GHDR Weekly Review 6.1 – Conan and the Common Good

This is the first weekly review following my last Groundhog Day Resolutions Monthly Report #6 on August 8. I had set some goals that seemed pretty achievable at the time:

  • Start using THEMED WORK BLOCKS, which is focused work on a single project at a time. Since I had just finished a major delivery, I thought I had a couple of weeks to work in my important personal projects.
  • I had designated KM/SSG as the theme for this work block. I figured I could use 10 days on this, getting back into the crunch mindset I had described in . This is a hybrid digital workflow/website publishing system to replace multiple thinking/writing tools I use.
  • Additionally, I would allow opportunistic projects to happen so long as they did not require any planning. They had to be instant and in the moment, with a clear result at the end of the project that could be entered in my Accrual Log.

That ALL GOT TOSSED last week, and I got nothing done. I was feeling pretty terrible about myself today until I started to look deeper at my expectations and the video game CONAN: EXILES.

RECAP OF THE WEEK

On the surface, it doesn’t look too bad. Here’s the plan I posted on Monday August 13 in my Discord chat room, filled-in by the end of day Sunday:

-1-
[X] confirm add/delete node is working as intended
[X] write module docs
[+] update dev environment installation instructions
-2-
[X] reinstall MacOS
[X] restore development environment
[X] .. test 'install from scratch' instructions for NC
[X] `WED` bills (health,lab,doc,kohls)
[X] `WED` errands (returns,car,pickup,apple,recycling)
[+] `WED` + bills part 2 (residual mail pile)
[x] `THU` + followup billing corrections
[x] `THU` call exterminator back
[+] netcreate 2-week plan
[+] book flight to NJ
[~] call back S! (phone tag!)
[/] `MON` themed workblock planning
-3-
[X] restore audio production environment
[X] restore graphics production environment
[X] write description of markdown format
[X] `SUN` weekly review
-4-
/// target meeting Aug23-29 for netcreate

LEGEND: [ ]=planned  [X]=planned+done  [+]=reactive+done  [~]=in-progress  !!!=late  ///=remember
LEGEND: { }=optional  [-]=cancelled  [?]=stalled  [.]=paused  [:]=blocked  [>]=deferred [/]=fail
GROUPS: 1=priority 2=regular 3=personal 4=notes

The main achievements for the week were:

  • fix bugs for work project #1
  • plan next two weeks of work project #1
  • schedule unexpected trip for work project #2 kickoff
  • clean operating system install from scratch
  • take care of backlog of bills and household chores
  • GHDR FAIL plan themed work block for the next few weeks
  • GHDR FAIL work on my own project KM/SSG

In short, work and chores got done, because they had to be. However, I didn’t work on my own goals at all, and I feel pretty terrible about it. Instead, I played quite a lot of Conan: Exiles on my cousin Jason’s private server, working on a map that shows not only where we’ve built our bases, but shows the best routes to get between them:

Conan Exiles Base Map This is a cropped version of the full map I made in Adobe Illustrator to share in our chat server; this focusing on the zone where we have built our main bases. The thick dotted lines show routes that I personally have vetted and marked with lighted stone pillars, so you can easily find your way through the wilderness and avoid most predators. I also spent a tremendous amount of time gathering resources and building facilities along these routes so key resources are available in case something bad happens, not to mention adding critical infrastructure and supporting stone structures that look nice.

Conan Exiles Trail Markers The irony of spending so much time building useful-but-imaginary infrastructure is not lost on me. I could have been using that same time to build KM/SSG and yet I frittered it away making virtual stuff for my cousins to help make our experience more enjoyable.

I got to wondering what made me spend time between building imaginary infrastructure versus making real tools, since clearly I chose to do the former. This is worth analyzing.

ANALYSIS: BEING BAD AT FOCUS AND DISCIPLINE

(1) On the surface, I feel bad about spending time playing a video game because I could have been working on my “important personal project”. That said, I also have been sleeping poorly and am irritable because of all the reactionary events of the week. I had to deal with regarding household bills, surprises with utilities double-billing me, unexpected appliance recalls, and cat-related messes. On top of that, I’m absorbing considerable second-hand stress from other sources. I am a bit on the edge already. Adding the pile of priority work for my paying projects, scheduling travel, and waiting for some big questions to be answered add to my pile of things I have to handle at some point. It was NICE to just spend time in the virtual world and not think of all that crap. So one way of looking at my “poor choices” was that I was engaging in escapism.

(2) It occurred to me that perhaps themed work blocks was founded in wishful thinking. Flush with success from finishing the previous round of work, I thought I had control over my schedule to do it again. However, this week I am too deeply involved in other people’s projects to push them away because there is no time to defer them. There is, though, time to defer my own projects, and so I have chosen to dump all my plans. I don’t see this reality changing in the next two months, so I am back to finding new strategies and coping mechanisms. Is there a way to maintain my other project momentum without applying crunch mode?

(3) I am willing to admit that historically I have not been very good at the following:

  • I am bad at discipline – I don’t like being scheduled. However, I also believe being disciplined about the schedule is necessary when working with other conscientious professionals. I like negotiating expectations, defining what we are willing and capable of doing. I am just not great at being “slow and steady” in my work, because I find it kind of boring. Being bored leads to distraction and frustration, and I don’t deal with it well.
  • I am easily distracted by future commitments – I dwell on future uncertainties, and get sidetracked into preparing for what I imagine them to be. They can be quite small and dumb, like wondering what airport I need to go to and how to arrange ground transportation in a strange city. I get distracted by thoughts of how to be prepared, on-time, and whether the OTHER parties will be prepared, and what I might do to mitigate a failure to communicate…you get the idea. It’s a terrible spiral of contingency planning. Needless to say, this takes me “out of the moment” of doing dozens of times a day.
  • I am bad at handling on multiple project requests – Related to the previous point, if someone asks me about another project I want to help that person right away. This type of distraction is justifiable but ruins my concentration. It is particularly compelling when I am the only person who can answer the question, or when I sense that the other person would benefit immediately from my help. I need long periods of uninterrupted time to get into the headspace where I can start to do challenging technical work because my working memory can be poor. This is the kind of This is a pretty typical issue technical knowledge workers have, not unique to me.

When I was in crunch mode last month, I enjoyed it eliminated the productivity-busting shortcomings described above. I didn’t have to think about schedule, because there was ONLY one thing to do. I didn’t have to think about other projects because they were all paused for 10 days, and I purposefully cut myself off from the outside world. I am discovering this month that crunch mode is not going to work for me now, because I have multiple external commitments that I can’t control.

ANALYSIS: EXTERNAL MOTIVATION MIGHT BE OK

In the past, the path I’ve tried to hack for myself was to become completely self-referencing in my values, ethics, and working principles. I thought if I had that, then self-motivation would be an internal resource that I could wield as a power, and that this would then lead to doing excellent sustained work more regularly. But now I’m entertaining the idea that I really am working against my own nature, and crunch mode won’t save me now. So what are my alternatives? CONAN: EXILES might offer a clue as to what I can try next.

I wrote about the notion that having a gift mentality was a good context for the kind of work I wanted to be known for. I like the idea of making gifts for people, which requires really understanding and anticipating their deepest needs. My first “gift project” is KM/SSG project is the first stage of being able to share ideas on my website with less overhead and better organization. It is not intended to be a gift for EVERYONE, but it will appeal to certain people who are part of my “tribe”. It’s a gift for ALL OF US, and I originally thought this would be sufficient. It is not. The fact remains that I have been unable to self-motivate or set aside the time to push on KM/SSG, and in this regard I have clearly failed. I have failed at this for ten years. Please note that I say failure with no implied shame. It’s just a fact that I didn’t do it.

What haven’t I failed at recently is building a nice road system in CONAN: EXILES and despite feeling a bit of guilt at spending the time in a video game instead of doing KM/SSG, I still feel good about it. I enjoy solo building in CONAN: EXILES, and perhaps there is an analogous approach in my project work.

Here’s my first raw thoughts about what I did while playing the game:

  • Applying Unique Skill+Desire for the Common Good – While no one asked me to map these routes, I did the work because I liked the idea of making something useful for all of us. I didn’t need to make a MAP, but I wanted to make a nicer one than what I was seeing online. I know how to use all kinds of graphics software and have a strong desire to communicate information as clearly as I can.
  • Express My Own Way of Making for the Common Good – I did the map the way I wanted, making it look attractive and as accurate as I could by going back and forth across each new trail we founded. I liked the challenge of marking trails that climbed ver mountains through hordes of hostile foes, and the payoff was people telling me it was really convenient in helping get from one resource camp to another. Having this kind of creative control and getting feedback on the work’s utility was very satisfying.
  • The Contribution to the Common Good is Obvious – Different people focus on different areas of the game, but they all benefit the group. We’re able to perceive their value instantly because the game itself provides it. For example, you know that if you made a liquid press to squeeze seeds into oil, that’s something useful because the oil is used to make other things in the game. If you can use my map to tell people where in the world you are, then that saves a lot of time trying to describe where you are (there is no readily accessible coordinate system in the game, because CONAN: EXILES tries to maintain its primitive mindset. There are no cell phones or GPS systems in Hyboria, after all, so why should there be cartesian coordinates?
  • One of Many People Working for Common Good, not a Common Boss – We are all building the world together, but independently. Our contributions are visible to each other. Although we don’t know which of us built them, we clearly see the benefit and feel the kinship of that comes from working with generous and conscientious people. It encourages us to act in kind, I think, and our play experience is improved overall. It’s nice that there’s no one judging or assessing the work to “accept” it on their own nebulous terms. The metric instead is something useful was done rather than someone’s expectation was met.

To apply these qualities to my current work, maybe I can do something like this:

  • For KM/SSG, I might attract people who are interested in the tool’s engineering or application. Up to now I have been thinking that I need to write the code all by myself before bringing others in. Perhaps I am mistaken about that, and sharing what I do is the first step and getting people involved earlier who can contribute in their own way. Not everyone will be a coder or designer, but I probably can find a way for them to contribute through them. If there is a way to make the VIEWING of the KM/SSG work accessible and clear to interested parties, perhaps that could work.
  • For this month’s work projects, I might make the mental shift from are people’s expectations being met to am I contributing to the common good of the project. In this case, the common good is a wonderfully usable project and people who feel they are empowered by it. A wonderfully useful project may draw more soul-affirming feedback (as I do in CONAN: EXILES) that following the “expectation management” approach. I would prefer to hear, “I really liked how this made the experience better” over “our expectations were satisfied”.
  • For both projects, I might be able to livestream again to share the process of contributing to the “common good”, and to extend that make summary videos of what new thing was made and how to try it. This would satisfy my need to share what I do also, and my livestream/video setup is fast and easy to use now. This might encourage people to contribute to our shared common good, and it would be great to report other independent actions submitted on the summary videos.

I like the general idea of this, though I wonder if I’m deluding myself as to whether it has a chance of working. There’s a voice in the back of my head that is saying, “SHUT UP AND JUST DO THE WORK”, but it’s a TERRIBLE MANAGER and I don’t want to work for that voice. I’ll think about what that means some other time.

RECAP and THE WEEK AHEAD

Ok, recapping this past week:

  • I failed to work on my own projects
  • ..but I got chores done and dealt with incoming paying work
  • ..but I also feel like I suck at this.
  • Let me accept that I do suck at this, and think of another approach
  • And that approach is building stuff in CONAN:EXILES with my cousins
  • So let me try to define a “common good” goal and supporting communication style this week.

The week ahead is actually pretty social:

  • I have social responsibilities on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. These will be difficult days to self-motivate to do “what I have to do”. Will applying the common good angle help? We will find out!
  • I have a tremendous amount of code work and research to do for the next two weeks. Will be able to make some common good progress on my personal project KM/SSG? I don’t know, but we’ll try!

Maintaining a good attitude and not feeling like a failure is part of my action plan too. We will see how it all went next Sunday, when I write the next report!



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.