Saturday, September 27, 2014

Early morning musings

I have no idea where this is going. None at all. Just so you know. Get something to drink.

It's 3:30 in the morning right now. I was just beat, barely staying awake this evening, so I went to bed at 8:30. Slept till about 2. Then I started thinking about a work conversation with my manager just about last thing before leaving on Friday afternoon.

It's all good, it's not like he ambushed me or anything. But I was initially hired at Penn West to work on a certain project, which is now in the process of being decommissioned. What I'm now working on is related in some ways that are complicated to explain. But several times recently, my comment has been "You know, that's what 'certain project' already did/does". There's a certain element of reinventing the wheel, and 'not invented here syndrome' that I hope doesn't start annoying me. Either that or I can recycle some materials and look like a genius.

When I started drawing out the answer in a mental Visio diagram complete with swim lanes and alternative states, I realized I might as well get up and write it down. I'd feel totally stupid if I went back to sleep and then spent Monday morning thinking, "What was I thinking, it was so clear".

Recently I've been reading The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin. It's excellent! Lots of good information about how our brains work, or don't work sometimes. It's tying in to lots of other stuff I've been thinking about. Maybe it's just my time of life, but I've been thinking about what I'm doing with my life, and what I want to be doing, and when. Mostly I'm pretty pleased with how it's going now.

I like what I do, and so far they don't particularly care when I do it, though my card key only works between 6am, and 6pm. Generally I don't bring work home with me, though I can't help but think about process, and he was talking about a process issue.

Part of the thing with staying in shape is being consistent. As you know I've struggled with that. I like to get things done in the morning when I'm fresh. When I wasn't working I'd get a swim done, do some job hunting, then go for a run or bike. Now it's harder to get to a workout once I'm actually at work.

Then there's the whole novel thing. Ideas come unpredictably, and I'm still working out a system for capturing ideas as they happen. The other morning I was on a roll, and looked up to realize it was about a half hour later than I thought it was. That's why I liked writing at the cottage on vacation. The only clock was on my laptop, and I didn't have to worry about traffic. Tides, but not traffic.

The Organized Mind book talks about people multi-tasking, noting our brains don't really multi-task. What we're really doing is task switching, and there's an energy cost to doing that. I've been thinking about that. One of my experiments is to tweak my email settings at work so I don't see notifications of new email. My theory is that I'll check it first thing, and deal with any issues. Typically there aren't. Then I'll start with something related to my current task to get warmed up, perhaps reviewing the process steps, or the work done to date. Then get onto the hardest thing of my day and try to make progress.

When I need a break or reach a logical place to pause, I'll save my work, and set it aside. Then it's time to get something to drink or snack on, look to see if any email has come in, deal with any other little things that might be a distraction, then dive back in again.

Like any habit, it's hard to change. But I don't get that much email, and since I've just moved offices, and now report to a different team leader, I figure this is the best time to make a change. I can see the difference already. I thought one of the things I was working on would be horrible, but once I got into the real meat of it I figured out a way to deal with it, provided I could hold some things in my head and keep track of what the query was really doing, and do several things in exactly the right order.

Oh, since you ask so nice, and speaking of distractions, here's a photo of my nice tidy office, and the view from it.

The desk can be raised so I can work standing up, but it isn't quite tall enough. The cardboard box gives me the extra couple inches needed to put the keyboard at the right height, and the two packets of paper do the same for the mouse. Yes, I want 3 monitors, and yes, I'm happy to have an office to myself at last. Two years of sharing a small office was getting on my nerves.

The novel is sometimes like that. I got lots of good writing done at the cottage because I could focus on it, being only distracted by the beautiful scenery. Sometimes I can get the essence of an idea down in a couple minutes, providing I do it right then. This is where the system comes in, and I'm still working it out. I do not want to drag the laptop around everywhere on the off chance something will come to me. The problem is that I'll haul it out at work, and start doing that instead of billable activities. That's not so good.

Levitin was struck by how often really busy, really important people seem to be so present when talking to others. Part of the reason they can be so focussed is that they have staff that keep track of stuff for them. They know they can pay total attention, till their aide taps them on the shoulder and tells them they need move to the next activity.

Most of us don't have that luxury. While talking to buddy we just met on the street, we need to keep in mind that the plan was to meet with other buddy for coffee at 10, and that while you allowed a couple extra minutes, and they won't mind if you're a minute late, particularly if they also know buddy, you are mentally keeping track of what time it is and how long it will take to get to the coffee shop. All this interfere with the chat with your buddy, and that's before you look at your watch or phone to track the time more closely.

It seems like life itself can be one big distraction. There is always something newer and shinier coming along. My current example is my cellphone, an iPhone 4. Out of all the people who have ever lived, only a few million of them would NOT think it was the most amazing thing they had ever seen in their lives. I'm still amazed at what it can do, and I'm sure I haven't even fully tapped it's capabilities.

Yet it's obsolete, they say. I should get the iPhone 6. Actually paying for it is the least of my problems. Which version, the 6 or 6+? How much memory? Which colour? On contract or unlocked? If contract, which one? What to do with the old one? (I hate throwing functional things away.) How to deal with the various setup issues so it best works with my needs? Like dealing with photos. The process has changed and I don't understand the new one yet. Don't get me started on the fingerprint ID thing, and while I'm excited about paying for things with my phone, I want to make sure I understand what is happening.

So many questions. When I step back and think about it, do I really need to be dealing with that? Do I even need a new phone, or any phone at all? Lots of people appear to get by without one. My accountant and my wife are the two examples I've run into most recently. Linda's phone is from about 2003, and Sanna's is even older.

Perhaps if I was retired I wouldn't need one, but I don't know. There are retired people that seem to have more on the go than they did while working. I'd like to be like that, and think I will be. I hope. In any case, I'm likely to have the time to think about things a bit more before being distracted from what I was doing. Then again, thinking about thinking is a loop that has snared many people much brighter than me. What was that shiny thing that just showed up? Gotta go.


  1. I think I'll give your email notifications off idea a try so save energy on task switching. Multitasking isn't really very effective and sometimes those who pride themselves in it are the ones who remember nothing, and forget to reply to you. Nice office by the way! Congrats. I inherited an iPhone5S and it's much faster than my 4 was. I'm not troubled by the fingerprint thing. It's only stored in your phone and some people program it to work with non-finger body parts. It's all about capacitativeresistance or something like that. Apple and the government can't access it... according to my Mac guru. Check it out on Gizmodo:

    1. Thanks for the link! That's a better explanation of what I had read. I don't want to think about non-finger body parts. I still think you got the short end of the inheritance deal there, YOU should have got the new one.

  2. Phone colour is easy - purple first, then red, then black and buy a funky cover to go over top. Heh. I have read a lot of books on being mindful and when I apply the methods (i.e being present in whatever task you are doing) I find I am more relaxed, even if the task is challenging. :)

    1. You must talk to Apple, get them on board with your colour choices. I'd buy a plaid phone if they did one.


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