GHDR 2021 May Report: Dodging the Binary

GHDR 2021 May Report: Dodging the Binary

"Kimchi Jjigae"

random pic of the month: Kimchi Jjigae is a Korean pork stew. Pungently spicy and salty! I didn’t grow up with this, but I wish I did.

Hello everyone! I apologize for the lateness of this month’s Groundhog Day Resolutions report. This was a complicated one to figure out, and I decided to take extra time to rewrite it for clarity.

This month’s review starts with a chain of insights I’ve had, starting with these two seemingly-unrelated ones:

  1. I have enormous difficulty starting tasks that seem “necessary but stupidly tedious”. I thought of new productivity hack to try: granting myself permission to bail on the task as soon as it becomes annoying! This should work because I know I will come back to it; it’s the starting that is hard.

  2. In my gender identity journey, I’ve started identifying publicly as non-binary. I would have thought this would trigger negative feelings because this isn’t where I want to end up in my gender transition. Surprisingly, I am actually feeling elated about it because it also offers freedom of a sort.

I had a hunch that there was more commonality to them, so I’ve spent some time teasing out the connections. We’ll kick off this Groundhog Day Resolution Report with a look at being trapped and finding choice, then get into the actual happenings of the past month.

Being Trapped / Desiring Freedom

On the surface, both insights are about feeling trapped by circumstances, but I react to each situation differently. This is interesting, so let me work this out.

  • In the first case, I am trapped by a task that I have to do. I anticipate that there will be much bad documentation to muddle through with no guarantee of a reward of acceptable quality. Instead, I am guaranteed pain and irritation, which generates a powerful negative reaction in me. It feels like I am walking into something that I know is a trap, and it’s hard to commit. By choosing an escape clause (“bail if it sucks!”) I’m able to create a sense of freedom that allows me to put in some effort. I know from experience that once I start, I usually keep going so it isn’t a bad strategy for me.

  • In the second case, I am trapped in the middle of a long and uncertain procedure fraught with the anxiety that I wont measure-up to society’s expectations. Like the first case, I feel I have no choice. To date, I’ve accepted that my gender identity conflict is not going to go away, so I’ve accepted that fully and it is a huge relief. The hard part now is social transition, which I think of as expressing myself in public in a way that reflects the trans-feminine aspects of my being. This is a pretty complicated journey to navigate, and I thought I would be more frustrated because I’m stuck between two states. Being stuck is supposed to suck…but this doesn’t feel bad. It actually feels nice!

Avoiding the feeling of being trapped is deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. I think it comes from moving to Taiwan when I was 9 and being powerless to communicate, on top of the vast shift in cultural and social norms. The feeling isn’t one of being in physical danger, though. Instead, it stems from being stopped in in my acquisition of something I desire to meet end goal. When I was in Taiwan it was hard to find any information in English regarding subjects I was interested in (this was pre-Internet), and what information I found was often difficult to understand.

I also feel trapped is when I am forced to follow an ill-defined procedure that is made without care. I find these very irritating not only because they waste my time, but also because I have strong emotional memories of being made to feel stupid because I didn’t understand the procedure. I could see more than one possibility for every step, and because I couldn’t guess the “right” one I thought this was somehow my fault. I would also feel extremely bad when I thought people felt inconvenienced by my apparently stupidity. Eventually I figured out it wasn’t all me, and I developed a keen interest in communications design, organizational development, and negotiation as a way to cope.

Another element of feeling trapped is that I don’t like be limited by my own feelings, which is a trap of my own making. I spend quite a lot of time finding ways to get past negative emotions, and it is often exhausting. While I do have a set of productivity hacks that help me push past many of these negative emotions, I think there’s an opportunity to address the root of the resistance itself.

Identifying Sources of Frustration

My negative emotions generally manifest as a form of frustration with lack of progress or encountering limits that lead to lack of progress. In my productivity hacks, I manage this frustration by providing escape hatches that help make me feel less trapped. I trust myself to be stubborn enough to go back to the problem because now I’m MAD about how tedious it was when it didn’t need to be, and I start documenting and refining the processes with with a vengeance.

Something different must be happening with the gender transition / non-binary thing because the frustration is gone. I was expecting a lot more sadness from feeling limited in my ability to transition. Instead, I feel like I have more choices and this is a different kind of freedom from the tedium of obtuse procedure. It’s a freedom from having to choose one thing over another. The very term “non-binary” references this, duh! I choose neither, and walk between them!

ASIDE: I should note that my use of the term “non-binary” is my own take on it; there are a lot of ways that non-binary folks intend it and it is a fascinating topic in itself. GLAAD has a media reference for reporting on transgender issues that is a pretty good entry point on the topic, and PFLAG has an extensive glossary of all the shades of identity, expression, sexuality, etc as they apply to transgender/non-binary people.

Unhealthy Binary Obsessions

It eventually occurred to me that I was applying another binary in my approach to projects: tasks were either DONE or NOT DONE. Because I have so many tasks related to so many projects, I’m constantly trying to “transition” from NOT DONE to DONE and that’s where most of the time is spent. Doneness is rare, and while I know there is an endpoint I can not perceive it. There are so many tasks and so many unknowns that I don’t know WHEN I’ll be Really Finally Checkmate Done with…heck, I’ve forgotten what it is. I just know with certainty that I am not done.

There is something unhealthy about my desire to be done. I associate being done with good, and not being done with bad. That means when I am not done, I am bad and don’t deserve self care or time to myself, because there are so many things that are still not done. This attitude does not help me at all! I think this pattern is a leftover from when I was working in digital agencies. I was always on the clock and counting time, and I fell into the habit of thinking first as a manager, then as a maker. Thinking like a manager is at odds with thinking as a maker, and while I am now mindful of protecting my “doing time” I have never dropped the underlying manager pattern of wanting things done ASAP. I’m always thinking as NOT DONE meaning that progress is being held-up and back pressure is growing! This creates stress and anxiety that is just another distraction from making things because it steals brain time that could otherwise be applied solving problems in an interesting way. I have let doneness become overly-important as a metric.

So this is what I’m wondering:

  • Can I expel “doneness” from my subconscious and instead think of “flow state”? Instead of obsessing on which side of the Doneness Binary I am on, I think centering myself on The State of Flow might be better. If I’m not thinking of being done but am instead constantly moving, that might be the better state to be in.

  • If I drop “doneness” as Most Important Criteria, will my resistance to starting tasks also be diminished? I don’t want to start a lot of these tedious tasks because I don’t know when they will be done. I am already not done with so many things I don’t want to commit to it. I’m curious if I can reprogram myself to not worry about it.

We shall find out! Let me embrace the non-binary state of work and work freely! I guess we’ll find out next month if anything worked out.


With that out of the way, what did I actually do last month?

  • I’ve been up to quite a bit of Javascript work. I finished the third of three very important code modules for the learning research Javascript project I’ve been working on for a year, and the first alpha version of it was deployed in front of two actual 5th graders. I was cleared to watch the video and it was very gratifying to see that the system was stable even in an unsupported use case.

  • Over in the Virtual Coworking Discord there are a few other people who are interested in Javascript. This inspired me to create a Javascript After School project room that is modeled after the positive experiences I had in middle school. I’d hang out in the computer lab after school and learn how to do silly things on Apple II computers with other ambitiously curious kids like me. None of my friends were experts in computers when we started, and we shared what we learned freely. We didn’t treat knowledge as a way to dominate others, instead focusing on the collective greatness of seeing people we knew do cool stuff. I’m hoping to recapture that vibe with js-after-school while also collecting useful code bits that might come in handle for future gigs.

Beef & BrocolliKimchi Jjigae AttemptJaffa cake In food news, I made Beef and Broccoli (ABOVE LEFT) for the first time from a Woks of Life. This is a dish I have never ordered from a Chinese restaurant, thinking it to be a bland Chinese-American staple of the New England suburbs. One day, though, I happened to have beef and some broccoli crowns in my fridge, so I thought WHY NOT TRY IT? And you know what? It’s good! The Woks of Life version of Beef and Broccoli is sturdily crafted from their decades of take-out restaurant experience, and I learned some eye-opening techniques. Baking soda to tenderize beef? Blanching vegetables for crispness and not stir frying them? I was really impressed, especially by the sauce making technique.

On the Korean side of things, I made a variation of Kimchi Jjigae (ABOVE MIDDLE) from Mangchi’s recipe. It is a kind of pork stew made primarily of old funky kimchi (the stronger the better) with the Korean hot pepper paste and pepper flakes. It’s surprisingly fast to prepare and make, maybe 30-40 minutes from start to serving. I really need to study more Korean dishes!

On the British side of things, my friend Alex gifted me a box of Jaffa Cakes (ABOVE RIGHT) from both the UK and Poland. I had only heard of these cookies (?) on episodes of the Great British Baking Show and was never sure exactly what they were like, but now I know! Now I just need to try a Cornish Pasty and a Christmas Pudding and I’ll be a happy gal. Oh, I would love to see what a “prize winning marrow” as mentioned in the Paddington books is like as well :-)

Covid VaccinationVintage DymoKeyboard Hell is Ctrl-Fn-Ctrl Huzzah, I have received my first COVID vaccination!

I finally upgraded from macOS Mojave to Big Sur, skipping Catalina entirely. It took about a day to do, and I took the opportunity to upgrade my backup hard drive to something a little bigger and faster. I had the drive around, but wanted to give it a distinctive label; this vintage metal Dymo labelmaker (ABOVE MIDDLE) from my friend Donald serves up the realness! Thanks Donald!

I am constantly on the lookout for keyboards that I can use on both PCs and Macintosh, and they’re kind of hard to find. The best keyboards historically for this have been ones from Logitech, but in recent years they stopped making the good high-end bluetooth ones and have replaced them with crappy “stylish” ones. Even more annoying is that they break from their past habit of having the control key relative to the Fn key (ABOVE RIGHT). Argh. That means as I switch between the various keyboards I am constantly getting screwed up by the change in modifier key position. Adding insult to injury is the reduced size of the keyboard and the maddeningly round keys, which look cute but make it hard to tell if your hands are angled correctly relative to the keyboard; those square corners and edges help a lot with that!

Wireless TrackPoint Keyboard II

Thankfully, I’ve finally gotten used to the Thinkpad Trackpoint II Wireless Keyboard from Lenovo, has both bluetooth and USB dongles and good build quality. It also includes the nifty Trackpoint pointer in the middle of the keyboard. It took a bit of time to learn where to put my hands as the mouse buttons push the keyboard up by about the height of a row of keys, so I kept typing the wrong thing. I’m pretty used to it now. I am able to use it on my Macbook Pro, and as a bonus the layout is extremely close to a Mac keyboard where the X key is aligned with the SPACE BAR. Until recently Logitech also followed this layout for Mac, but they no longer make a tenkeyless version so that sucks. Boo Logitech. After decades of using their products exclusively, I’m ready to find another vendor because their design is taking an ugly turn toward form over function.

Valheim Construction

In gaming news, I’ve mostly been playing Valheim on a private server I share with my cousins and friends. Last month I had broken ground on the town of Sriport (BELOW LEFT), starting with a small “outfitter shack” with a workbench and some sleeping quarters. This has since expanded considerably, with a nice castle floor plan developing behind the dock.

Valheim SriportValheim Third BossValheim Mountains My cousin Jason and I also took on the third boss, Bonemass, a toxic sludge monster that spews clouds of poison and stinging vines. Jason is a more experienced Valheim player than I, though, and he made sure we were thoroughly prepared. We knocked out Bonemass in 4 minutes (ABOVE MIDDLE) and didn’t die once thanks to the healing and anti-poison potions we prepared!

With the demise of Bonemass came the addition of a new biome: the Mountains (ABOVE RIGHT). While we technically could have gone tromping around there prior to battling Bonemass, we needed a special item that he drops that allows us to find SILVER ORE, from which we can construct cold-resistant armor. We’re just getting started on that!

The Month in Tomes

I haven’t spent much time in this kind of self-reflection, as I’ve been preoccupied with finishing the alpha milestone for the learning science research project.

The Month Ahead

Currently I’m thinking less about transition stuff and more about these projects:

  • The Javascript After School experiment.
  • Finding a way to introduce daily exercise into my routine. I am highly resistant to it. Related to this is going back on a low carb diet but I have completely not been feeling like it. Maybe in June, if the COVID situation allows me to go visit places, I will no longer rely on eating as the sole reward I can look forward to regularly.
  • Ramping up again on the GEMSTEP project; I have a lot of systems work to get done! I am hoping the insight about the tyranny of being done will help me tackle these systems with a lighter heart. I mean wow, there is a LOT OF STUFF to make for the next trial in August.

The diet and exercise goal are actually related to gender transition, since I want to be able to wear slimmer cuts of clothing as part of exploring various styles like “time traveling librarian”. I have other goals like developing a Javascript resource that would improve my credentials as a competent “developer” as well as a competent “designer”, and also improving my writing by taking the time to write-edit-rewrite for clarity without losing the conversational tone I like.

So…the plan for May is to just keep pushing on these things while also rejecting the doneness binary. I’m curious if a kind of time flow approach to productivity develops from this.

We shall see! :-)

About this Article Series

For year 15 of Groundhog Day Resolutions, I am writing about TRANSITIONS. All related posts on this subject are posted on the  2021 Groundhog Day Resolutions page. You can also find the link under the INVESTIGATIONS menu item on my website.

Shortcuts to 2021 Tomes


  1. mike 4 weeks ago

    Hi Dave, if you don’t already know it, you can have a look at “The Now Habit…” from Neil A. Fiore. Compared to many other books in this area, i found it quite helpful.

    • Author
      Sri 4 weeks ago

      Thanks Mike! I think I’ve read it, but since I don’t remember anything from it I probably should make sure I have :-) I’ll check it out again! Were there any takeaways you found particularly interesting?

  2. Mike 3 weeks ago

    Hi Sri,

    the book can be quite lengthy with that many, but interesting examples. It tooks some time and notes, to extract the essentials.

    For me, some of the most interesting parts are:

    “Focusing exercise” and “Relaxion exercise”, page 150ff. I like especially the self motivating “talks” as preparation for difficult and/or boring “Pomodoro” like sessions.

    “Producer” theme and mentality, i.e. page 70ff. “I choose”, “I decide” and not “I have to”…, even if “I decide” to have free time.

    • Author
      Sri 3 weeks ago

      Thanks!!! I’ll try to find my copy and peruse it. I think the challenge for myself is to find specific-to-Sri talking points and motivations for something like self-motivation.

  3. Heather 3 weeks ago

    When you talk about your Done/Not Done binary frustrations are you talking about the full project or the steps? Most projects take time and I can see where applying your binary to that would be very frustrating because all the time you’re working on the project, it’s not done even though you may have made a lot of progress. But then you’ve been investigating productivity for a long time so are you talking about applying your binary to the steps? Does it help if you make the steps even smaller? Is that a mind hack like adding things you know you’re going to do (brush your teeth, get dressed, etc) to your to-do list just so you can have the joy of crossing something off the list? If I do that am I fooling myself or am I making myself aware of the things I take for granted that I get done. Some people don’t brush their teeth every day but I do. If your mental construct is applying a binary to something (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all), can’t you decide how big of a chunk you apply it to?

    • Author
      Sri 3 weeks ago

      Good question! It’s the full project, but the full project is also a series of sub projects with their own steps. In my faulty binary thinking, I see an entire project as a “thing to get out of the way” so I could “get to the next part that is better”, and there is typically a long chain of such projects before I can even see a result that is “meaningful” to me. That is what DONE means to me.

      I don’t think I have a problem deciding how big to make a chunk, nor do I think I have difficult perceiving smaller steps. I’m really good at breaking down things into smaller parts. There are just a lot of parts. Hundreds of parts, each with many criteria that must be met, and no off-the-shelf solutions much of the time. Because of my subconscious definition of “doneness” as meaning “everything has been done and I can flip the switch and see the machine go”, most of the time things are not done. Of course the approach that makes sense is to take small steps and celebrate each achievement as it comes, and I have been doing that, but ultimately these felt like consolation prizes rather than true gains, because I was comparing my task to something else that was complete and working. In other words, these did not help me feel any better. Celebrating small things felt like a sucker’s game to me.

      Does that help explain where I’m coming from?

      I’m reminded of a story where a business is in danger of folding, and the CEO calls an all-hands meeting to outline the strategic plan for recovery. He opens with a description of the loss of revenue and declining profits, changing market conditions, etc. His recovery plan was simple: “Make more sales.” Technically this is a solution and in that light it’s good to focus on, but it did not help the employees any more in their work than adding stress to force them to come up with their own solutions. This is how I see a lot of productivity books too; the observations are sound, but the followthrough advice is up to the reader to figure out. A great productivity book doesn’t spend a lot of time on the observations, and spends more time providing the tools so you can construct your own map as your plot your course over unfamiliar terrain using those new insights. For me, at this point in the game, what seems to be left are things like realizing where my oldest and subtlest biases are undermining me (this “doneness” theory, for example, which is from a context that is not actually valid where I am applying it, and must be discarded from those situations).

A message from Dave:

I believe we all benefit when we respectfully share our perspectives on common experiences. My house rules are "please be respectful of divergent views" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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