of downtime. People will come back when there is something good to see, and being able to produce better content and share new tools is how I want to do that.

Other Stuff that Happened

While July was filled with the stress of travel and crunch mode, I think it’s worth remembering that other life experienced happened too.

Cherry PickingB-29 BomberEarly flight to California

I went cherry picking (LEFT) with my good friends Sid and Sara. The season is just two weeks long, and I have missed it for the past 18 years…until now!

I took a day to visit a B-29 bomber from World War II (one of two in flying shape, MIDDLE) that was in the vicinity for the weekend, and also enjoyed breakfast at the tiny airport cafe since it was my “diet cheat day”. Speaking of dieting, I am down almost 30 pounds since starting my diet at the end of May.

I flew to California on Friday 13th (RIGHT), the first time I’d been on a trip in the US for a while. This was made possible by having a house guest that could give my cat his insulin injections while I was away.

Peanut Butter Burger with old friendBrian's Memorial ServiceMa Po Tofu with friends

In California, I met up with my high school friend Mark, and it was like old times. He suggested I try this peanut butter and bacon burger (LEFT), which was EXCELLENT.

I spent time with family for my Cousin Brian’s Memorial Service (MIDDLE), which was very moving. I got caught up with some other relatives and talked a bit about non-binary/transgender identity with one trusted ally.

A friend of mine claimed he had mastered the cooking of Ma Po Tofu (RIGHT) and so I went to try it. To my surprise, he had indeed made an excellent version of it; the surprise was that he had never shown any interest in cooking before.

Target shooting with friendTrying on wigsTomatoes and basil

I discovered that a friend of mine recently purchased the same handgun that I have and enjoys shooting. We are both out of practice, so we scheduled some range time to see if we might make a regular thing of it once a month. I compared my accuracy with the old carry gun with the potential replacement** (LEFT), and clearly I still don’t know quite how to get the best performance out of it yet. I can still shoot accurately, though, which was a relief.

My relatives in Taiwan keep suggesting that with such thin hair I should consider wigs. I’m sure the relatives thought I would be looking at MALE styles (MIDDLE) though…heh heh. The wig store experience itself was very interesting, and a good nudge out of my comfort zone. There are a couple of possibilities (and many hilarious fails).

My tomato plant is doing great (RIGHT) and so is the basil and mint I planted with it! Another month and I might have some edible fruit!

Plants from DadRearranged spaceMaking new friend

The clover that my Dad planted on his last visit (LEFT) has actually finally taken root. For six months NOTHING was happening, and it’s great to see that it’s producing flowers!

While I was in CRUNCH MODE, I decided to move my computer cart from the living area to the dining area, which has now become a nice computing nook (MIDDLE). This frees-up the living area so my house guests can watch TV, and it is also a bit nicer for entertaining. I find I don’t usually use the dining area for dining anyway, and the new setup is an improvement.

My house guest’s cat Nym has finally warmed up to me, after about two months of glowering at me from afar!

Wrapping Up

Finally at the end of this report! Here’s a summary of what I’m planning:

  • I’ll be instituting THEMED WORK BLOCKS this month. I’m not sure what and when they’ll be, but I’ll report them here in the weekly GHDR updates.
  • My designated PERSONAL GOAL PROJECT is the knowledge management/static site generator project KM/SSG.
  • Although I am deliberately suspending many projects, I can still opportunistically engage in them if I constrain myself to data gathering only. This is a nice way for me to unwind, after all.
  • I’m still collecting opportunistic produce in the Accrual Log spreadsheet. July yielded some new insights, but nothing that is immediately actionable.

I think you could say I am reframing this year’s GHDR goals as a drive to develop capability to make and share high quality content. The two particular types of content I’m focusing on right now is software and knowledge, and these are complicated things (for me, anyway) to make. The proof is in the produce. We’ll see how far I get in KM/SSG by September.

I also have to make some kind of plan to get started on this. I’ll be figuring that out in the coming days and will report in the Discord #accountability room or possibly #talk-creative.

So that’s my plan! I’ll file a report in a week or so.

"Groundhog by Pearson Scott Foreman" Here’s this year’s calendar:

MON 1/1 New Year’s Day Start thinking about resolutions
FRI 2/2 Groundhog Day Make your resolutions. Assemble your peer group.
SAT 3/3 March 3 Review w/ group.
WED 4/4 April 4 Review w/ group.
SAT 5/5 Cinco de Mayo Review w/ group. Think celebratory, spring-like thoughts!
WED 6/6 June 6 Mid-Year Review w/ group. Optional break for summer.
SAT 7/7 Tanabata Star Festival Private Review. Make Wishes. Rededicate.
WED 8/8 Chinese Father’s Day Private Review. Plan for future completion.
SUN 9/9 September 9 Review w/ group. Three months left.
WED 10/10 October 10 Review w/ group. Two months left.
SUN 11/11 Veteran’s Day Review w/ group. A Day to be Grateful.
WED 12/12 December 12 End-of-year Review. Break for Holiday Madness.

About this Article Series

For my 2018 Groundhog Day Resolutions, I'm challenging myself to develop "gathering-style productivity" as I pursue the year's goals. You'll find the related posts on the 2018 Groundhog Day Resolutions page.