jack: (Default)
Quite a long time ago now, I read about the concept of inbox zero. For a long time I struggled with various productivity techniques. I sometimes temporarily achieved inbox zero, and I made big inroads against the habit of having all the urgent emails muddled in with everything else I'd ever received. Although that never quite became permanent.

However, now there maybe has been a permanent sort of shift. I think a combination of receiving less urgent emails, and of having a regular non-email based per-week todo list, and of generally being less stressed by all urgent things, have led to a point where I no longer *need* inbox zero. I generally only have a few emails needing attention, and those are starred. And other recent-ish email sits around in my inbox to a certain extent not doing much harm, but being handy if I need it.

And I'm sufficiently non-stressed that it's not usually something I need to *set aside time for*, but something I can do when I'm checking my email anyway. Any longer time commitments get put in a separate todo.

Non-email email (social network notifications, mailing lists, confirmations, etc, etc) gmail helpfully puts into a separate tab. Social network stuff I star anything I want to reply to, and empty it out every so often. Everything else I just glance at, and if it needs any response move to my main inbox and star it.

This has bad effects as well. Because it *usually* just works, if I get an urgent email and then suddenly go away, it can fall through the cracks. But that's hopefully ok, it's mostly how most people deal with tasks: they usually do it fine but occasionally miss something, instead of needing to be always perfect else they fail forever.
jack: (Default)
I've been at the new job over three months and it's going fairly well.

For a long time, I've felt like, each project goes through phases, of "just getting started and full of ideas" and "wrestling with someone else's code I don't understand" and "filling out features and making something fairly complete" and "dealing with an urgent problem". And they basically ALL caused me to procrastinate. But with very very many varied productivity tricks and techniques, I seem to finally be reaching a point where, in most of those phases, I can just go ahead and do work, without constantly struggling not to freeze up and get nothing done.

The last couple of weeks, I was a bit stuck in a "it doesn't work and I can hopefully fix it but I don't know for sure" loop, and hadn't realised how much it was dragging down my mood. It also seemed to be, I wasn't content if there was *any* major upcoming problem hanging over my life, I had to make progress on *all* of them before I felt at all better. But I eventually did.

Overall, that's really quite good. I still need to test if the improvement is ongoing, but it's an improvement I wasn't sure I'd ever quite reach. Unfortunately, because I'm me, my brain is less excited, as depressed that it took so long, and that afterwards things will not be significantly better.

There's been a slow shift. It used to be, if I had a little bit of time, I could never just, do something small (washing up, or code tidying, or replying to some emails). I could only ever do things when I made it so I *had* to. But as things improved, that resistance melted away, and "how intimidating tasks seemed" shrunk back to something related to how much work they actually were. Which I guess is where many people were all along.

Doing month-by-month goals or projects was definitely good, I think I want to keep that up. Sometimes they've been a specific project, like learning rust. Other times they've been just "catch up on these paperwork/chores". But having that structure helps a lot letting me see progress. And knowing a project is self-contained, I can see how much I can do, and then *stop* and force myself to re-evaluate my goal, not get stuck in a dragging-on project for ever.

I haven't done anything very spectacular this year, but I've learned about rust (and contributed!) and learned about writing an android app. And started a new job. And am confident that if I try to work on a project in a language I already know it would have gone a lot faster.

It feels like, given the slightest pressure to do things a particular way, even in my imagination, my brain immediately collapses into thinking "i have to do things that way" and it's really hard to *notice* how I'm stuck let alone dig myself out again. And that applies not only to specifics, "colleague refused to listen to idea, so can I ever consider that idea again in the future in any way?" but to meta-skills. It always feels like I *have* to fix everything by sheer force of will, not by, well, techniques that work, because that's what people expect of me. But it's not true, no-one does think that, but it *feels* like they do.


May. 1st, 2017 10:12 am
jack: (Default)
I don't want to count my chickens, but for the longest time, I've had the problem that when I have a day with no commitments, I feel like I have to take advantage of it and do all the things, and typically become overwhelmed by choice and expectation and end up doing not much.

Now, for almost the first time, I find that problem receding. I've no particular plans today, but I'm fairly confident, I'm going to spend a couple of hours hammering out miscellaneous todos, do some reading or watching tv, go for a walk outside, and maybe see Liv and Osos depending how busy we all are, and that's about all. Maybe I'll only do some of that, but that will still be good. But I don't fear I'll do *none* of that.

And that freedom makes it so much easier to do things -- to go for a walk or get into a project knowing that's time well spent, not time I intended to be doing something else.

I don't know if it will last, but despite a lot of angst about getting things done, I think having *some* month-by-month goals has been successful at making me feel *less* pressured.
jack: (Default)
I realise I've had *another* shift in habits.

Now I'm keeping a daily/weekly todo list more as standard, any emails I need to reply to on a specific timescale get duplicated into that system.

But that means I've shifted to starring emails that need a reply, and going through them occasionally, and the rest of my inbox has gone back to being "everything I've received recently0-ish that might be relevant". But mostly without the problem of "agh the important emails got lost".

Of course, gmail divides that into five folders: primary; social media notifications; corporate mailing list type stuff, and a couple of others. I could do something similar with filters. But it would be harder to cope if those were all muddled together. Non-starred mail in primary tends to be "conversations which are relevant in the next few days but don't need a reply right now". I tend to use social media notifications for marking comments I'd like to reply to, although that's fiddly. And the others rarely need any action (if they do, it's usually important and I move it into primary).
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
I recently realised something which many people had told me before, but I hadn't had the prerequisites in place to grok.

If I have a list of tasks to do today, and a rough breakdown of how long I expect them to take, and one is overrunning, it may make sense to take a break from *that* one and do all the others. And then start afresh on the longer one tomorrow. (At least, except when that one is SO urgent you just need to work on it alone until it's done.)

Partly because, even if your main work is overdue, there's always small other stuff (answering emails, dealing with admin, dealing with requests from other people) that it's good if it still gets done. And better that it gets SOME attention, even if that's just "I got your email but don't have time to reply in detail" rather than none.

And partly because, if something runs late, it often then runs MORE late, so (a) it will probably still be late even if you do drop everything else and (b) if you don't it will usually eat up ALL of the time.

And partly because, 10% of the tasks often take 90% of the time, and sometimes that's the most important task and sometimes it isn't, so if you advance on *all* tasks, you may find you've done all the most important ones and may never do the overrunning one at all.

I think that never really worked for me before, because tasks were ALWAYS overrunning, not because they took too long, but because I was scared of starting them. And the only way of starting them was forcing myself to, if I did other stuff, I would never start at all. (Which is ok if that task can be dropped, but not if it's the main thing I should be doing.) So my main task always overran, and the other stuff never got done till it got urgent. Now I've got better at not doing that :)

OTOH, the system also breaks down when you have too much stuff coming in to do all of it, and you don't have time for even the most basic of reaction to stuff people are thrusting onto your plate. At that point, you need to adopt a "don't have time for this" and "see if this goes away by itself before responding" attitude (or get an assistant).
jack: (Default)

Last year, I decided to try having month-by-month goals instead of trying to do new years resolutions.

Nov was NaNoWriMo which was what gave me the idea. That was a big commitment, which I think averaged out to about 2h per day, with some "thinking time" on top. Dec was to recover. Feb will be "start new job".

Jan was "learn some rust, if possible contribute to rust compiler". That was a bit speculative, I wasn't sure how big a goal was reasonable. But it turned out fairly well. I think I got a reasonable handle on the basic syntax, and the borrow checker concepts which most people find a hurdle to getting to know it. I build a couple of "hello world" programs to be sure I understood the building and packaging system.

And I built the compiler from source, and submitted a pull request to fix one of the "easy" documentation issues from the issue tracker, and learned how the project was organised. Which is now accepted!

So I think on balance that was about the right amount and specificity of goal. And I count it as mostly a success.

I reckoned the time spent stacked up something like 1 week of work, minus overhead faff, was about the equivalent of an intense weekend hackathon, or a not-very-intense project over a month. Nanowrimo was about twice that (more on some days likely). And some projects lend themselves to a brief burst of activity and others to a longer steady progress.

I'm simultaneously pleased that I *can* expect to focus energy on some projects and actually get somewhere with them. But also depressed that there's only so many months and each lets me achieve comparatively little.

I have lots of ideas of what I might do, but not sure what is most worthwhile to spend that effort on. Some coding projects. Some self-improvement projects. Some social things.

Daily todos

I shifted my daily todos a bit incorporating some ideas from bullet journals (as linked by ghoti).

I started keeping my daily todo-list IN my diary, and when I've done an item, changing the "-" bullet point to an "x" and moving it down to the bottom of the list. So what I'm GOING to do naturally becomes a diary.

I also started, instead of having subheadings, having a few different types. "=" bullet point for largish task. "-" for anything small but needs to be today. "s" for social-type task. (todo and social get postponed in different circumstances and consume energy in different ways.)

It feels easier to plan what I WANT to do, without feeling like I've failed if I don't do all of it.

I also started keeping my actual diary in multiple bullet points with a different bullet, instead of strung together. I'll see how that goes.

I feel like I'm slowly re-evolving a system lots of people already recommended to me. But I couldn't just *do* it, it depends on having confidence that putting things in a list actually works, and I've only slowly acquired that.

Likewise, maybe I don't need to record so much. But doing so was a step in the process of not worrying about it so much. And what's useful I keep, and what I don't need I've got better at just deleting, and not thinking "but I might need that one day".

Similarly, I keep a parallel diary I call my therapy diary for rants where I know they won't seem as persuasive in future but I have to make them. "WHY WHY WHY can't I just do X without screwing it up" "why does y keep going wrong". "this happened and now I feel really bad about it". The idea was, I'd think through the things later and come to terms with them. But actually just writing them down helped a lot. Now I've ranted in it much less often that I did to start with.


Jan. 12th, 2016 10:39 am
jack: (Default)
I started HabitRPG from where I left off, junking all the nice but overcomplicated tasks and dailies which I think I'd over-done, and starting over with a list of six+ habits, no dailies, all geared to be things I feel good about doing, but often don't get round to.


Todo item (anything on today's todo list, usually quite green or blue)
Admin (Updating todo lists, etc. May combine this with above)
Exercise (Any of my official "jog 2+ times a week", but also any extras)
Hobby (Any of my own projects, not just "anything for fun", but things I need to make time for if I want to do them, like ongoing classes, or programming projects, fiction or game design)
Ongoing Social (Anything that doesn't happen automatically every week, like making plans to see mum or non-cambridge friends)
Self-care/ablutions (Shower, shave, brush teeth, etc. Also remembering to eat when I'm hungry if applicable etc)
Housework (Anything it's useful to do a little bit of every day)
Long-term (Any long-term TODOs)
Medium-term (Anything on my TODO list that doesn't absolutely have to be done today... I'm especially trying to change from doing none of these until they're urgent, to doing some of these...)

What I have always found difficult is that some of these are naturally green, but others are naturally yellow or red, because even an ideal rate of doing them will be slow by comparison. I can't remember if that's adjustable with task difficulty or something? But I'm slowly getting used to the idea that it works ok like that. If I do my day-to-day tasks until they're mostly green, I can leave them and that's usually ok, and work on the longer-term ones. After all, I want to do all of them "sometimes", if I do two long-term tasks in a row, that's probably better, I don't need to be prioritising medium tasks over them especially.
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
For I think the first time since starting habitRPG I failed to shave and get to work by 9:30 just because. I did do most of the other parts of my morning routine.

I'm proud of keeping it up so far, and hope that I can get over the hurdle of keeping it going even when one failure. That's often the riskiest time, when you start thinking "well, I can't do it perfectly, so what level of imperfection is ok?"

I think this what some of habitRPG's class features are for, to allow you to fail occasionally but maintain a "perfect" record, except I haven't started trusting them because previously I didn't need to and didn't know if they were well-balanced or not.

I think my problem is that for the first few weeks, checking things off was exciting and made me feel good. Then I started to get complacent and doing the minimum didn't feel like an achievement any more -- so I lost motivation and didn't do it, which is exactly what I was trying not to do. I think maybe I need to start watching the streak counters, how many days on the trot I've done it. If I can say "every day for N months", it gives me just a small amount of investment in keeping it going even when it's become normal.
jack: (Default)
Sorry, the previous post may have been too bleak. I think in general I actually establishing a much better baseline where "happy" and "organised" and "productive" are the norm, and "I know I'm good, I don't understand why things keep going wrong" isn't.

That's a point I kept hoping I'd get to, and only now am I cautiously wondering if maybe I actually have!

But that progress involves a lot of examining problems and cleaning them out not letting them fester, but that brings them to light in a way they didn't when they just mouldered quietly.

Things which have been a lot better:

* Eating breakfast every day, eating soup and toast for lunch every day instead of sandwich which leaves me feeling a lot bouncier
* Kept a multipack of crisps in my desk drawer for when I DO want to eat them with a sandwich, and didn't snack on them at any other times
* Getting in to work not-at-the-last-minute, semi-regularly
* Much more ready to talk to people and less scared
* Still SOMETIMES scared, but much more able to recognise "oh, I'm in a bad mood it will pass" rather than "agh, I'm so useless, must dwell on how useless I am"
* Not feeling I must reply to every LJ comment and read every link before doing something else
* Reasonable expectation of turning up to work and getting things done, not freezing :)

Things I still want to improve on:

* Not trying to do too much in the evening, and getting to sleep in good time
* Make regular time for other hobbies, specifically home programming projects
* Make measurably steady progress on little tasks without letting them mount up
jack: (Default)
I've been very cautious with setting up daily resolutions on habit rpg because the punishment is a really crappy way to learn. Several friends have used NO dailies and I think that's wise. Or rather, I like developing streaks, I'm not sure about taking damage -- that makes sense, but is very dispiriting, rewards are generally better!

But I did use them for things I know I CAN do every day, but have had difficulty actually motivating me to do, such as a regular morning routine when I don't skip half of it most of the time. After a week and a half, that's gone very well -- I have fulfilled them basically every day with no angst. Go me!

But one has been very difficult, "take a lunch hour less than an hour". I knew I sometimes ran over, trying to fit in too many things, trying to reply to some emails, etc, trying to do shopping, go for a walk, play some Ingress, write a blog post, etc... when really "eat lunch, say hi to people, stretch legs and rest eyes for 20 minutes" is about all I usually have time for. But I hadn't realised that had been almost EVERY day. It's not been a big problem as long as I work the rest of the time, but I think I need to stop pretending that trying to fit things in isn't distracting, and find things I can do to relax that don't involve "and I'll just do one more thing"...
jack: (Default)
I've tried so many different productivity techniques, and eventually I noticed I had different but related problems susceptible to different solutions. Particularly annoying is something I didn't notice was a pattern because it used to happen very rarely, when I'd have a vista of uninterrupted time ahead of me, no overdue or crisis tasks to firefight, an opportunity to get ahead -- I'd freeze up. As much or more as when I was panicked.

It's really annoying because it would take a lot of effort to get to that state, and then I'd reliably squander it. In fact, it only now occurs to me that maybe many people did "good enough" by never getting to that state -- by being good at living in crisis-mode, they could actually be really good at their life and career by handling things when they were not quite too late, and never waste time on things on-one was screaming about (which is often good) at the cost of never doing really important things that aren't urgent right now. But it never occurred to me to do that, I assumed I had to have a system of "get organised, then do things, then enjoy life"... :)

But now I'm getting better at it. Several techniques help: just as with when I'm distracted and demotivated, turning off the internet and setting goals in half-hour chunks gets me to make progress without panicking about "what about the rest of the week". Having flexible goals with lots of stretch goals stops me giving up at the first delay. Having goals per-day gives me an incentive to crack on and get things over with, not just feel like I have to slave away for lots of hours.

This week, I'm a little busy, but everything seems under control, things look optimistic, my manager is on holiday for a week, I have small talking-to-people challenges that I should be able to handle, and a couple of interesting projects to do if I have time... prime candidates for procrastination. Can I work well anyway? Wish me luck!

OK, hopefully signing off internet for a couple of hours, see you shortly :)
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
More than a year ago, I started using beeminder.com to track my resolution to go to the gym two-three times a week. I only used it to track, not any of the pledge-money options, but I already found that really useful, and I've stuck to it ever since.

But it's partly successful because it's a resolution I know I'm physically capable of, and it's important to me to keep, and doesn't take that much time -- I can plan a week and say "other than work, I can work everything else round this without doing significantly less". I don't have to say "is this excuse sufficient" -- I've a pretty clear idea of what's genuinely exceptional, and everything else, it's not that I literally don't have time, it's just that I'm looking for an excuse.

But then, chuffed with success, I added a lot more resolutions (and there's more I'd like to add) I want to get into the habit of always keeping up even when I'm busy. Going to work on time. Hours spent at work concentrating not trying to stop procrastinating. Phone mum at least once a week. Phone/email Liv at least twice a week. Shave every morning. Eat fruit. Blog thrice a week. And all of those are good, and I've improved massively on them, but I've reached a point where I can't reliably do ALL of them ALL of the time, and every time I "bend" a goal a little, I feel the habit of keeping resolutions get weaker and the whole system get less reliable and the bad habits start to come back.

Partly, I need to plan in advance, and say, "I can't do all this at the last minute because there may not be time, I need to know in advance when I need to spend a couple of hours catching up on stuff".

Partly I need to be realistic about priorities: some resolutions the ONLY reason not to do them is procrastination, and I should be able to just always do them; but some resolutions, actually take time and sometimes they're less important than socialising or hobbies or spending time with Liv.

Partly I need to concentrate on building habits. If I can ALWAYS get up at the same time, shower, shave, dress, and leave, I never think "oh, lots of time, I'll just check email first" and end up being late.

Partly I need to calibrate my expectations. Doing what I'm doing now is lots better than I was a year ago. But now it feels like it should be "normal" so if I shave, go to work on time and go the the gym, I don't feel "yay, successful day", I think "that's exhausting, now I actually need to get something done". But I need to be realistic that many days, doing all the things I've precommitted to and nothing more, is as successful as much as I have time and energy for, and I should either be pleased with that (and schedule long-term progress for other days), or accept that if I want to get something else done, I need to compromise on one of the things I previous said I'd try to do.

Partly I need to be realistic about what's achievable, so if I can't keep everything, I don't fall into the habit of fudging and assuming I'll be able to make it up later.
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)

For a while, my favourite cartoon article on procrastination was this quora answer by Oliver Emberton, describing the einstein-rational part of your brain and the impulsive-lizard part of your brain.


But it was displaced by the wait-but-why article and sequel.

All the wait-but-why articles were funny, but seemed to be trying to be a bit too clever, so I had to come back to them to decide if I liked them or not. I wasn't sure how much this article added over what I already knew. But when I came back to it, I decided it was actually really good.

I think the most valuable thing is having a name for the "dark playground" -- the metaphorical place where you know you need to get something important done, but put it off, but you can't do anything *really* fun while you wait, because you'd feel guilty and because you can't really concentrate, so you do lots of things that used to be a bit fun, but now are just a mess of bad habits and impulsive reward-seeking like checking email again and again and reading websites you don't really like.

I was always aware of that phenomenon, but I didn't realise how fuzzy my concept was until having a name for it brought it into sharp focus. Having a name for it meant firstly that it was immediately easy to describe to anyone else familiar with procrastination -- even if they knew I was wrong, they knew what I was experiencing and what might help a little and what wasn't. And that I could tell other people and myself that I wasn't really enjoying what I was doing -- the problem was literally "putting things off", not "wanting to do something else more".

And secondly, recognising easily that was what I was doing helped me eliminate the lies I told myself. No, I'm not going to check my email "one more time", each time I do that I get more exhausted and get less willpower. Instead, I have to choose between (a) reducing the fear of starting to the point where I can do SOMETHING right now or (b) taking a real break or (c) checking my email HARDER and HARDER until I suddenly snap in panic and force myself to work as hard as I can for about three seconds before I collapse (this doesn't help).


Jan. 8th, 2014 12:15 pm
jack: (Default)
One productivity technique I heard about is the "pomodoro" technique. The idea is to work for 25 minutes without procrastination, and then take a five minute break. Which is so simple they had to call it after the Italian word for tomato because otherwise it wouldn't sound fancy enough[1].

Of course, many people do that automatically by having a fixed schedule with coffee breaks, etc. But partly, geeks like to understand things, not just do them because they're normal. And partly, if you have a tendency to procrastinate, you may not be *able* to establish a normal routine.

I'd tried something similar before, but not had much success. And when I first tried doing pomodoros I completely couldn't do it: I couldn't concentrate for 25 minutes, and when I had, I panicked at the thought of a ticking clock telling me to start again in 5 minutes.

But after some experimentation, I discovered that once I got into the habit, it did work quite well for me. The problem it solves for me is "I've got lots of things to do and none are *that* bad, but I can't face all of them at once, so I'll goof off now, and then do them all consecutively at the last minute". By starting saying "well, ok, I'll start by doing *this* much, and then I'll pause", it's easier to start.

In fact, I find that when things are going well, I can easily run several pomodoros back-to-back, and if I do it at work I can basically work continuously from when I arrive until when I leave. (Which ought to be taken for granted, but isn't that easy with many potential interruptions.)

But what I found most useful is that when I can't start *at all*, I can run a 5-minute pomodoro, and I can pretty much always force myself to do that much. And after a couple of those, I'm getting into the swing of it, and then can run some normal pomodoros.

It feels like, it's not just that I've got a limited amount of concentration energy per day, but also that I have a concentration velocity, and when it's low, I need to accelerate up to speed. So I can pretty much never go from stressed and distracted to working smoothly without an emergency, but if I know in advance I can accelerate and be working smoothly by lunchtime, I can actually do that and count it as a success, rather than feel like it has to be instant success or nothing.

[1] Because there are 25-minute timers for cooking tomato sauce.
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
I started using beeminder.com about a year ago. It's been immensely useful. I don't think beeminder is the only thing that could have done that, but I think it came along at just the right point in my life to be incredibly useful. (Thank you DReeve and team!)

I've used it to track over half a dozen different graphs of my life.

Long term ones include:

* Doing gym (or other equivalent workout). Now averaging three times a week.
* Half-hour units spent actually concentrating on work, not just faffing around trying to get started. This started off noticeably less than "hours in the working day", but admitting that made it a lot easier to slowly increase it to the point where I felt I did a good day's work every day.
* Weight. I explicitly didn't set a goal for this, but it's moved to a level I prefer.
* Long-term items crossed off todo list. This number is fairly meaningless, but simply recording it a lot easier to do things and not feel there's no point as there's an infinite number more.
* Daily perishable todo lists (eg. do washing up). As above.
* Blog three times a week.

What I find incredibly useful:

* Having a graph that shows progress.
* Getting reminder emails if something falls off my radar and I don't do it for a few weeks.
* An external measure that I've done "enough" for the moment, that I don't need to wait until I have time to do ALL OF IT.

What I'd actually like to be able to opt out of:

The premise of beeminder is anti-procrastination, that you can commit in advance to keep some particular goal, and in order to force your future self to stick to it, you pledge an amount of money. This works very well for many people.

However, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it at the beginning, and I found that simply having a goal at all was more than enough pressure. Sometimes I need to resort to panic to make progress, but the more often I can be motivated by hope instead of fear the better I work. Having a giant red klaxon saying "you've failed" seems to demotivate me more than motivate me.

The few occasions I've failed a goal, or nearly failed a goal, it's clearly been because I set up the conditions wrongly in advance. Either it's because I chose bad conditions to begin with, or because something genuinely more important but non-catastrophic came up, or because I mismanaged the grace period when I was on holiday, etc. Not something where I wish I'd had the fortitude to do it anyway! (If it's genuinely a screw-up, even if it's your fault, Beeminder are very good about resetting the failure.) If I'd pledged, I'd have paid, because I think I failed by the terms I initially set and I don't want to encourage myself to quibble. But I didn't fail by the terms I should have set.

So, basically, I want beeminder (with graphs and emails) but without the anti-procrastination checks (and maybe a monthly fee). Beeminder do offer a monthly fee for infinite pledgeless goals, but they sort of say they think it's a bad idea and don't encourage it.

I'm not sure. Should I (a) go with that or (b) look for another website that does something similar? I could just use a spreadsheet now I have the habit of doing it every day anyway. But I'm still scared that changing the routine would break the habit.

The other thing I wish was easier is that that EVERY datum I enter is for today, and the vast majority of them are "1", and most have one of the three most common comments. I wish I had a shortcut for "goal gym, today, 1, swim 20" with one click, not four clicks. I think I should be able to do that with beeminder with the API or the email bot, but I haven't yet had the time to figure out how.
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
This week I have:

1. Refreshed my collection of blank pretty greetings cards. (Someone will eventually want watercolour rugby players, yes?)
2. Bought a second clothes horse[1].
3. Triaged all the old post which accumulated in the house move.
4. Tested I can log on to the VPN from home.
5. Tested whether my tile-based adventure game demo still worked. (Answer: as well as it did before, but it needs unbreaking.)
6. Closed more bugs than I opened.
7. Been hashing for the fourth time, and done four specific exercise things for the third week running (well, not yet, but I've decided to).
8. Doubted my estimate that I could write five interesting blog posts a week.

[1] COME ON BRAIN! How hard was it to go from "I don't have enough room to hang all these clothes" to "buy another one"? Well, I don't know hard, but it apparently took my brain years to think of it...
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
Recently, I got RAC to replace the battery in my car. It was still under warranty, so it was really easy. Until the last moment, here dramatised for your entertainment.

RAC: You don't even have to pay anything.
RAC: Just one minor administrative thing.
Jack's pessimism: Uh-oh.
RAC: Have you got the receipt and guarantee from the battery?
Jack's pessimism: AAAAAAAGH!
Jack: Let me just go and check.
Jack's pessimism: Aaaah! Where on Earth would I have put that to be safe?
Jack's optimism: Have you checked the filing cabinet under "RAC"?
Jack: Oh yeah. Here it is.

I've been filing stuff long enough that important documents are usually in the right place in the filing cabinet, rather than put in a drawer somewhere with five other less-permanently "important" documents from about the same time.

But it's taking years before my instinctive response to needing something is becoming "of course" not "aaaaah!"
jack: (Default)
I still have massive problems with procrastination, but I've improved an awful lot. I've become aware of different problems, and the ways different productivity techniques help and don't help with each[1].

Ironically, now I'm noticing something that seemed like a stereotypical procrastinator problem, but actually isn't: when I'm reading something and don't want to put it down. That's actually quite rare: normally I procrastinate by doing stuff I don't really care about (eg. "clicking refresh repeatedly") and I want to just cut it out entirely.

But last night I read the entirety of Among Others by Jo Walton[2]. Oops. I realise, after work, I need about two hours of unwinding, even if I get other things done. But I'm not sure what to do in that time. If it's too interesting, I get hooked. If it's too boring, I stop doing it.

Some of that can be puttering round the house making dinner, and so on. But too much and I get bored. And a bit can be talking to mum or rachel, but too much and I get interested. And if I have time, some can be gym, but I need some sitting down afterwards too.

So I need at least some "pleasant zero-effort" activity. Which for me is usually reading. But if it's a new, exciting book, I can't put it down. And if it's a book I've read several times before, it's boring. So most of the time, my "flop" activity is re-reading something I've read once or twice before, and savouring it, but without working my brain too hard.

So, there's a delicate balance where I need a steady supply of books I read nine months ago I want to have another look at. But I can run out...

Or I could try to be more self-controlled at reading new books, and read a couple of chapters a night. But I'm not sure if that's a lost cause...


[1] Yes, I wish "stop overthinking it and just do it" magically solved all my problems, but I've tried it and I've tried it and it doesn't, but slow incremental improvement *has* made me better. So if you say "stop overthinking and just do it", I'm really, really sorry if I seem not to be taking your advice, but after ten years of "X doesn't work, Y does", I'm getting very very leery of trusting someone when they say "just try X MORE".

[2] Read it!
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
I've expanded by beeminder goals to half a dozen. It's different for everyone, but for me the most useful productivity device seems to be something that:

* Lets me record how often I succeed
* Lets me set up something to poke me if I get busy and stop submitting updates (and a small, but not ambitious goal to say "do at least this much")
* NOT bug me every day (except for things I SHOULD do every day), I'd rather be able to focus on gym for a month, and then fall back to a low baseline of a couple of times a week while I'm busy with something else.
* NOT focus on faux-psychoanalysis. Encouragement can be useful but it can also feel dispiriting or patronising, I'm very happy to just get a row of green ticks :)

That's not exactly how beeminder is designed to be used, but it's what I've found most useful so far.

My goals:


This only counts _new_ things. Not stuff that has to happen every week anyway, but stuff that represents genuine progress in my life, even if small. My target rate is set to 3 per week, and I'm doing about that.

It feels silly that I can't easily do more than that -- surely I have time. But some of the things I need to do are big and scary. And just remembering to do laundry, turn up at work, go to the pub with friends, etc, eats most of my time...

I've tended to have a spurt when there's a lot of small-to-medium things I polish off in a burst, and then a few weeks when immediate concerns overtake the graph. But it doesn't really matter what the graph shows, it matters that I have a way of feeling good about my progress.


I started this last week, based on a suggestion from a blog, but it seems to be going well. It records items on todo list(s) for a day that I've completed.

The catch is, the list can be as small as I like, but I have to do everything on it for it to count.

The reasoning behind that is that it's easy for a todo list to spiral out of control with the things I need to todo today getting mixed in with the things I've wanted to do for ages and only now have time for mixed in with stuff I vaguely thought I might do this week. And if I do that, then the whole evening is spent stressing over prioritising. Whereas if I force myself to be ruthless and make a list of things I'm ACTUALLY going to do, and a separate list for anything else, that's fairly easy to do. And thereafter I can relax and do them in whichever order I fancy, because doing a bit of washing up, etc, doesn't mean I'm neglecting the bigger things.

And when I do the prioritising in advance, it's easier to say "ok, one biggish thing, a few emails I've been putting off, and a bit of washing up/cleaning etc", and then I get some of all of it done, whereas if I try to prioritise as I go along, the de facto todo list becomes "agh, I don't know, I'll try to do all of it, but settle for the biggest one" and then never do the washing up.


I've been going to the gym for five months -- where has this year gone? Gym membership was supposed to be last year's thing. But I'm really glad I've kept it up, I feel a lot better for it.

Since I started, I've managed an average of 2.5 times a week. That came close to failing a few times over Christmas when I was away, but has been safe since. And the last five weeks I've maintained an average of four times a week.


I feel like a traitor for measuring this because so many people are damaged by the idea that only skinny is any good :( But I would in fact like to weigh less than I do now, even my ideal weight would be more than average for my height. And since I was losing a bit of weight from going to the gym anyway, I decided I might as well measure it. I've lost weight very slowly, but incontrovertibly more than zero. Measuring it has turned it from a complicated doom-filled hole into just one more thing that is under the control of my awesome organisation.


Part of the idea is that I don't only track things that seem boring but necessary, but also things that seem fun but I don't get round to because I'm worried about other things :)

Hence, a reminder to blog. I still need to shift away from the idea that _every_ post needs to be a complicated essay, and have more "hey, this is what I did today" (when that's potentially somewhat interesting to people other than me).


When I started, I speculated what else I might want to track, and one was writing fic, something I like to do very occasionally but never have time to do. But alas, this one is still on zero :)

StickK: shave face and shave head

I also experimented with non-beeminder tools for tracking things I want to do every week. (Shaving twice in one day doesn't make me less grizzled if I don't shave the next day :)) Success has been mixed, but it's been successful in training me to just do both automatically rather than putting them off.

You can see graphs of all the beeminder goals at: https://www.beeminder.com/jackv
jack: Glowing recycle symbol (getting things done)
Yesterday I replaced the windscreen wipers on my car.

It's amazing how good it feels to do something you've been meaning to do for a year.

Unfortunately, in "getting things done", I try to count only _new_ things, but that means I don't have a good measure of how many different things I'm committed to keep doing every week and how much time I then have left.

It was amazingly easy. OK, many things are completely non-user-servicable, but when I discovered the ones listed for my car fitted perfectly I felt like the system worked :)