It brings me joy to meet you here again.
Due to an unintentionally longer than normal blog hiatus, this edition will attempt to cover a substantial amount of temporal ground from Monday August 10 to Sunday September 6, 2020.
If I were in your shoes, I would hop skip and jump selectively over the hopefully not too unhelpfully titled headings.
In order to reduce this wall of text somewhat, I have pre-emptively moved a sub-section or two to the next edition of the WHV.
Dear Charl of the Future,
You have no choice. (also no free will haha) I am writing this for you, so you better read every last bit.
I am watching you. 👀
I’m sorry, but it really is just quite complicated
I would like to kick this off with the following cartoon by Wiley Miller, which entered my information field of view via dr topol’s tweet stream. (don’t worry, this came in via my rss reader. i have not returned to twitter.)
It is ironic that the people who get it, already got it, but that the people who really should get it, won’t get it.
As is the case with many of these efforts, i guess that the best we can hope for is that some of those on the borders between the aforementioned two groups might be gently encouraged to gravitate towards the light.
the giant band-aid phenomenon
Related to the cartoon above, it is quite interesting to me how often well-meaning people desire to come up with a giant band-aid for any current problem.
Climate change? Inequality? Surely if we just find a band-aid big enough we can make the problem go away!
There really is no band-aid.
On the minimum unit of focus
Somewhere in week 34 i was struggling to wrap up a piece of programming work that i had been struggling with for a few days, in-between meetings and a whole smorgasbord of other modern interruptions.
Finally i decided to bust out the little focus tool that i shall not name here, because that’s not the point.
The point is rather that i created an interruption-free block of time and then wrapped up the stupid programming problem decisively, there and then.
Relieved that it was finally done, I did feel stupid that it had taken me that long to just shut off those damn interruptions.
The experience did remind me of the following cartoon by the slightly disgruntled scientist. It describes extremely well how a single little interruption can derail a whole constellation of mental models in an instant.
Click or tap to zoom in, or skip past if you know this:
I have found that the absolute minimum block of distraction-free time i need to do reliably something worthwhile is about an hour.
A large part of my job is indeed handling the information that arrives via all of the those pesky interruptions, but sometimes i wonder if there’s not a better way to reconcile these two facets.
Very much related to this phenomenon, is falling into the morning distraction trap, something which is probably familiar to a number of you. (future charl, you don’t count.)
It goes like this: i arrive at work (or these days, i walk a few metres on from the kitchen into the guest bedroom / home office), and then i start the day with meetings, microsoft teams chats, and emails.
If I’m not careful, I get stuck in this reactive mode, forgetting until far too late in the day to eject from the reactive-jet for some of them juicy focus hours.
Just this past week, I decided on Thursday and Friday to start work directly on my main project, ignoring emails and chats and any other distractions until the first stand-up meeting at 9:00.
Just priming my mind like this for slightly more than an hour was enough to give the whole day a flavour of focus and intentionality.
It feels like I forget this lesson every other day.
How do you manage this?
On the opposite of focus
Sort of inspired by Lex Fridman’s deliberate scheduling of a shallow work session after the day’s deep work, I was pleasantly surprised during a past few evening sessions where I combined an entertaining DJ Set on the second screen with some actual programming work on the main.
Somehow the fully intentional addition of distracting entertainment, and importantly the acceptance that the work would necessarily be approached with a leisurely attitude, I got a surprising amount of extra work done, and experienced the whole session as relaxing.
I’m going to file this under “101 stupid but effective tricks to fool your mind into being more useful”.
Let me know if you try this, or if you knew this all along and that’s how you manage everything so well!
P.S. Lex Fridman’s podcasts are edifying and humanity-affirming. Try them if you haven’t yet.
On divide and conquer for the email
Spontaneously in the night somewhere during the past weeks, I had the idea that it was time to split my Stone Three work email account from the rest of my email empire (which is partially also work, because vxlabs, but not my main job).
I did this because the account I use to manage everything, the fastmail one, was becoming far too chaotic.
(Back in the TU Delft days, an adventure that ended now almost 7 years ago, I also used to sport an e-mail split.)
My perception now is that I’m working against the idea of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, i.e. the whole chaos is perhaps worse than the two smaller chaos explosions by themselves.
(That’s a pretty convoluted way to think about “divide and conquer”, isn’t it?)
Also, the dream of being able to search through all of my email and actually finding stuff is not being realised.
Email searching these days is usually a last resort, because I have a pretty good personal knowledge management system. It could also be that fastmail search is not as clever as gmail search.
In the weeks since I did this split (my notes tell me this happened on Friday, August 21, 2020 at around 8:30 in the morning), I have noticed that my Stone Three email is now under control, while my personal email is slightly out of control, which is an improvement.
I have noticed that I do in fact apply a whole different mode of cognition and context to the handling of work email than I do to personal/work-ish email.
A further advantage is that I can now focus on mastering the way of life that is called Outlook. The first artifact I have to show for this is a pretty complicated blog post in the drafts folder that shows how you can link to arbitrary outlook items (in the latest outlook) from anywhere, in my case of course Emacs.
Life progress update
During the past several weeks, I passed a birthday.
As one bestie remarked, I am now just past the halfway mark, at least by one pretty optimistic estimate of the total duration of me.
Anyways, moving on…
I took the largest part of the day off to go run the in the mountains here in my backyard.
The route that I took for the first time, and which caused a considerable amount of enjoyment, could be described by Watsonia, Baboon traverse, Leopard Loop, Caracal, Protea, Sugarbird.
Making time for outdoorsy activities on your birthday: Two WHV thumbs up, would do again.
Thanks to the WorkOutDoors Apple Watch app, which I bought two years ago but have never used, I did not get lost like I usually do when attempting trail runs.
The app displays brilliant vector maps on your watch, optionally overlaid with GPX routes supplied by generous friends.
After the birthday run, I use it again on more trails (see photo at start of post) to run almost like someone who actually possesses a sense of direction.
Technological augmentation FTW!
Here’s to a more regular return
Thank you for working through this mishmash with me!
We are now caught up until Sunday, September 6, 2020.
At this stage, I would have preferred to post more coherent little posts more often, but I seem to find myself in a loop of slightly too much busyness (and other issues), which ironically is contributing to my need to write more, but which is taking up so much time and so many mental cycles that blog-writing opportunities are hard to create and make use of.
Anyways… at least the overfull post-pipeline fence has now been cleared.
Folks, I wish you equanimity, kindness and health.
I look forward to our next connection.