GHDR Weekly Review 6.3 – Constructive Insights

Happy Weekly Report Day! Last week was frustrating because I had to clear away a lot of unanticipated housekeeping chores before I could get to the “focus” of fixing some code, only to find that it was not fixable in the timeframe I have in mind. However, I did start a new ritual I’m calling CORE HOURS: assigning a tiny block of hours as “focused work hours” every day. Read onward for the details!

WIN: RECOGNIZING VALUE OF SHALLOW WORK

Last week, I realized that every hour worked did not need to produce a tangible result to be “valuable”. My primary metric for productivity is tangible and showable results, but I had been unaware of its toxic flipside: I subconsciously believed that hours that did not directly produce the desire results were wasted. WHOOPS. This is not the case, but I had allowed this attitude to poison my attitude toward work.

I applied the lesson by implementing a new work tactic, allowing myself to do shallow work that was not meant to produce tangible results right away. I thought of this as skimming: just reading-through the task to form an incomplete but STILL USEFUL impression of what I need to do. Before skimming, I would put on my SERIOUS HAT and stare the task down until either (1) it broke or (2) I broke and had to lie down. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find this very enjoyable. The skimming approach seems to work well because it’s fast and initial impressions gives me thinking prompts that kickstart my brain. This new-to-me approach seems to have much less friction and resistance than before, so I think it’s a big win.

NEW PROCESS: CORE HOURS

I have deadlines and need to make sure that I’m hitting them. I have one coming up on September 15, and so finding a way to maintain pacing now is tantamount.

I am trying CORE HOURS, which is a commitment to being focused ONLY on a designated project during a scheduled time. I’ve picked a short amount of time, 11AM to 2PM, because I’m not sure if I can be disciplined for longer than that. If I can manage 3 hours consistently, then I’ll try for more.

I think CORE HOURS might work for the following reasons:

  1. It’s another form of crunch mode in terms of singular focus with a much smaller commitment. What I liked about crunch mode is the “epic” sense of commitment, but it isn’t sustainable without severely compromising my social life.
  2. It might teach me how to be more effective with my time. A strict start and stop time every day will give me some useful data on my working habits.
  3. The short time period means that I won’t be too exhausted to analyze the three hours.
  4. I might not feel “trapped” by the task, which would be great.

I ran CORE HOURS 3 times, from Wednesday to Friday. I didn’t do them over the Labor Day weekend. Results were mixed.

THE WEEK IN REVIEW

Here’s how the week broke down according to my log in #accountability on the Discord Chat Room:

Tasks for week of **August 27**
...
[X] write React Best Practices (skimmed, done)
[X] TUE 1200 Jakob Accountability Meeting
[X] TUE 1600 NetCreate meeting
[+] help team fix tricky linting issues
[+] update NC project hours
[2] skim SEEDS grant X3
[1] 3x core hours 11AM to 2PM WED
[~] design database integration
[>] implement classroom session management
...
[X] MON 1100 Therapist appointment
[X] proof and post weekly review from Sunday
[X] paper towels
[X] THU insulin syringes for the cat
[X] pack up stereo gear
[+] rewrite post (old one vanished)
[+] set up microphone singing feedback thingy
[+] restore stereo gear, start return of soundbar
...
/// define **common good** for works
/// NC September 15 delivery
/// insight: skimming is productive (see ACLOG)
/// pineapple cakes

LEGEND: [ ]=planned  [X]=planned+done  [+]=reactive+done  [~]=in-progress  !!!=late  ///=remember
LEGEND: { }=optional  [-]=cancelled  [?]=stalled  [.]=paused  [:]=blocked  [>]=deferred [/]=fail

In summary:

  • Work was stalled in the sense I didn’t get to the important task of implementing a clean multi-user database access system, because I kept discovering things that I needed to clean-up before I could start making big changes. In my old thinking, the week would have been wasted and I would be frustrated. With my new stance on ALL HOURS being valuable, I feel a little better. The result of the work was to realized that there are too many interdependencies to solve, so to keep to the deadline I have to implement a less systematic fix. It struck me that we’re dealing with two different models of quality in our code. For expediency, I am going to have to practice “quality through attention to detail”, rather than the preferrable “quality as a byproduct of system design excellence”. I don’t have the time right now to implement the systematic solution, but I can implement a precision hack that will get us testing in the classroom next month. I hate accruing “technical debt” like this, but oh well.

  • Of the three CORE HOUR sessions on Wednesday through Friday, I only succeeded on Wednesday. On Thursday I overslept and started at noon, and on Friday I fell asleep at my desk after only 45 minutes. I’m going to have to practice better sleep hygiene.

  • FAILED: did not define “common good” for secondweek

  • MIXED: did make unevent progress on main project

  • BONUS: did make technology decisions that will help with future projects

NON-WORK ACTIVITIES

Parking Lot ConstructionSound Bar TestsHeirloom Tomato Season

In non-work matters, I had a fairly varied week!

  • I ordered a home theater soundbar (top middle), which was a splurge reward for having a relatively OK month. However, I found the sound quality to be about the same as my TV’s built-in speakers, and it was not even as good as the cheapish speakers I’ve been using. I later remembered that the cheap gear I have is highly regarded and well reviewed, and perhaps it was not surprising that they easily trounced the sound bar. I am returning it to get my money back. I still wasted a day or so tearing down the old syste and installing this one, only to reverse everything back to the way it was.
  • I’ve been watching the contractors level the parking lot (top left) with a whole bunch of building gear. It’s been exciting!
  • It’s the heirloom tomato harvest (top right) here, and I am trying to sample as many varieties as I can!
  • I listened to my singing voice using my audio mixer and a pair of headphones, and learned a lot from the experience. Singing into a microphone is a different experience.
  • It’s the two-year mark since I started going to investigate gender identity issues, and I think I know who I am now! I declared it at my last therapist session on Monday out-loud, which was a huge step!
  • My house guest returned from his surgery, and it’s good to have him back. He is in a lot of pain, so I’ve been spending some extra time making sure the house is comfortable and that he has what he needs to make a good recovery.

THE WEEK AHEAD

I’m repeating last week’s directives, except substituting core hours for themed work blocks. I will be allowing:

  • Billable projects during core hours, with optional time spent afterwards
  • Personal projects before core hours, if I can wake up early
  • Get some time in on KM/SSG (my knowledge management system)
  • Allow myself opportunistic work that does not require planning outside core hours.

I will continue to remind myself that not every hour has to be super productive. The truth is some of them will feel very slow or unproductive, but they still are important parts of the process. Do not value them any less!

I still need to reflect on what the “common good” is, in terms of my billable projects and KM/SSG.

There are several “remember” items in my #accountability list, and I want to make sure I hit them at least a couple of times.