October 2013

The power of no: being completely* unhireable until 2017 (and possibly longer)

October 1, 2013 - Categories: career, experiment

When I started this 5-year experiment, I didn’t know if I could stick with it. My track record for sticking with interests is not that good. I’m delighted to report that (semi-)retirement gets easier and easier. I am learning to say no.

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By coincidence, two of my mentors (who had moved on to separate companies after IBM) got in touch with me one after the other to find out if I was interested in some upcoming job opportunities. Good stuff. Right up my alley. Wonderful people.

I said no. Actually, I said something along the lines of: “Thank you for reaching out! That sounds fantastic. However, I am semi-retired and completely* unhireable until 2017 (or possibly later), so I’ll just have to wish you good luck on your search. I’m sure you’ll find someone awesome out there. If I think of returning to work, I will be sure to reach out to you right away. Thanks again!”

*If a significant financial need comes up, I have no qualms about suspending this experiment and returning to the wonderful world of work. I enjoyed working with excellent teams. I’d love to do it again. While I have the opportunity and privilege to work on things entirely of my choosing, though, I should do that. Not everyone can do so, and I shouldn’t waste the chance.

Learning how to say no is amazing. I used to feel guilty about this. I wanted to be in more than one place at a time. Then I realized that I am not a special snowflake and there are other awesome people out there who can make things happen. Sure, they might not bring my particular configuration of skills, but they’ll bring other useful combinations. This makes it easier for me to say no, because it leaves room for someone else to say yes.

Pre-making decisions helps a lot. When I was preparing for my experiment, I thought about the conditions in which I would stop or reconsider. If something happened to W-, I might go back to work. If our expenses didn’t stay in line with my projections, I might go back to work. If, if, if. If everything was going fine, though, then any qualms or anxieties would just be the product of my irrational lizard-brain trying to run back to the safety of the known, familiar, and explainable-at-cocktail-parties. (Not that I go to cocktail parties, and not that “I’m in consulting” was really an explanation. But it checked the right conversational boxes, while “I’m semi-retired” throws people for a loop.) Knowing my lizard-brain helps me work around it.

I often sketch out basic decisions in advance. It’s the programmer way. If this, then that. Check for warnings and errors. Handle exceptions. It means not having to worry as much, which is great. It means knowing when I might need to reconsider so that I’m not blindly following the same plan when circumstances change. In a way, I live through many possible lives.

It’s been a year and a half since I started my experiment with semi-retirement. My living expenses are almost exactly on track. My aspirations are definitely off track. I hadn’t expected to be this comfortable with writing and learning, and I’m excited about where this is going. This is good.

The road isn’t lonely at all. W- has been absolutely wonderful and supportive, and I’m running into more and more people on some kind of sabbatical or early retirement. The path is surprisingly well-travelled, the kind of secret trail that you might not hear about in your guidebook but which gets passed on from person to person in whispers and geocaches. I say no so that I can say yes.

Image credits: Crossroads (Mopic, Shutterstock)

Blogging tip: Test your ideas and get more feedback in order to make your posts better

October 2, 2013 - Categories: blogging
This entry is part 18 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

It turns out that you don’t have to write alone, and that you don’t have to have all the answers (or all the ideas!) at the beginning.

Feedback

I’ve been using Twitter to share ideas related to upcoming blog posts. For example, I asked people what kept them from taking notes, and I added their thoughts to a blog post that I was writing. I shared something I realized about dealing with uncertainty by making potential outcomes arbitrarily better, and that led to a back-and-forth conversations that helped me clarify what I meant.

Condensing an idea into 140 characters is a great exercise. Bonus points if there’s a question in there too.

Sometimes I share post ideas before I’ve drafted the posts so that I can see if an idea resonates enough to make me want to write it. Sometimes I share the idea after I’ve outlined or drafted the first version so I know what I think. I don’t ditch post ideas if they don’t get a response, but I mix in people’s feedback whenever I can.

I also use Twitter to share links to some blog posts after they go live, but the conversation seems more interesting if I don’t start it with a monologue. Besides, editing an upcoming post to incorporate people’s thoughts is much easier and more useful than updating something that people have already seen in their feed readers. The Share a Draft plugin is great for giving people links to unpublished posts. ScribeFire is great for editing existing posts.

Another benefit of writing posts in advance is that by the time you get around to folding people’s insights into your post, you probably have enough distance to edit your first version ruthlessly. If you do this at least a few days in advance, you can even go back to the people who shared their thoughts with you and see if you’ve quoted them properly.

imageIf you blog, try giving people a sneak peek at upcoming thoughts and asking them for feedback. You can do this through e-mail or through social networks. I like social networks like Twitter and Facebook more than e-mail because other people can see and build on responses, but feel free to use whatever works for you. Enjoy!

Series Navigation« Getting started with blogging when no one’s readingHow to get people to read your blog post »

Sketchnote Lessons: How do you want to grow as a sketchnoter?

October 3, 2013 - Categories: drawing
This entry is part 11 of 11 in the series Sketchnote Lessons

20131002 How do you want to grow as a sketchnoter

It’s good to think about how you want to grow, collect examples, break down those goals into specific skills you can work on, and practise. You can see how I’ve been practising and sharing different skills in my sketchnote lessons. =) Focusing on one skill at a time makes it easier to try different variations and learn more.

By the way, if you would like to practise by making your own sketchnote lessons, please feel free to share your work with me and I can link to it or repost it in this series.

Enjoy!

Series Navigation« Sketchnote Lesson: Metaphors

Decision review: Seven months at HackLab

October 4, 2013 - Categories: connecting, decision, review

HackLab logo

It’s been a little over half a year since I signed up for a membership at HackLab, a makerspace and coworking area in Kensington Market. Before I signed up, I thought about the things I would like to be true at the evaluation point for my experiment, which I set at nine months after I signed up (so November 2013). I figured it would be good to do a quick check so that I can adjust things. Here’s what I wrote in February, and how it has matched up so far with my experience:

I know more about other geeks in Toronto thanks to ambient conversations and helping each other out
HackLab is full of interesting people. I like dropping by and hanging out at the open houses or during regular days.
I’m better at asking people for help when I get stuck, and at setting myself tougher challenges knowing that people can help
I’ve done this a couple of times (keyboard layouts, business questions, web stuff, system administration), although I still need to work on that.
I’ve dug into some of the more difficult things that are easier to learn with other people who can help me. For example: web development, mobile development, electronics
Web development and system administration might be good things to focus on. There are lots of other people who are working on similar things.
I’ve gotten better at sketching ideas, asking other people for feedback, and fleshing out the ones that get people interested
I drew How to Learn Emacs while I was at HackLab. That was fun. =) I’ve drawn some of the sketchnote lessons here, too.
I’ve improved serendipity (test different laptop cues to talk? talk to people about what they’re working on?)
Overhearing stuff works well.
I go to HackLab 1-2 times a week, and sometimes more often if the weather is great.
See analysis below
I’m good at managing my focus (do not disturb / yes, talk to me)
Background conversations interfere with things like typing practice (Plover/Colemak), but I’m okay with listening to conversations while typing (Dvorak), coding, or drawing. Headphones help a little.
I’m good at talking to new people and hanging out with the regulars
Getting there. I feel comfortable around HackLab members and I often have interesting conversations at open houses, particularly over food.

In general, the benefits I’m looking for are:

My initial goal was to go to HackLab 1-2 times a week. As of 2013-09-25 (~31 weeks after I joined; I was doing this analysis before the members’ meeting), I have been to HackLab on 41 distinct days. This is within my target range of 31 to 62 visits, and works out to 1.3 visits a week. This is a pleasant surprise, because I started this analysis thinking that I was underusing my HackLab membership compared to my goals. Based on my current attendance, this costs a little less than $10 per visit, which is worth the awesome vegan cooking opportunities / lessons / dinners (Tuesday open houses) and overheard conversations with interesting geeks.

I’m at 66% of the top part of my goal range. What are my current limiting factors, and how can I work around them?

Inertia is powerful and works ways: when I’m home, it’s easy to stay home; when I’m in the middle of working on something interesting on the kitchen table, I don’t want to pack up and bike over. I often sleep in during my non-consulting days, and sometimes I think: “Is it really worth biking downtown for a few hours of hanging out or working?” I’ve also offered to do a couple of extra half-days of consulting each week during September and October, so that limits the number of days when it makes sense to go to HackLab. Besides, introvert mode is pretty comfortable – no distracting conversations, and plenty of good food in the fridge.

So, what could help me make even better use of HackLab? How can I hack my motivation and reward structure to get me out the door?

What about winter? I’m going to face some motivation challenges when snow makes biking more dangerous and the cold encourages me to stay home. On mild days in winter, I might be able to bike down or TTC down. I can use that as a context switch to write or code. Is it worth $6 to take the TTC down here at least once a week, bringing it to a total cost of $16 or so? Maybe, especially if I move things around so that I’m at HackLab instead of consulting on Tuesdays (or I work remotely on Tuesdays). If I discount winter and consider my membership based solely on my attendance so far, it works out to roughly $15 per day, which is still worth it considering other co-working spaces are $20 for a day pass and don’t offer 24h access, not that I’ve been here at 3 AM. Besides, HackLab does cool things. So yes, I’ll continue throughout winter, and I’ll see if I can get past the activation costs of getting down here by TTC. (Reading time on the subway/streetcar, and travelling during off-peak hours?)

Incidentally, here are the queries that I used to check how many times I’ve been in HackLab:

SELECT COUNT(DISTINCT(DATE_FORMAT(logged, '%Y-%m-%d'))) from access_log where card_id='123-3149';
SELECT MIN(logged) FROM access_log WHERE card_id='123-3149';

Let’s see how this goes!

Weekly review: Week ending October 4, 2013

October 5, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Picked up the Fujitsu ScanSnap, have been scanning lots of sketches. Here’s this week:

Blog posts

Quick notes from this week

Link roundup

Focus areas and time review

Gardening review: 2013

October 6, 2013 - Categories: gardening

gardening

We’ve been readying the garden for winter. The blueberries in the front yard have already changed into their fall colours. I’ve trimmed the lavender back so that it won’t get too scraggly next year. I’ve pulled up all the basil and processed the leaves for pesto. I removed the rest of the tomato flowers to encourage the remaining tomatoes to ripen. I harvested the spring onions and froze them, chopped, on a cookie tray. I pulled up all the carrots (a couple of decent-sized ones and a handful of tiny ones). I’m waiting for the rest of the tomatoes to ripen and for us to finally feel like eating lettuce, and then we’re probably done for the season.

What worked well this year?

Things that didn’t work so well:

Next year:

We gave the strawberries a rest this year, although a couple of them decided to “volunteer” in the back garden. I saw a little sage plant growing too. I transplanted it to the opposite side of the garden so that we’ll have sage growing there too, although I don’t know how established it will get before winter.

The house gets very little light and we have cats who like munching on plants, so I don’t think I’ll be able to start plants from seed before the last frost. I could set up the spare room with lights, but it’s carpeted, so that can be messy. Although it’s more expensive to buy starter plants and the selection is smaller, the tomatoes and basil that we bought did really well, and I don’t mind doing that again next year.

I’m getting better at recognizing weeds versus regular plants. Yay!

Thinking out loud about how to help other sketchnoters go professional and how to help people get their ideas sketched

October 7, 2013 - Categories: business, connecting

Whenever I sketchnote an event, people tell me that they love my work. They ask if I’d be interested in sketching other events, podcasts, books, presentation designs, blog post illustrations, and so on. People love the informal, informative style of sketchnotes, and they want to use it to spread more ideas. Terrific!

But you know what would be even awesomer? It would be fantastic if more people could get into sketchnoting – pro-bono, for barter, or professionally. There are a lot of great ideas out there that are missing their potential because they get forgotten or people’s eyes glaze over when confronted by lots of text or slides. More sketchnoters, more possibilities.

shutterstock_136646261

Many sketchnoters and graphic recorders refer work to people they know when they’re too busy themselves. I want to refer as much as possible to other people, especially people I don’t know. I want to broaden the network and bring more people in. I want my default to be referring work to other people, accepting work myself only if it’s something I really care about and I’m the only one who can make it happen. (Which is probably never, because lots of people can draw!)

It makes sense to have lots of sketchnoters sharing the opportunities instead of a few sketchnoters drawing most of the work. When a topic lines up with your interests or background, everything is better. You have a richer visual vocabulary. You learn a lot more from the content. You can keep up with speakers more easily. And when there are lots of active sketchnoters, we can learn a lot from each other’s styles.

I think it would be interesting to have a gig board where people can post opportunities and other people can contact them if interested. This is different from a job board because jobs tend to be longer-term commitments, while sketchnoting might just be a few hours. I don’t mind routing everything through my e-mail first.

So, what’s getting in people’s way now, and how can we address that?

I have a couple of requests that I’d like to refer to other people. What would be a good way of sharing them?

I like option A more. So let’s run it as a little experiment… Here are some possible outcomes:

I’m not going to invest a lot of time into it in the beginning, so I might start with a simple theme and no development work. As we see the response, I can make it better.

Sounds like a plan! Any thoughts or suggestions?

Image credits: Wanted (Thinglass, Shutterstock)

Cheat uncertainty by sweetening the potential outcomes

October 8, 2013 - Categories: decision, happy

Even with all the research you can do, you can’t remove all the uncertainty from a decision. This is life.

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I cheat by making potential outcomes a little bit better with arbitrary conditions, in addition to any intrinsic value I can remind myself about. For example, I might prefer one set of results, but I’ll promise myself sushi if the outcomes don’t go my way. Or ice cream, or playing a video game, or reading, or some time spent writing. Since I don’t have ice cream and other treats that often (that’s why they’re treats), the trick works.

I also try to focus on the intrinsic value of various outcomes. My favourite outcome sweetener used to be “If nothing else, this will make a great story someday,” which is an excellent psychological benefit associated with keeping a blog. (Try it!) Other good ones for me are “Well, if it doesn’t work out, it’s good practice in equanimity,” and “I’m sure I’ll learn something.” I remind myself of that before the uncertainty is resolved so that I don’t feel like I’m sour-graping. Find whatever works for you. That said, sometimes it’s fun to have an actual treat.

This is different from, say, drowning your sorrows in ice cream after the fact. Eating ice cream because you’re sad is one thing; deciding to give yourself advance permission to eat a little ice cream if outcome B happens is another. Or at least it is for me – there’s something about the mental trick of reconciling yourself with probabilities.

While a small concession doesn’t completely make up for not getting a preferred outcome, it takes the edge off. It reminds you that nothing is a complete loss. Being grateful for the small things (even the ones that you’ve intentionally added to the outcome) can help kickstart gratitude for the rest of it. I’m good at enjoying small things, even if they happen because I decided to make them happen.

I also try to not place too much value on specific outcomes. It’s not that A is better and B is worse. They’re just different. Who knows, B might even be better for me in the long run. It’s liberating to face the uncertainty and say, “Well, I’m going to be happy either way this goes, so let’s find out what kind of happiness it will be.”

So this is how I deal with decisions that could go one way or the other: I tack on little treats for myself so that I always have something to look forward to. Even if I rarely end up going down those paths, this practice is great for being optimistic and resilient. It makes life predictably awesome, even when life itself is unpredictable. After all, that’s what consolation prizes are for.

Do you use a similar trick? How do you hack your thoughts and emotions when it comes to uncertainty?

Test what you know by sharing

October 9, 2013 - Categories: blogging, learning, tips
This entry is part 9 of 19 in the series A No-Excuses Guide to Blogging

In grade school, I discovered the power of testing what I knew, even at the risk of embarrassment. I was that kid who always had her hand raised in class—and I’d raise the other one when my hand got tired. Think Hermione without the restraint. (And often without the encyclopedic knowledge, but who’s counting?)

Later, after I caught on to the fact that the teacher wasn’t going to call me every time (even when mine was the only hand raised), I still kept doing it. I figured I might as well. After all, if other students didn’t want to take advantage of this part of the education that their tuition had already paid for, that was their loss. I wanted to see if I understood something well enough to explain it. (As a teacher, I winced slightly at recognizing my younger self in the eager hand-wavers who probably intimidated their classmates like all heck – but I sympathized, although I still prodded the quieter ones.)

There are no more teachers and no more exams, but I still share as much as I can. There’s a saying that goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Me, I’d rather know when I’m being a fool. How can you find bugs in your code unless you look for them? How can you find flaws in your understanding unless you test what you think you know?

Duncan Mortimer saw the following similarities between sharing and test-driven development:

  • Both provide you with tight feedback loops — the first person you’re sharing with when you write something up is yourself. I guess that’s a bit like getting a test to pass in TDD.
  • Both help you to avoid ‘regressions’ — if you’ve got a permanent record of what you’ve done, what’s worked, what hasn’t, then perhaps it’s easier to get a sense for when an action you’re considering will cause problems.
  • Both offer a form of ‘documentation’. Sharing, for your life: for your actions; for your situation. It shows what you were thinking at the time.

I like that. It’s why I blog. I get to find out whether I understand something enough to explain it, and if that explanation makes sense, and if I can answer the questions that other people might ask. I get a record that I can refer to and reminders of my fallability. Sharing helps me learn.

One of the tips that Timothy Kenny shares in Accelerated Learning for Entrepreneurs (e-book, $16.77) is assigning yourself a final project when you want to learn something well. Map the ideas, blog what you learn, create a checklist, write a report or a book, teach a class… create some kind of tangible proof  that you’ve learned something. With that final project in mind, you’ll find—as Duncan also points out—that you study more deeply and more effectively.

Duncan wraps up with this thought:

Perhaps deliberately sharing your life and reflecting on that experience ultimately helps you to live a life that’s worth sharing?

image… and I think there’s something to that. I’m learning a lot about life, and one of my ongoing projects is to have an amazing blog by the time I’m 60 or 90. That nudges me to learn things and do things that are worth sharing. It challenges me to share what I’m learning while I’m learning it, because later on the fuzziness of memory and the curse of expertise will make the details disappear.

How about you? What can you share, and how can sharing help you learn and live?

Series Navigation« Share while you learnPersonal blog? Don’t worry about your strategy »

Drawing practice: Daily drawing

October 10, 2013 - Categories: drawing

Instead of sharing a sketchnoting tip, I thought I’d write about a new habit that I’m working on forming: drawing my thoughts every day. It turns out that this is a great way to think about stuff and practice drawing at the same time.

I find it difficult to draw a visual journal because I don’t think the everyday details of my life are all that interesting. On the other hand, I really like the way drawing helps me think through stuff. Instead of drawing what I had for lunch, then, I pick an idea or question I want to explore, and then I start writing. Sometimes I’ll add little sketchnote-y doodles. Sometimes the page is full of text. I always end up learning a little more or having a clearer understanding, so it all works out.

The sketchnotes are more fun to create and easier to share than writing text notes or making simple mindmaps. They’re also easier to review. I scan my sketchnotes every day and import them into Evernote and Flickr, and I’ve flipped through my digital copies a few times already.

I fill way more pages when I use drawing as a tool for thinking instead of just as a tool for recording other people’s thoughts. I’ve been averaging 6 notes a day at about 20 minutes a note, and I consider it time well spent. As I get the hang of doing this, maybe my notes will be more creative and more elaborate. We’ll see!

Don’t limit sketchnoting to drawing other people’s thoughts or save it only for brainstorming on special occasions. Use it every day as a tool for helping you think! =)

2013_10_06_23_15_38_006

2013_10_09_17_05_50_002

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about:

I’ve also been drawing my daily plans (08-Oct-13, 07-Oct-13, 06-Oct-13) and weekly reviews.

Do you sketch your thoughts? Try making it a daily habit!

Monthly review: September 2013

October 11, 2013 - Categories: monthly, review

Last month, I wrote:

I’m back to consulting on Tuesdays and Thursdays in September, with
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for my experiment with
semi-retirement. Let’s see if I can keep the momentum!

To accommodate some of the priorities and my clients’ plans, I ended up increasing my consulting to the equivalent of three days a week (two full days and two half-days for best responsiveness). I’ll keep the same pace in October, and then I’ll probably take off for some vacation in December. I don’t mind scaling my personal projects back a little to squeeze in some more consulting over a short period of time – I can see the value of the work I do, and I can still make time to write and draw.

September 30 was my second fiscal year end, so I spent some time thinking about how I wanted to reinvest in my business. Consulting is going well, and I want to get even better at drawing and writing. I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap and have started using it to support a daily drawing habit, and I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.

In October, I’ll focus on consulting. In my discretionary time, I’ll focus on lots of drawing and thinking. I want to build that habit of daily visual thinking, and then I’ll use that to learn even more.

Here’s what I wrote about in September:

Weekly review: Week ending October 11, 2013

October 12, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Last week, I focused on building a daily drawing habit. Working well!

20131011 Weekly review

Blog posts

Quick notes

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

This week, I’m going to focus on tidying. I want to clear more space in the house and organize things better so that I can more efficiently store and find things.

What’s on your back burner?

October 14, 2013 - Categories: decision, planning, productivity, sketches

It’s easy to get discouraged by the vague feeling that you’re ignoring lots of things that you wanted to work on: hobbies that fall by the wayside, projects gathering dust on your shelves, Someday/Maybe lists that grow and never shrink. I’m learning that thinking about what’s on your back burner can help you make your peace with it, deliberately choosing what you want to work on during your discretionary time and letting go of the rest.

I’m focusing on consulting this October and November. Assuming all goes well, December will be taken up by a vacation: wrapping up consulting, going on vacation, and recovering from the whirlwind. I’m going to be less “retired” than I thought I’d be at this point, so I want to be deliberate about what I’m putting on the back burner and what I should keep doing.

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Consulting leaves me with one or two days a week when I can focus on other projects. I also have little bits of time here and there, and some time in the evenings. What do I want to fit into those opportunities?

Daily drawing: I really like this practice of thinking about ideas or questions on paper, and I plan to continue doing this. Since I’ve made it a warm-up and cool-down activity, I don’t need a lot of separate focused time for it. I draw to start and end my day, and I spend a little time filing new sketches. Decision: Continue doing this in small pieces.

Visual vocabulary: Someone asked me if I could share my visual vocabulary with people. I had figured out a good workflow for building my visual vocabulary using other people’s sketches, but I didn’t want to share my 1,000+ term collection because it’s based on other people’s sketches (copyright, you know!). So I started building a new visual vocabulary using only my own sketches. So far, I’ve processed all of my sketchnotes from 2013.

The next step is to process my personal sketches (including my daily sketches) from 2013, and then start going backwards in time. Although the work was simple and not challenging, it was a lot of fun reviewing my past sketches and remembering what the talks were about. Decision: I’ll spend a little time on this each week. I thought about outsourcing parts of it, but it’s probably going to be easier, faster, and more useful if I do this myself.

Topic-focused blog/book: I’ve been playing around with the idea of spinning off a separate blog focused on a small set of topics. The poll results were tied between learning/writing/notetaking/etc. and visual thinking/mind mapping/planning/etc., so I’m planning to focus on learning/writing/notetaking/etc. first because that will let me do all the rest even more effectively. Decision: I probably won’t split it off into a separate blog yet, though. I’ll use some of my daily drawing time to explore topics and flesh them out into a series of blog posts – possibly hitting two birds with one stone. =)

Quantified Awesome: I have bugs to fix, features to add, analyses to run… Well, the bug fixes come first. I’m going to set aside some of these focus days or weekends to get token authentication and a few other things working again. I’m curious about my groceries data now that I have more than a year of it, so I’m looking forward to crunching the numbers. Just how much rice do we go through in a year? How can we organize our space to allow us to stock up even better? Decision: Coding benefits from long periods of focus time, so I should use my free days for this. Once I get past the bugs, though, I’m okay with scaling back on this a little.

Server administration, learning new tech skills: My web server isn’t set up optimally. It’s probably slower and more conservative than it needs to be. There are configuration options I haven’t dug into, performance limits I haven’t tested, and so on. Still, my server hasn’t fallen apart recently, and it should be fine for now. Learning new programming languages, frameworks, or platforms might also help me in the long run, but that’s something I can guiltlessly postpone for this quarter. Decision: Postpone, revisit next year.

Delegation and automation: I keep wondering about how I might be able to take advantage of other people’s skills and experiences in order to learn more or do more, but I’ve been slacking off in terms of actually delegating things to people. I’ve been digging into why that’s the case (what are my excuses? am I missing some quick wins?), so you’ll probably see a blog post about that shortly. Still, I don’t want to delegate for the sake of delegating. I want to make sure that I specify work clearly and can pay enough attention to give good feedback as well as learn from the experience. This takes time and brainspace. I’ll dig into this if the opportunity comes up, but I don’t mind waiting until later.

As for automation, I’ll probably learn more about that on the way to doing other things. For example, AutoHotkey looks like it will repay further study. I’ll use some of my focus days to tweak things here and there, but I don’t need to push too hard on this. Decision: Postpone or do opportunistically.

Sketchnote lessons: This is where I teach myself (and other people!) more about sketchnoting by drawing different variants of common techniques. It helps broaden my visual vocabulary. I currently publish a sketchnote lesson every Thursday. If I make it less formal and more playful, I might be able to fold it into my daily drawing / doodling sessions. For example, I might try drawing people in different professions or in different situations as a way of expanding my visual vocabulary. This does require a bit more research, though, because I need to look at other people’s sketchnotes and reference photos. If I relax my expectations of publishing and make it, say, once a month, then I don’t have to worry about scraping the bottom of the barrel. (I should do one just about metaphors… =) ) That way, if I end up ramping up my drawing/doodling so that I have something publishable once a week or once every two weeks, that’s awesome. Decision: Scale back a little, and focus on doodling different categories?

Wrap-up

When I started thinking about what’s on my back burner, I felt a little overwhelmed. There was too much to fit into my week, not to mention the stuff on my Things I want to learn list that I haven’t gotten around to even starting. As I thought about what I could fit into small pockets of time, what needed more focus, and what I could postpone, things felt more manageable. Now I have a few things I can focus on, and I don’t have to feel bad about temporarily letting go of some of the things I was curious about. We’ll see how this works!

There will always be more things you want to do than time to do it in. You can get stressed out by your limitations, or you can exercise your ability to choose. Good luck!

Learning more about illustrating my blog posts

October 15, 2013 - Categories: drawing, learning

I’ve been adding little sketches to most of my blog posts partly for drawing practice and partly because it’s fun sprinkling images throughout my blog (and Windows Live Writer makes this so easy, too!). Here’s a sampler:

image

So that’s drawing thumbnails, which is nifty.

And then there’s drawing summaries, either before or after I write the post. For example, these talking points for my chat with Timothy Kenny:

One thing I haven’t really played around with much is using visuals to say things that I’m not saying in the text – to add a touch of humour or illustrate with everyday situations. For example, see this post by Mich W. on learning to write, and her Science x Comics series which turns interviews about research into something much easier to understand.

Here’s one of Mich’s drawings about writing:

PickAPen

(Check out michw.com for more!)

image

I want to learn the language of comics. To break it down further into something more manageable: I want to learn the art of the one-panel joke or observation. Dust off the Far Side, page through the editorial cartoons, browse through Cartoon Stock for inspiration. I love the everyday situations of Panda and Polar Bear. There are plenty of single-panel comics, like The Flying McCoys, Herman, Non Sequitur, Reality Check… And then of course, there’s learning by doing, as embarrassing as the beginnings will be. (Maybe a decade or two?)

W- and I pun and alliterate endlessly, so there must be something there. It’s a long-term thing, but I think it would be fun to learn visual humour. Goodness knows there’s enough material in life!

image

When it comes to juggling multiple interests, it helps to limit your expectations

October 16, 2013 - Categories: planning, productivity

imageI have a lot of ideas, and it’s easy to get discouraged by the fact that I’m not making progress on as many of them as I want to. It’s simple math. If I make progress on two projects but let eight languish, I tend to feel guilty about those eight.

So I’m borrowing an idea from just-in-time delivery: the kanban method. The ideas are (according to Wikipedia):

Strict kanban would probably mean not even starting until I’d cleared off at least one work in progress, I think. I’m not that strict. I’m happy to switch back and forth, but it’s good to be clear about what I’m focusing on. That way, I don’t feel pulled in ten different directions.

image

Writing is my key project. Drawing, Quantified Awesome, and Emacs swap in and out of the #2 slot. Delegation tends to be more on the back burners. Someday/maybe? More business stuff, getting better at gardening, learning sewing, and so on. If I were better at delegation, I might be able to increase my capacity to do more, but it’s a lower priority at the moment (I appreciate the extra cushion that frugality gives me). I’m cheating with “Writing” and the books on my list – I’m planning to write them in short segments, one blog post at a time.

Knowing this helps because when requests come in for things that I’m not focused on, I can happily and guiltlessly refer them to other people. It makes decisions easier. Do I spend $X to attend a conference or course on Y? No, that’s on my someday/maybe list. It’s good to know what you can say no to in order to say yes to other things.

I might be able to make more progress if I focused on driving 1-2 things to completion, not switching them on and off the back burner. In that case, I would eliminate writing from my list of projects (it’s never done!) and move up the book projects. I tried that kind of intensive writing with Wicked Cool Emacs and it burned me out a little, but maybe I’ve learned since then. I like the interplay of interests, though. Maybe I can experiment with “week on, week off” patterns – there’s value in immersion as well…

Anyway, the point of this post is: I can’t do everything at the same time, so I’m learning to not stress out about it. =) If that’s something you struggle with too, then you might find that clearly identifying the things you are focusing on and gently letting go of the other things (at least for now) might help. Good luck!

Visual thinking: build your visual library

October 17, 2013 - Categories: drawing

I’ve written about my process for breaking down inspiring sketchnotes and building a visual dictionary/thesaurus. Tom suggested that I put together an Evernote shared notebook where I can share examples with you. Since I can’t share my main visual library because it uses snippets of other people’s sketchnotes, I’ve been slowly building up a visual library based on my own sketches. As you’ll see, I have a very simple vocabulary! Here’s my process for building my vocabulary:

2013_10_09_17_05_50_004

And here’s the actual library as an Evernote shared notebook. So far, it includes elements from my sketchnotes from 2013. I’m looking forward to adding more sketches from previous years and my daily sketches, and redrawing some of the more common terms I’ve seen in other people’s sketches.

This is what it looks like in Evernote:

image

Enjoy! I’d love to see your visual library/dictionary/thesaurus. Evernote looks like an excellent tool for creating and sharing these, and I hope you’ll put one together for yourself too. Feel free to browse through and use mine!

https://www.evernote.com/pub/sachac/vocab

Growing this blog

October 18, 2013 - Categories: blogging

imageSometimes I wonder if I should do more of the “Right Things” when it comes to building a blog. You know the drill:

Why? Because it’s a way to scale up. Maybe I can save more people time. Maybe I can learn from more people. Maybe I can create more value for each hour that I spend.

It’s easy to see what success could look like, down that path. Sometimes I’m envious of blogs with tens of thousands of subscribers and hundreds of comments per post.

But then reading and responding to comments takes time, and other people glaze over when they see pages and pages. It’s okay. I like where we are – maybe half a dozen comments or so on a good post, and I feel good about writing many paragraphs in reply. I’m not entirely sure if I’m just sour-graping, but it makes sense. This is manageable. Slightly more is okay too, but we can grow slowly so that I can learn the skills I need along the way.

Sometimes I wonder if this should be more like other blogs. But then that’s a well-travelled path, with lots of other people exploring it and plenty of people willing to sell you courses along the way. I have this amazing opportunity to try something different. I should.

Actually, I already know what I should do: what works for me, what I should do more. The enduring posts on my blog are tech notes (Emacs, Drupal, etc.) and sketches. People also tell me they find this sort of reflective practice—this learning-out-loud—helpful. I can continue like this, growing slowly through links and search results.  Instead of spending hours on blog marketing, I can spend hours on learning and writing.

It’s good to reflect on what works or doesn’t work for you. A clear no saves you time and anxiety. I’ve figured out ways to hack around my introversion, and maybe the same will be true for blogging.

So here, I think, is how I’ll grow this blog compared to the “typical” advice:

So this blog will grow, slowly, sustainably, in a way that feels comfortable for me.

 

That said, are there small things I can do to make it easier for you or other people to take advantage of what I know? Is there something I can do to lower the barrier to commenting or help people explore? I’d love to hear from you!

Weekly review: Week ending October 18, 2013

October 19, 2013 - Categories: weekly

 

Blog posts

Quick notes

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

Week ending 2013-10-18

What do I want to learn about learning?

October 21, 2013 - Categories: kaizen, learning

Although the project of writing a topic-focused blog/book is temporarily on the back burner, I’ve been thinking about what I want to learn about learning so that I can squeeze it into little bits of time here and there. This way, I can keep an eye out for learning opportunities, questions, and books that would be worth exploring.

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Making a high-level map of what I want to learn helps me keep it in mind. A one-page visual summary like this catches my eye more than a simple text list or outline. There are twelve items here, so I might focus on one area per month. Let me think about what each area means and how I can learn it…

  1. Map a good path/course for learning (guide questions, sequence, …): It usually makes sense to learn things in a particular order. This is part of the value offered by teachers and coaches. A good curriculum organizes ideas so that they build on previous ones, and individualized learning plans can focus on the most useful things to learn first. Like the way a curriculum includes recommended reading, a good map also includes the resources that can help people learn the specific topics.
    • Success: I can organize learning maps for things I know (ex: how to learn Emacs or Org). I can plan learning maps for the things I want to learn, with feedback from more experienced people who can help me make sure the sequence makes sense and that I’m using the best resources.
    • How: I can learn this through practice, especially if I can compare the maps I make with other people’s versions. I can learn this through feedback from coaches.
    • Explore: What are some ways you can “tinker” with a new topic? How can you recognize when you’re trying to climb a cliff that’s too steep and find alternative routes, versus dealing with something that will yield to persistence?
  2. Find and use the appropriate resources: There are different kinds of resources, and resources can be of varying quality or appropriateness. Effectiveness is learner-dependent, too. For example, I do well with books, but I have a harder time with video or audio, and I have a lot to learn about working with people. Using the right resources can accelerate learning, while using poor resources can set me back.
    • Success: I can quickly identify key resources based on other people’s experiences and recommendations, adjusting the list depending on availability and my  preferences.
    • How: I can work on getting better at preliminary research. I can estimate how useful a resource will be and what I aim to get out of it, and then compare that with the results. I can work on getting more effective at learning through different channels through practising, reflecting, identifying weaknesses, and building on strengths.
    • Explore: How can I learn from a coach? How can I get better at learning from free courses? How can I make the most of what I can learn from books?
  3. Take more effective notes: Notes are a great way to condense and personalize knowledge as well as integrate what I’ve learned with other things I’ve learned before.
    • Success: I keep different levels of notes: details, summaries, and maps that integrate ideas with other topics. I can review my notes easily, refreshing my memory and following up on questions or ideas. I might not remember everything, but I can usually find things again, and I can see where the gaps are.
    • How: The Cornell method looks interesting, so I might try that for detailed notes. I also want to get better at organizing and reviewing my electronic notes, and at mapping the connections between ideas.
    • Explore: How can I manage different levels of notes well, so that I can dive deep or get the overview as needed?
  4. Integrate new knowledge with old: It’s one thing to learn, and it’s another thing to integrate what you learn into what you know so that you can see where the gaps, conflicts, or synchronicities are.
    • Success: I note follow-up questions and ideas after learning something. I fill those in with further study and cross-references. I have a syntopical index like the one mentioned in How to Read a Book.
    • How: Practice, practice, practice.
    • Explore: How can I map what I know and what I want to learn, and then connect that with the building blocks?
  5. Improve working memory and concentration: This is useful when learning complex topics like programming because I have to hold different chunks of information in my head. Also good for popping the stack in terms of tasks, conversations, and so forth.
    • Success: Dual n-back test performance? Less task-switching? Oh, finishing more stuff instead of getting distracted mid-way…
    • How: Practice, mnemonics.
    • Explore: How can I get better at remembering sequences and dealing with distractions?
  6. Improve long-term memory and retention: My associative memory is pretty good, so if I can remember a hook into something, I can usually get enough information to find it again. I’d like to get better at remember
    • Success: I’ve memorized key information such as phone numbers, basic recipes, and important skills.
    • How: Spaced repetition, mnemonics.
    • Explore: What’s important to store in my own memory? How can I get better at doing that?
  7. Recognize learning opportunities: Squeezing more learning out of every moment! Even in routines, there’s always room to learn more.
    • Success: I can recognize and take advantage of learning opportunities, getting over the barriers of boredom (for routine tasks) or emotion (for difficult moments).
    • How: Process improvement for routine tasks, reflection for difficult times
    • Explore: How can I improve my routines? What can I do to handle difficult times even better? Where do I run into diminishing returns or over-optimization, and where should I move on?
  8. Translate learning into changes: Book knowledge isn’t everything. I’ve got to do something with it too. That way, I don’t just take a book’s word for it. Instead, I can find out whether something really works for me, and I can annotate it with my experiences.
    • Success: I’ve slowed down my learning pace so that I test and integrate more of the knowledge that I pick up. I define clear objectives and commitments before learning something so that I know the time will be worth it.
    • How: Practice, reflection, scheduled decision/learning reviews.
    • Explore: What small actions can I take to integrate what I learn into how I live? How can I keep track of what I’m learning and what the results are?
  9. Observe and reflect: Life has a lot to teach me if I remember to look. Noticing what’s unusual–or what’s absent, which is harder–can lead to lots of learning.
    • Success: W- is a great role model: he’s more observant than I am, and he follows his curiosity in learning about lots and lots of things.
    • How: Practice and feedback. Spot-the-difference games in real life? Asking more questions, too. Coaching, perhaps?
    • Explore: How can I look at my life with an outsider’s eyes? How can I become more attentive and observant using visual thinking or other skills?
  10. Recognize and test assumptions, differences: When I make decisions or learn about things, it helps to see what I’m taking for granted.
    • Success: I can articulate my assumptions and devise simple tests. When learning something, I can use critical thinking to think about what assumptions are embedded in the learning and identify situations where the lesson may not be valid.
    • How: Practise by analyzing and testing my decisions, and then reviewing the results. Read critically.
    • Explore: Can I find or come up with a framework that will help me identify more of my assumptions? How can I do small tests?
  11. Adapt to changes: This is related to recognizing assumptions and differences. Real life can sometimes change too slowly for me to notice when my assumptions are no longer valid. Learning includes getting a sense for when things may have changed so much that I need to reconsider things.
    • Success: I have “tripwires” that trigger re-evaluation and additional learning. I periodically practise zero-based thinking.
    • How: Practice and reflection.
    • Explore: What scenarios should I watch out for, and what early warning signs can trigger re-evaluation? How do I make sure I don’t miss those signs?
  12. Share what I’m learning: I learn a lot in the process of sharing what I’m learning, and I can help other people learn as well.
    • Success: I have a smooth process for sharing what I’ve learned and what I’m learning. I incorporate people’s feedback and ideas into my learning process.
    • How: Blogging, drawing, putting together presentations, etc.
    • Explore: How can I make sharing more efficient or more effective?

This will be fun. If there’s anything you’d particularly like to learn more about, or if you can help me learn some of these things more effectively, please feel free to comment!

If you want to follow my journey so far, check out my learning-related notes on Flickr and on my blog. Enjoy!

Growing slowly, adjusting the speed

October 22, 2013 - Categories: life

On a few occasions, people have introduced me or linked to me as someone who’s super-productive. This is weird, because I think my life is pretty slow. I intentionally keep it that way. I minimize commitments. I get plenty of sleep. I follow my interests. I scale back work. I consider it a good day if I can get one or two things done, and maybe a few thoughts explored too.

I think the only thing that makes me seem very productive is that I write about stuff I’m learning. Most people do just as much or more, but they forget where their time went because they don’t have notes.

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about speed because I want to make my peace with this slow pace. I think it’s good for me, although I have occasional doubts about whether I’m taking it too slow, letting contentment cross over into complacency.

So I drew myself this, to remind myself that it’s okay:

20131011 Adjusting the speed

Sometimes my life moves faster: consulting sprints, for example. Other times, it moves more slowly. When life permits, I don’t mind going faster for a while. When life permits, I like going slowly too.

I like this pace. I can deal with this. I can get good at doing just a few things. I don’t have to do everything or win everything. I can start with a solid foundation and then grow outwards from there.

The metaphor you use to think of your life can make such a big difference. Is it about getting into the fast lane? Is it about dealing with the rat race? Is it about taking a hike through a lovely park with many, meandering trails? The last one is the kind of life I’d like to have.

Visual book review: How to make a complete map of every thought you think (Lion Kimbro)

October 23, 2013 - Categories: learning, visual-book-notes

I’m curious about how to take more effective notes, so I’ve been researching different systems. I came across Lion Kimbro’s experiment with mapping out his thoughts years ago. I finally sat down and condensed the free 131-page e-book on How to Make a Complete map of Every Thought You Think (2003) into this one-page summary. You can click on it for a larger version and print it out if you want.

How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think

Feel free to print, share, or modify this image! (Creative Commons Attribution License)

The book describes a system for taking quick notes and integrating them into subject-based sections in a larger binder, with some notes on managing your archive. It also gives tips on splitting large subjects and mapping out the connections between topics.

I’ve been using some of the book’s ideas on colour and icons, indicating TODOs with green boxes and structure with blue ink. Maps are handy too, although I tend to use computers so that I can link and rearrange easily. Both visual thinking and technology have come a long way since 2003, when Lion Kimbro wrote this book. With Evernote and the Fujitsu ScanSnap, I can scan my sketches and file them along with my blog posts and other notes. I back up my data so that I’m less worried about losing my archive, and I also keep my paper notes by date. I’ve started using Freeplane to build my global subject map, which I’ll cover in a future blog post. There are still some tech gaps, but things are pretty cool.

Want to learn more? See my sketches about learning or note-taking, or my blog posts about learning. Tell me what you think or what you’re curious about!

Jetpack subscribers: Terribly sorry about the test posts! Disabling, please use Feedburner to subscribe instead

October 23, 2013 - Categories: blogging

As it turns out, Jetpack Comments does not pay close attention to what domain the updates are coming from or to the jetpack_is_post_mailable filter that it’s supposed to be paying attention to.

Sorry for the flood of test posts. I guess this is my embarrassing blog mistake for the year. Gotta have one.

Anyway, we’re going to go back to using Feedburner for e-mail notifications of new blog posts. Since the Jetpack subscriptions list includes a bucketload of spam followers and a handful of e-mail addresses that look like they belong to real people, I probably shouldn’t just resubscribe everyone. You will need to manually subscribe to http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac . Here is the e-mail subscription form for your convenience:

Enter your email address: Delivered by FeedBurner

That is, if you can find it in your heart (and mailbox) to forgive me.

Thanks to Raymond Zeitler for tactfully pointing out the problem, although I still feel terrible about it.

Also, if you prefer weekly or monthly updates, we can do that too. So at least that’s something.

Sketchnote Lesson: Metaphors

October 24, 2013 - Categories: drawing
This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series Sketchnote Lessons

A fun way to build your visual vocabulary is to explore metaphors and clichés. While you should minimize the use of clichés in writing, they frequently show up in speech, and drawing them can make your sketchnotes more visually interesting.

Here’s a sampler of metaphors based on an exercise I did in the Rockstar Scribe class. Some of them didn’t resonate as much with me, so I replaced them with similar metaphors. For example, I don’t really use “against the tide” that much, so I drew a stick figure rolling a boulder up hill. If you play around with these ideas, I’m sure you can come up with even more!

Assorted metaphors

The Internet has lots of collections of cliches and figures of speech. ClicheSite has a searchable index. Metaphors.com focuses just on metaphors. There are plenty of ideas to practise with – Enjoy!

Series Navigation« Sketchnote lessons: Stick figuresSketchnote Lessons: How do you want to grow as a sketchnoter? »

Daily drawing update: So far, fantastic!

October 25, 2013 - Categories: drawing, process

I’ve been pushing a lot of sketches through my evolving workflow. This is fantastic. In the past 20 days, I’ve done 100+ of these thinking-on-paper drawings, about 70+ of which are public. It’s fun to turn the sketches into blog posts afterwards. I find them more motivating to flesh out than headlines or outlines, so you’ll probably see a lot more sketches in this blog. (See, I’m learning more about illustrating my blog after all!)

This is my workflow now:

  1. I draw a thought on paper using black, blue, red, and green pens.
  2. I scan the sheets using ScanSnap and my phone, which can rotate and publish images to Flickr more conveniently than my computer can. (It’s funny how that works.)
  3. Photosync automatically downloads the images from Flickr to folders monitored by Evernote, so they’re imported into my !Inbox notebook.
  4. If I want to colour the image, I use Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and re-save the JPGs to the Evernote attachment folder as well as the Photosync folder, which updates the Flickr image.
  5. Before I move the Evernote item to my public notebook, I tag it, copy the note link, and add the entry to my Freeplane mindmap so that I have a hyperlinked overview (sneak preview of my map: Mapping what I’m learning).

My new sketching and thinking workflow, and mindmap comparisons

One of the nice things about a limited canvas (whether paper or digital) is that there’s a natural end to your drawing. You run out of thoughts or you run out of space. Either way, that’s a good time to stop and think about what you need to do next. In a text outline or a mindmap, I can just keep going and going and going.

image

I’ve been thinking about how I can do things even better. As it turns out, assigning Autodesk Sketchbook Pro as the default application for handling JPGs lets me easily edit images stored in Evernote. Freemind lets me add markers to map nodes, so that’s a halfway-decent flagging system (no electronic equivalent of Post-It flags on the image itself, though). I’m looking forward to turning this kind of focus on something that isn’t related to learning or drawing. It’ll be interesting to see if visual thinking does well for deep dives in other areas too, although I suspect it will.

How can I think on paper more effectively

Ooh, wouldn’t it be nice to have an easy way to resize, upload, and synchronize images so that I can save new versions and have previous blog posts updated? Someday…

Anyway, here we are! I should do a video about all the different pieces – the workflow’s pretty sweet, actually. As awesome as my digital sketchnoting workflow? I don’t know. They’re great for different reasons, and I’m glad I’m adding more tools to my toolbox. =)

Sysad stuff – Weekly review: Week ending October 25, 2013

October 26, 2013 - Categories: weekly

It’s funny how easy it is to forget what you’ve done. Anyway, this week was the week of system administration! Lots of good stuff. On the learning front, I learned a lot about mapping.

Way more sleep this week – I wonder why…

Blog posts

Quick notes

Link roundup

Sketches

Focus areas and time review

Weekly review - week ending 2013-10-25

Gardening plans for 2014

October 27, 2013 - Categories: gardening, plans

The weather has really cooled down. W- turned off the water outside so that the pipes and hoses don’t freeze, and we’re letting the plants ride out the rest of the season before putting everything to bed. I have some garlic that I want to plant, although last year’s batch didn’t do too well. Anyway, here are my plans for gardening next year:

Gardening notes

I’m going to focus on the center box. Irrigation will be more expensive than watering by hand, but it will let me be more consistent while I focus on building habits around weeding, planting, and harvesting. If things go well, I can branch out to other boxes. Doesn’t make sense to add more growing areas – even a box on our much sunnier deck – until I can get the basics sorted out.

The box that I’m planning to plant in gets about 3-4 hours of dappled afternoon sun, which isn’t much. Maybe some of the greens will work well. The eternal optimist in me will keep giving bitter melons a try, since W- really likes them and there was that one season where they nearly took over the garden.

I met with Alex of Young Urban Farmers recently. The company offers garden coaching, so we might go for that since the feedback cycle for growing is just sooooo long. Alternatively, anyone in Toronto up for getting together and swapping notes? The Internet is great, but it’s hard to troubleshoot things that you don’t recognize or have the words for, and I have a feeling I don’t even know what I’m missing. =)

Update 2013-11-08: More plans!

2013-11-08 More garden plans for 2014

Next steps for system administration

October 28, 2013 - Categories: geek

System administration is one of those things that is useful to get better at before you need it. I’ve got a lot to learn in this area. For starters, I need to set up solid backups before I can let other people into my servers to help me. That way, even if things go haywire, I should be able to get things back in order. Once that’s sorted out, I can move on to tweaking my memory and server configuration so that I can make my website more responsive, and I can work on improving my web site.

What do I need to do in terms of system administration

So much to do, one step at a time… =)

Mindmapping chat with Billy Waters (@vitaminsludge)

October 29, 2013 - Categories: notetaking, podcast

I’ve been curious about how people manage hundreds of maps. Billy Waters reached out to me over Twitter, gave me plenty of tips, and shared his Dropbox folder with hundreds of maps with me. (Neat!) Instead of pinging him constantly with lots of questions, I asked him if I could set up a Google Hangout so that I could pick his brain. He agreed, and he was okay with sharing it too. Here’s the recording!

Time Note
1:02 Started in 1990
1:14 Other tools
2:01 Mindjet
2:53 Building an archive of book notes
3:42 Mind-maps and to-do lists
4:02 todo.txt
5:09 Taking notes
5:23 Organization vs brainstorming
5:40 How to process a book
6:23 Don’t like linking maps
6:59 Mindmaps not a solution for everything
9:11 Keeping maps when you move computers
11:09 Forgetting what you have
12:21 I don’t really search them
13:26 Mapping for others
14:48 ~12 hours to process a book
15:18 Highlighting on a Kindle
17:00 Learning about mindmapping
17:52 Other techniques: Major system, spaced repetition
18:33 Learning Chinese
20:43 Unwieldy maps
21:54 Favorite map
22:34 Printing and laminating maps
25:11 iPad and iThoughts for mindmapping on the go
26:34 Ikea
28:51 Mindjet vs Freeplane
32:20 Learning from other people’s diagrams
38:21 Copyright and book summaries
42:03 Paper, digital; ScanSnap
43:58 Dropbox
45:09 Backups
46:19 Teaching English in China for three years; visual thinking
48:04 More creative mindmaps
50:52 Biggerplate and sharing mindmaps
52:22 Two people: Jamie Nast, Michael Deutch
53:25 Use Your Head (Tony Buzan)
54:05 Unwieldy map, unwieldy thoughts
54:32 Floating nodes

The main things I picked up were:

Power user of mindmaps? I’d love to hear your tips too!

You can download the MP3 from archive.org.

I don’t write about everything; How do you manage your private notes?

October 30, 2013 - Categories: blogging, writing

I don’t write about everything. I think it might be interesting to write about more, to dig deeper into the things that people rarely write about—but since there’s so much to learn and share even in terms of topics you can talk about with complete strangers, I end up focusing on that instead. Less risky. If I’m writing about drawing, Emacs or other uncontroversially useful topics, I’m less likely to upset or offend (or bring out other odd tendencies in people). So I write more posts about that instead.

This is a bit of a pity because I’m learning so much about interesting things that I don’t yet know how to write publicly about. Decision-making in the face of uncertainty? Finances and semi-retirement? Making stuff happen? I’d love to write about what I’m figuring out. Maybe if I felt safer. (You never know what will bring down the wrath of the Internet – see Kathy Sierra and death threats.) Maybe if I cared less or worried less. People have done that before. Some writers are driven to write, even if the dynamics of relationships are a little bit odd. (A. J. Jacobs manages to pull this off well; I like how he did that in The Guinea Pig Diaries.)

I’m also learning a lot about interesting public things, so it’s not all that bad. =) Again, there’s tons to write about. But it also means that the things I’m learning about interesting, non-public things are more likely to be wasted.

I don’t think keeping an anonymous blog is enough. People get de-anonymized pretty often, and I don’t want to worry about slipping up.

Journals would probably be good, except that my track record of keeping paper notebooks is terrible and they are nowhere near as searchable as digital notes. Private notes in huge text files can get unwieldy and hard to review. Maybe I should use Evernote more often, and just work out some way to tag and organize the notes so that I can do the same kind of search and review that I use for my blog.

Hmm, maybe a private blog, since I already have the backup strategy for that one sorted out? Maybe a private part of the current blog?

Maybe that’s a good skill to figure out: how to keep good enough private notes so that I can build on them for future decisions or learning, or maybe even for time-delayed posting.

How do other people manage it? How do you manage it? How do you remember well enough to be able to build on that instead of wasting the time? How do you organize notes so that they don’t disappear after you’ve forgotten about them?

Integrating visual outlining into my writing process

October 31, 2013 - Categories: drawing, writing

I’ve been working on a habit of drawing daily. It turns out to be a useful tool for exploring thoughts. I start with a question or an idea, and draw or write in the process of thinking about it. Since my blog posts usually deal with one thought at a time too, the drawings become good starting points for blog posts: I draw, and then I flesh it out with words. (Like this post!)

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Before I started drawing my thoughts, I worked with a huge text-based outline of things I wanted to write. The outline was really handy for sketching out an idea or jotting down my thoughts before I got distracted by research or other things. It was also great for tweaking the logical flow of a blog post or how it fit into a possible blog post series before I actually sat down to write paragraphs.

Both drawings and text outlines have their advantages. How can I better integrate drawing into the process of writing or blogging?

When: Drawing works well for me as a low-energy activity late at night, when I’ve already put my computer away or I don’t want to be tempted into staying up late staring at a screen. My hands get tired if I draw for a long time, though. Writing works well for me during the day, because I can write faster and I can reorganize things quickly. That suggests that I should draw as a way of preparing my thoughts in the evening, sleep on it, and then flesh ideas out by writing during the day.

Level of detail: Text-based outlines are good for my overall outline because I can work with lots of unrelated topics. Drawing is good for high-level maps of a single topic (like this one for learning) because I can keep the drawing in front of me as I explore. Drawing is also good at the level of a single thought or question, but I can’t draw to the same level of detail that I can capture in a text outline. If I’m planning a large topic, then, I might:

I’m also curious about using more flexible mindmappers like Freeplane to do some of my mapping on the computer. I prefer Org Mode text outlines over straightforward mindmaps like Freemind because they have essentially the same structure but I’m more comfortable with text manipulation in Org, but Freeplane’s floating nodes might be interesting to play with.

I wonder who else out there uses sketchnotes, mindmaps, or drawings as part of their writing process. Do you use them, or have you come across other writers who do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!