Category Archives: learning

Dealing with preoccupation and a slow tempo

I occasionally feel like less of a grown-up than I should be at 34 years old. We need to redo some of the insurance paperwork because I missed a few things in January. My sister will probably need to take care of that paperwork when she comes next week. I wasn’t forceful or proactive enough when it comes to dealing with fleas, so A- and I are covered in bites. I sometimes don’t see things even when they’re right in front of me.

A general approach that could work for me is:

  • Be kind to myself and others. Self-recrimination wastes energy and doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s okay to feel embarrassed if I use that feeling to move forward. It’s good to think of lapses as temporary than as indicative of character traits: something I did, not something I was. If I look for ways to improve, I can test if those ways will be sufficient.
  • Keep an oops fund. Most mistakes can be easily recovered from, and sometimes for not much money.
  • Work around my weaknesses. Delegate. Keep notes. Use checklists. Simplify. Manage expectations. Even if I think this extra fuzziness is temporary, it’s useful to plan workarounds as if it’s long-term, since I’ll probably run into similar problems when I’m older.

I feel scatter-brained. I find it hard to concentrate and remember, and I waste time getting back on track after interruptions. Mostly this is because I like being so available for A-, which is a decision I’m okay with, so I should just figure out how to compensate for that until things get back to normal-ish. Paperwork is low priority for me, so I should make sure it’s taken care of by someone who can prioritize and review it properly, and I shouldn’t overcommit.

We can get through this step by step. I can’t talk myself into being more focused and more observant, but I can gradually build safety nets, and then I can practise slowing down and paying attention.

A slow tempo often frustrates other people. I know my dad and Kathy often got impatient, and W- sometimes does too. Still, I think I can manage starting slow and working on becoming more solid. I trust that I’ll speed up with experience and with the compound growth of continuous improvement. I’m good at multiplying the value of the time I spend, and there are a few areas where I feel fast, too. I want to figure out just the right tempo for things – not slower than I need to be, but not faster than I can, while erring on the side of underpromising. I think this might be useful for me in the long run. Let’s see!

Travel kaizen

What has changed between our trip last January and this next trip? How can I adapt and make things even better?

  • I’m traveling with A- while W- stays home. This means he can drop us off at the airport. We’ve traveled the same route without him before, so I’m less worried about handling long flights on my own.
  • A- will be too big for a bassinet. Instead, we’re going to try the baby seat provided by Korean Air. According to SeatMaestro, the baby seat is good for 9.1-31.7 kg (20-70 lbs) and a height less than 124.5 cm (49 in), so A- should be okay in it. She’s been focusing on the bassinet in her pretend play, so I hope she doesn’t get too disappointed.
  • I requested grown-up meals for A- instead of child meals. I used to throw out half of the child meals anyway because they were too sugary. We might as well go with the regular meals so that we can try different entrees.
  • A- may want to be carried in my arms instead of the carrier. If I can get away without bringing a rolling carry-on, going with just a backpack might be more convenient.
  • A- often likes walking. If I don’t have to worry about scrambling for overhead bin space, it might make sense to let her run around first instead of boarding the plane early.
  • A- is more talkative. Her pretend play is more elaborate. She can even sometimes be reasoned with. On the flipside, she’s also more particular about what she wants.
  • My dad is no longer alive. No fun stories from him. New family dynamics will take a while to adjust. On the other hand, A- won’t feel nervous about the IV stand or my dad’s coughing. We’ll deal.
  • My sister and her kids will be moving from the Philippines to the Netherlands in the middle of our trip, and my mom will be figuring out her new normal. So things will probably be busy and chaotic, and my mom will probably be sad. I’ll continue to focus on A-, of course.
  • I won’t bring a laptop. I sorted out how to write my journal and Emacs News on my phone, so I think I can probably get away without my personal laptop this time. I was able to turn over my consulting stuff to my client, too, so no work laptop either. This should make getting through airport security a bit easier, although I might still need to take the iPad out.
  • I won’t pack a lot of snacks. There’s plenty of food on the plane and at the airport, and it’s good to spend money to explore new tastes. Still, I might bring some fruit or cheese next time.
  • I’m using more travel organizers. W- has convinced me of the power of organizers. I also bought packing cubes to help me keep my backpack and my suitcase sorted. Having zippered units will probably help me a lot while packing, since otherwise A- tends to unpack my stuff at the same time.
  • I have a phone with a good camera, and a long battery life, and a stylus. This probably means way more pictures and videos, some writing, and maybe even some drawing. It’s bigger, though, so I need to think about stashing the phone securely.
  • I have an iPad with a stylus. I can’t reliably use it for notetaking yet because A- gets distracted by it, but maybe I can figure out a good workflow for drawing and learn more by doodling. W- lent me his Bluetooth keyboard, too.
  • I’m going to keep the ditty bag and toothbrush from the airplane amenities kit. The bag is handy for organizing things, and A- recognizes the toothbrush as “airplane toothbrush.”
  • I’ll buy an electric toothbrush head in the Philippines. I noticed there’s an electric toothbrush body in the bathroom, so I’ll just get my own toothbrush head while I’m there instead of bringing the one from home.
  • I’ll bring our backup nail scissors. I’ll probably leave them in the Philippines, too.
  • I’ll try to leave my Philippine things neatly packed in a bin at my mom’s house. That way, I don’t need to take up drawer and closet space in between trips.
  • We’re landing in Toronto on a Saturday. It was really helpful to have W- around when I recovered from the long trip. Well worth paying extra.
  • We’re paying for our own hotels in Korea both ways. We’re not eligible for the stopover paid by carrier program (STPC) even on the return leg. We used to get it on our previous itineraries, but maybe we can’t this time because we’re flying out on Friday and there’s another flight that leaves later. Maybe they’ve changed their rules. Anyway, since we’ll still have a bit of energy after the 4-hour flight from Manila, I’m going to go check out a different hotel on the way back.
  • I’ll postpone moving off nursing or diapers. I’ll continue talking to A- about it, but I won’t nudge her too much.
  • I’ll organize my everyday carry. A-‘s new bag doesn’t have as many pockets, so I’ll need to stay better organized. I’ll probably need to use a wallet. I wonder if it’s time to try the vest again. I wish I’d gotten it in beige instead of black – no need to be any warmer in the sun. Anyway, I can see if it works for going through the airport and lounging around at home. If I like it, I might consider getting a lightweight khaki one for my next trip.
  • New Crocs. Same as the old Crocs, but not worn down.
  • I can wear scrubs again. No nurses in the house, so I can go back to wearing scrub pants without feeling weird. Pants with pockets for the win.
  • I’m not bringing a backup sling, just my main carrier. If my main carrier needs washing, I’ll just carry A-.
  • I’m packing Giraffe in check-in instead of carry-on. I think A- is comfortable enough to get away with one stuffed toy instead of two during the flights.
  • We’re traveling more frequently. It’s been just two months since our last trip. But I decided to take A- more frequently this year while my mom gets used to life without my dad. Going now means we’ll have a few days with A-‘s cousins too. If we didn’t go now, we would probably wait until June, since A- has a couple of big medical things scheduled for May. Time to take the first circus, as my family would say…

Tickling my brain

I like tickling my brain. How can I improve the way I invest time into tickling my brain? What’s working and what needs tweaking?

Observing and interacting with A- tickles my brain. She’s awesome. Besides, this way I can collect stories for W-, too. I can tickle my brain more effectively by quickly jotting down some keywords or taking pictures to help me tell stories at dinner. I can also level everything up by engaging playfully and thoughtfully with A-, so that she has fun and so that her world keeps expanding. She uses my attention as a cue for her attention too, so energy pays off.

Learning more about parenting tickles my brain when I try something new with A-, and when something I’ve read helps me see, understand, and extend something A- is doing. I enjoyed picking up tips from Playful Parenting and Happiest Toddler on the Block. Ideas I want to try out tend to be few and far between, though, so maybe I’m not being particular enough about the books I read. I’ve been prioritizing writing time over reading time on my phone, anyway.

In terms of writing, I like exploring a single question with a little background, some things I’ve tried, and some ideas to check out next. It’s hard to keep context in my head with a small screen, lots of interruptions, and no outlining support, so it pays to keep things short and fairly linear. Maybe writing in Orgzly or an outline editor instead of the Markor markdown editor will help me with a bit of structure. I have a list of ideas to write about. It’s disorganized and ever-growing, but that’s probably okay.

Drawing hasn’t fit in my priorities lately. I liked drawing on my Lenovo X220 as a way of exploring thoughts, especially for brainstorming, analyzing, or planning. I enjoyed sketching books to help me remember and share them. I’m not yet familiar enough with the iPad Pro to feel comfortable about getting those sketches into my archive. Besides, A- wants to draw on the iPad if she sees me on it, and if she’s asleep, I tend to write or code instead. I also haven’t replaced my workflows for reviewing, renaming, and writing about my sketches, so that reduces the value I get from them. Hard to combine ideas from multiple sketches on my cellphone screen.

Our upcoming trip might be a good time to dig deeper into this, since I won’t bring my laptop. I can improve by splitting this into doodling time for developing drawing skills and thinking time for sorting out thoughts. I can expand my visual vocabulary by looking at graphic organizers and other people’s sketchnotes, particularly if I can find more people who use them for personal reflection rather than recording other people’s content. Still, writing tickles my brain a little more efficiently, especially since drawings tend to need extra work to make them usable in my archive and shareable with others. Doodles can be ephemeral, though, so that sounds like a good plan: doodle a lot around A-, especially with pen and paper.

Tech tweaking works well in tiny, low-risk doses, with maybe a max of two hours of somewhat sleepy coding time. I can tinker with Android while in bed with A-, or in the tiny pockets of time I get throughout the day. Emacs is almost always fun to play with. I like learning about Linux things that I can share with W-. Troubleshooting is annoying, and exploring packages and features is a lot more fun. For example, I found it hard to sustain enough focus to dig into Docker + WordPress issues. I felt like I was going around in circles even though I was trying to take notes along the way. On the other hand, it was fun playing with exiftool to get it to do what I wanted, because I could make incremental improvements with clear progress and I could stop whenever I was satisfied. I can also use my time away from the computer to think of ideas, while troubleshooting tends to need computer access.

To have more fun with tech, I can pick up inspiration by browsing blogs, documentation, and source code whenever I want to take a break. I’ve come across many useful things by just rereading the Emacs and Org manuals. I can also keep a list of manual things that might be easy to automate, and I can pick something from the list when I have time.

I like picking up new recipes, although I rarely get to do that unless I feel comfortable starting something with A- around. I can probably take more risks in this area, especially if I look at it more from the sensory experience and skill development angles. I can focus on recipes people suggest for cooking with kids and fit that into our weekly routines.

Continuous improvement tickles my brain, and so does keeping an eye out for good ideas. A- is into saying "Good idea!" these days, and maybe I should be too!

Consulting used to tickle my brain a lot (problem-solving and prototyping with external validation!), but because I haven’t been able to focus as much lately, I don’t feel right billing for things that I might not be able to tweak based on feedback or turn over to other developers. Instead, I’ve been using snippets of coding time to improve personal systems, and that will probably pay off quite a bit too.

I could shift time away from A- towards other forms of tickling my brain by sorting out babysitting. Still, I’ve only got so many years of the former, so it seems to make sense to make the most of them. I’m not 100% focused on that, though. I like the way writing helps me remember and coding is fun, so I make time for those. Besides, that also gives A- space to go do her own thing periodically. If I can get better at tickling my brain with five minutes here and there, accumulating the results over time, that might be pretty handy.

Hmm. For the next few weeks, it might be fun to focus on tickling my brain by interacting with A-, keeping an eye out for good ideas, and doodling. I can deemphasize coding (hard to do on my phone anyway) and save writing for when we’re in bed or when she’s off playing independently. Tweak tweak tweak…

Dealing with thought fragmentation, reducing mental waste

I’ve been figuring out how to deal with the mental fragmentation that can come with being the primary caregiver of a nursing toddler.

It was useful for me to let go of wanting to focus. If I think of childcare as a distraction from what I really want to do, I miss out on what I can get from childcare too. Instead, I’ve been looking for ways to make the most of this stop-and-go life.

Kaizen emphasizes reducing waste. What does mental waste look like when it comes to thinking with a toddler around?

I waste energy if I let my mind fill up with mental clutter. So:

  • Appointments go on my calendar so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting them, and a weekly review helps me remember to check the week ahead.
  • Near-term tasks go into my todo list. Tasks Free lets me quickly reprioritize tasks so that I know what to do the moment A- lets me unlatch and slip away.
  • Blog post ideas go into Markor so that I can write them in Markdown and export them to HTML for my blog.
  • Long-term ideas and notes go into Org Mode. It’s been super helpful to have step-by-step instructions and checklists for things I do infrequently.

Waste happens if I prioritize ineffectively. So:

  • Once A- is asleep, I quickly take care of personal and household tasks, and then work on my laptop. I can do phone tasks while I’m nursing her in bed, but laptop time is very rare. If I focus on improving my systems and making more things doable from my phone, the benefits compound.
  • Small tasks with small benefits tend to beat large tasks with large benefits, because of interruptions. I try to find ways to break large tasks down into small ones with incremental benefits. Many things can wait until next year.

Waste also happens if I repeat myself. So:

  • When I manage to have computer time, I slow down and write notes in an Org Mode file instead of trying to speed ahead and do everything before A- wakes up. This helps me resume my train of thought after the inevitable interruption. It also helps me put together blog posts, which means I can find things in my archive, help people, and maybe even learn from people’s comments.
  • If I’m thinking about a question or idea, I jot down keywords. That makes it easier to remember those thoughts and build on them. I scribble these on paper if I’m around A-, so that she can see me writing and so that she doesn’t get distracted by my phone. If a thought looks promising, I stick it in my pocket in case I want to refer to it during phone time.

Waste happens if I do low-value activities instead of high-value ones. It’s easy to get sucked into reading lots of social media or books on my phone, so I work on getting more value out of phone time. I can:

  • write
  • ssh to my web server or backup server, and code or run scripts – hard with a virtual keyboard and no swiping to type, but doable
  • organize pictures and other files
  • prepare an Emacs News summary
  • read e-books from the library, mainly looking for interesting parenting ideas to try or things to learn about early childhood education

Waste happens when I don’t notice, so it’s good to get enough sleep and to pay attention.

Waste happens when I forget, so it’s good to write, reflect, and organize my notes.

Waste happens when we stay too comfortable and when we push too hard. It’s good to work on finding the sweet spot – the zone of proximal development for A-.

I can reduce waste further by getting more value from my time. For example, being interested in making books for A- lets me get more out of reading books with A-. Writing about stuff lets me remember, and I might even be able to help or learn from other people.

This phase is temporary. Next year, A- will probably be more interested in playing with her peers, and she might be independent enough to participate in activities without me. The year after that, she’ll be old enough for school. I want to make the most of this time instead of rushing ahead. I guess that’s part of why I haven’t prioritized night weaning or finding a babysitter. There’s still plenty of potential to explore even with the setup, and it’s fun working with the constraints.

What could better look like?

  • Sleeping more predictably or more in sync: She seems to adjust her sleep cycle earlier if I go to sleep when she does instead of staying up to do my discretionary things, so maybe I can sacrifice a week or two of discretionary time to see if we can shift to using daytime better
  • Written note workflow: maybe snapping a quick picture and then referring to it when I type; maybe doing small sketchnotes that can be cleaned up by an app and included as images
  • Trying out other ssh apps to see which one I like the most, in case that makes it easier to code
  • Trying more things (new food, etc.), which could take a bit of planning

Lots of things to play with!

Quick thoughts on leadership, impact, and finding my own path

I was talking to a friend about leadership, succession, and impact. In particular, my friend was curious about how to grow more leaders. I realized some things about how my parents made big differences and about how I want to grow.

Succession is hard. Big companies spend millions on leadership programs, have huge, motivated talent pools to draw on, and even turn to external recruitment, and it’s still uncommon to have a successful transition or a long-lived company. It’s even tougher in the nonprofit and volunteer worlds.

I wonder if going sideways can help work around the succession challenge. Instead of hoping for the right intersection of same time, same place, same Bat channel (an interested, capable, available potential leader turning up when you want to start grooming one and sticking around until the right time), what about the franchising approach instead?

I realized that this is one of the things my parents did, and that’s how they managed to do so much. They didn’t count on any one initiative staying around for the long term. My dad probably would have gotten impatient and bored anyway. Instead, they got the hang of quickly starting things up, and they inspired people to start similar efforts. After the first few projects, happy sponsors and relationships made the next ones easier and easier. My dad could just share a crazy idea on Facebook and people would sign up to help make it happen. Professionally, my parents cared about teaching both the art and the business of photography, and having workshops open even to active competitors.

This approach is probably out of scope from most leadership programs that focus on succession planning because they assume you need a specific thing to continue, but franchising is the closest business analogy, I think. It might be a good way to increase impact through a wider reach. It could be like:

  • Getting more out of the stuff you’re already doing: My dad was media-savvy. He could imagine the pictures and news articles that would come out of a project, and he was great at lining those up. Something similar (or partnering with someone who thinks about that sort of stuff) could increase the visibility and impact of things you’re already doing some making people feel good about the projects too.
  • Getting better at sharing the cool stuff you’re doing and the initiatives you’re involved in: pictures and stories on social media could let people find out about stuff, explore things you’re into, get updates, etc. Similar to the previous point, but more personal.
  • Accelerating your startup for ideas: people to talk to, channels for sharing ideas, ways to get people involved, templates, etc.
  • Getting better at sharing lessons learned, questions, and artifacts
  • Automating, simplifying and documenting processes so that people with less experience can do better work: Can be very useful for both your initiatives and other people’s, and it’s good for both direct succession and franchising. This is definitely my focus, and it’s awesome for expanding reach over space and time (even without active attention). My mom focuses on this too, although she often struggles with adoption. The E-Myth book might be relevant here.

Figuring out swarms might be an interesting challenge: how to quickly gather people around a particular project, and how to help other people with their own. There’s a lot that to practice even without a candidate successor, so that might be one way to keep growing.

At the moment, I’m focusing on:

  • automating/simplifying/documenting: Perfect timing! I need to make things simple enough so that a child can do it, and there happens to be one handy for testing. I also personally benefit from automating and simplifying things enough to fit into the snippets of discretionary time I have, and documenting things so that I can declutter my brain and make the most of scattered moments.
  • getting better at sharing lessons learned, questions, and artifacts: Hooray for blogging! I’m getting better at writing on my phone while A- sleeps on top of me (like right now), and I’ll figure out how to mix drawing back in, too. I’m probably never going to feel comfortable using the “expert” voice. I like the “Here’s what I’m figuring out, and here’s what I’m thinking about next” sort of approach. There are so many ways forward, and it’s fun to think of everything as a grand experiment.

We were talking about the 2×2 matrix of size of impact versus number of people affected. My friend said many people focus on the “big impact, lots of people” quadrant. I think I like the “small impact, few people” quadrant, which perfectly characterizes things like my Emacs stuff and my consulting. I like small fixes and improvements. I scale up by trying to help things stay fixed/improved and available even when I’m not actively thinking about them, which is why coding and writing fit me well. If I can get even better at making and sharing those little improvements, and making them findable when other people want them, that sounds like a good path for growing. I also like connecting the dots between ideas, which is another example of a small contribution that can have a larger effect.

The long-term impact could be mostly about the ripples from people I’ve helped (like the way I get to learn more about cool things to do with Emacs by people who tell me I helped them get curious about it a long time ago! :) ) and maybe maybe maybe someday, books worthy of being part of the Great Conversation / archive of human knowledge.

I probably won’t do anything as awesome as my dad’s advocacies, but I think this path of sharing little ideas, experiments, and lessons learned – this path could work for me. :) If it happens to resonate with you and you want to pass along lessons learned or share the things you’re figuring out, that would be great!

What do I want to think through when writing on my phone?

My first priority is to get thoughts out of my head and into a form I can work with. This often becomes an explosion of lists and keywords, which can be handy for thinking and drawing, but not for my blog posts. It helps me clear my mind and be less distracted. It lets me make progress instead of covering the same ground. It also helps me make better decisions. I can see the costs and benefits more clearly when they’re written down. I can brainstorm options and compare them. I can review the decisions afterwards, too.

Prose makes things slower to capture and harder to read on my phone, but also a little easier to search or reflect on after a while, and possibly good for review or conversation when turned into a blog post.

And then there’s stuff I’d flesh out in writing anyway, like my weekly/monthly/yearly reviews. Those start off as sketches on my computer, then lists of keywords, and then paragraphs on my phone.

If my list is cluttered, it’s hard to pick one thought and follow it through. I end up adding little bits here and there, and I’m not sure how useful that is. Things below a couple of screens get ignored. It might be helpful to dedicate some time to processing. I can either flesh out the top idea on the stack, or move it to my inbox if it needs computer time.

I don’t have to worry too much about writing for other people’s benefit. That can come later, when I have more focused time. People can always choose what to read and what to skim or skip. What’s important is that I think things through and then capture them for later review.

So, how can I do this more effectively? Where are my gaps?

  • Motivating questions, not just a scratchpad of ideas: It’s useful to ask questions when I’m going to change something based on the answer. For example, I can describe the gaps and points of friction, then explore why those are so, and then come up with ideas and actions.
  • Reviews are less motivating, but I can get the ball rolling by focusing on tidbits rather than overviews. It’s hard to see context on a small screen.
  • I don’t have to spend a lot of time picking the best thing to write about. Practically everything will move me forward, even if the distances vary. I can write and write and write, and then reflect.
  • If I don’t feel like writing, I can always snuggle or sleep. No need to force it.

The best time to write is when I’m nursing A- and she’s drifting off to sleep, but is awake enough to root if I try to move away. Trade-offs / other things I could be doing during that time:

  • Sleeping: Good up to a certain point. It’s handy to use A-‘s first nap to catch up on sleep if needed, but I don’t want to sleep too much.
  • Browsing social media: Tempting time sink. Occasionally useful or interesting, but best in small doses.
  • Answering email: Nice thing to do, although expectations are low. Some things can only be answered when I’m at my computer.
  • Prioritizing my to-do list and adding items to it: Helps me hit the ground running during computer time.
  • Reading research and tech stuff: Gives me ideas to explore when I’m at my computer. Less efficient than reading when I’m on my laptop, but it’s okay to just index things for later exploration.
  • Reading e-books: sometimes useful, especially if I pick my questions and titles carefully.
  • Reading fiction: occasionally entertaining, although often bleh. Maybe I should try library recommendations.
  • Playing games: my interest comes and goes. Exercises problem-solving. Artificial sense of progress.

I think it makes sense to prioritize sleep, then writing, with maybe a notification-based pomodoro for social media during breaks. If I don’t feel like writing, I can use the time to learn more about tech or parenting. Let’s see if I can find a pomodoro app that’s compatible with a sleeping baby, or if I can make something using Tasker…