Weekly Head Voices #187: Checklists everywhere.


Fiery sky in Betty's Bay.

I’m not sure about the situation in the Northern hemisphere, but down here in the South it seems as if just about everyone has disconnected for the Christmas period.

I decided that I would prefer at least trying to end the year with a few more-or-less on time WHVs, even if they have to slim down a bit to do so.

So here we are: Just you and me. Maybe just me.

This WHV looks back on the week from Monday December 16 to Sunday December 22, 2019.

The last work-week of 2019, (partially) in bullets.

For me this was the last real work week.

I did spend most of it working from places other than the office, which was nice.

Other than that, I would like to mention the following noteworthy learnings and events:

  • Schlepping along my Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop keyboard (current favourite) and mouse, as well as my collapsible laptop stand (to bring the laptop screen up to eye height) made a huge positive difference to my ergonomics. 12/10 would do again.
  • We had a gratifying 4 day turn-around from the report of a pretty obscure and initially irreproducible bug, through analysis and debugging, to a new Windows driver release.
  • react-diagrams is an amazing TypeScript library for putting together a boxes and lines frontends to manipulate graph-based dataflow backends. However, the TypeScript class hierarchies and lack of documentation complicate customisation, if that’s your goal. I had to throw out that work and start over, building everything on React (hooks all the way baby!) and little bits of d3 for the spliny bits.
  • In the same vein, Cola.js / WebCola is an impressive layout approach for graphs. The force-directed layout in d3 is great for interactive demos, but sometimes you want something that, you know, lays out the graph. See this cytoscape demo for even more fun.

On checklists.

During this last week, as I was fighting to maintain the last islands of focus being relentlessly eroded by the persistent seas of vacation-temptation, I was helped a great deal by micro-checklists.

I briefly debated calling them multi-scalar checklists, but they are really just normal checklists, except applied to any duration of work or focus time.

In other words, given an hour in the evening to spend on research, I would start the hour by quickly jotting down (in Emacs Orgmode of course) a checklist of the 4 to 5 things I would like to get done in that hour.

It was surprising to me much that 5 minute time investment would return in the subsequent 55.

The lesson that I am taking from this, is that my daily planning checklist is not enough.

The daily landscape itself, my energy levels and my interest change far too much and too quickly for a single daily checklist.

When you only get a few hours here and there to work, this problem is even more acute.

I am still figuring out how exactly to cultivate this new habit of making a new checklist before every block of work, multiple times per day.

(What exactly is a block of work? Practically, how can I delineate this during the day?)

On disconnecting for recuperation.

During this time of the year I’m usually spending a number of mental cycles debating how exactly to disconnect from The Network.

(See You are turning into a cyborg from a 2014 Weekly Head Voices, for example.)

Even longer ago than that, I used to keep my work and personal email separate.

During vacations, I would temporarily remove the work account from all of my devices so that I could only see the mostly social-related personal emails.

These days, work and personal networks seem to have become even more intertwined all by themselves, complicating measures like the above.

When I re-joined the Exciting World of Business and Great Success in 2013, I merged all of my email back into a single account, for better knowledge management and especially retrieval.

Another more important and more current example of this is WhatsApp, which more or less dominates all instant messaging and a great deal of general communication down here.

Many people I know use WhatsApp for work.

However, most of them, probably like most of you, use a single phone with a single SIM.

This means that they will probably see work-related messages and activities during their vacation, traditionally, but now perhaps increasingly anachronistically, a period of disconnection.

(By the way, see me in 2011 recommending WhatsApp over SMS when WhatsApp was still quite small, and see me in 2016 recommending Signal over WhatsApp. Signal is still the best choice by far if you value your privacy and security.)

Personally, it feels like my current adventure in the Exciting World of Business and Great Success requires me to be available, just in case. Therefore, I am planning only a very few days of “offline”, which is more of a mental state than a technological setting.

Other than that, my colleagues are all really great about staying off the emails and the WhatsApps, partly because they are really great (see above) and partly because they are applying similar methods.

The only question that remains is, how much disconnection, and at which intensity, does the disconnecting human require for optimal functioning?

Friends, whatever your level of disconnect, I wish you maximum rest.