Category Archives: sharing

Thinking about my frequency of annual reviews

I’ve been doing annual reviews a few times a year: my birthday in August, the new year in January, and experiment-related reflections in February. It’s a little excessive, perhaps. My weekly and monthly reviews make it easy enough to summarize events over 12 months, so it’s not that much more effort to do a new review with a slight offset.

The experiment review has different guide questions, so that’s useful. The birthday and new year reviews have a lot of overlap, though. What happened? How am I different? What did I learn? What did I forget and want to relearn? What worked well? What do I want to focus on next? What could make this even better? The two reviews cover the same ground, especially since I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. I like the birthday review because it’s anchored on things that are meaningful to me, and paced according to my life.

The new year review would probably be better suited to reflecting on external influences, since that’s synchronized with other people’s reviews, but external events don’t seem to matter that much to me when I reflect on my year.

People often use the Christmas/New Year break to send out family updates and pictures. Both my family and W-‘s family like taking family pictures, so we’re covered there. I feel somewhat odd about the idea of announcing things on behalf of W- or A-, or getting W- to contribute. I’m more comfortable capturing the changes in my own life, noting the occasional highlight from theirs – but with my individual voice, not a collective We. I think of it more for personal note-taking and celebration (and maybe the occasional acquaintance catching up through my archives) rather than pushing updates to a list of people whom I think should hear about our year. Opt-in is more comfortable for me than opt-out. I’m probably making it more complicated than it needs to be, but I wonder if there’s a thought in here that’s worth untangling…

I wonder how I mentally chunk my memories. Do I think of them in terms of ages: my 20s, etc.? Do I think in terms of calendar years? Years come to mind more easily than ages do when I think about milestones such as coming to Canada. So maybe that’s an argument for keeping the new year review…

There’s also the benefit of being able to send people a link to a tidy summary when they wish me a happy new year, although that happens more around birthdays anyway.

Hmm. I guess I’ll try to squeeze another annual review in this month, and then I can reconsider the question in August. More writing is good, anyway.

Reflecting on my process for visual journaling

Over several nursing sessions, I flipped through all 750+ of my sketches from 2016 on my phone. It was a quick and wonderful overview of the past year. It’s amazing to see how much ground we’d covered one day at a time.

Taking 5-10 minutes at night to draw a visual journal worked out well. It was my second year with daily/weekly/monthly sketches, and my workflow held up to the demands of caring for a newborn. Some nights I fell asleep before A- let me sneak away, but the text notes I jotted throughout the day helped me reconstruct events even after several nights. I really liked having a record not just of what happened, but also what I was thinking about, and the little moments that would have been hard to capture in a picture. When we were dealing with lots of uncertainty, thinking out loud helped me untangle my thoughts and feel like things were manageable. Looking back over the past year, I think I like the person I was and the person I’ve grown to be.

I didn’t have much time or energy to dress up my sketches or go beyond a simple style. It was nice to see the sketches I spent some time colouring for presentation, though, and the drawing practice I occasionally indulged in. My copies of characters from the books I read to A- reminded me of those stories, and rough sketches of her (mostly sleeping, since that was the only time I could draw from life) made me smile. I think I’d like to make more time for drawing, not just capturing thoughts.

Still, it was so useful to have a tool for making sense of my fragmented thoughts. There was so much to figure out about parenting, time, uncertainty, anxiety, boundaries, philosophy, plans…
I found it easy to go through my sketches and remember what it was like at that point in time. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what a cryptic note on my sketch meant, especially if I didn’t cover it in my weekly review, but that’s okay.

I’m looking forward to continuing this habit in 2017. I’ve been experimenting with jotting down sketch ideas on my phone, so I can move more of the thinking out of my limited computer time. I’d like to make sure I play with more formats than just lists, though, since the nonlinearity of drawing can support thinking in a different way compared to writing. It would be nice to mix in more non-journal sketches, and more actual sketches and drawing exercises too. Maybe a daily cycle, to prompt me to expand…

I still haven’t finished my yearly review, but having all those weekly and monthly sketches sure made the process easier. Onward!

Posting more thoughts

I can write on my phone while nursing, which is probably a far better occupation for my mind instead of scrolling through Facebook or Reddit for the nth time. It’s not my ideal writing setup – I can see around a paragraph or two on the screen at a time, and I don’t have the outlining/linking/figuring-out tools I’m used to on my computer – but it gets me writing in full sentences instead of just jotting down lists. I can capture more thoughts this way, and I don’t have to stay up late to get through my drawing backlog.

It’s important to me to be able to flesh out thoughts a little despite the interruptions of life with a baby. With a place to store these half-finished thoughts, I can make some progress. I’m not trying to write a great novel (or that Emacs book I planned a long time ago) – just exploring thoughts and questions and ideas, and storing hooks for associative memories.

A- nurses a lot, which we’re okay with. More sustenance and comfort for her, and our lives are flexible enough to accommodate it. I focus on her when she wants interaction, and I keep my phone handy for when she seems to be nursing to sleep. It’s a practice I could probably help her get out of, but things are also fine the way they are. I’ll probably let her take the lead on this one, at least for now.

What do I want to think about during these moments?

  • For the present: task lists, decisions, questions, research
  • For weekly and monthly reviews: highlights, memories
  • For future Sacha: sketches of daily life, thoughts, things I’m learning
  • For other people: things I figured out the hard way; counter-intuitive or alternative experiences; ideas and thoughts
  • For family and friends: stories

There are lots of things I can think through and write about, even in small chunks and without tools for structure. I’ll experiment with writing about and posting more of them. After all, my blog started with a few years of random snippets and thoughts. I don’t mind spending a few more years writing about mundane things and incomplete thoughts that might not be of much interest to other people, just in case it might be of interest to my future self. I’ve already set up categories and filtered mailing lists, so people can choose what to read. I can write more for myself, and enjoy what serendipitous conversations come my way. :)

Fixed paragraph breaks in WordPress, no more wall of text

While trying out the “after” filter I just added to my blog, I noticed that my paragraph breaks were missing. I hadn’t noticed it for a while because I’ve been building up my weekly and monthly reviews from sketches instead of blog posts. How embarrassing!

(Then A- woke up and it was time for lunch, so I was a bit frazzled. But W- stepped in and took care of her, hooray!)

I saw the paragraph breaks in WordPress’ visual editor, but not the exported HTML, which just kept whitespace in between the paragraphs instead of breaking them up with tags. It happened even when I created a new post through the web interface, so it wasn’t org2blog’s fault.

I checked if the paragraph issue happened on a new install. It didn’t.

I checked if the paragraph issue happened with all the plugins deactivated. It didn’t. Aha! (Note to self: I really should set up a dev environment again…)

I turned the plugins on one by one, and I narrowed it down to the NextGen Gallery plugin. It worked after I updated that.

Anyway, things should be readable again. Hooray!

Building a simple sketch navigator for myself

In 2015, I built the habit of drawing daily index-card-sized thoughts. Some days, I reached (or blew past!) my target of five index cards a day. Other days, I backfilled my daily journal entries based on fuzzy memories and my time logs. In February 2015, I started using a yyyy-mm-dd<letter> naming convention so that I could easily refer to individual cards. For a while, I tried to be fairly disciplined about organizing sketches into outlines and building up chunks into blog posts. That fell by the wayside when I found it difficult to concentrate, but I kept drawing anyway. I saved the images to my hard drive, started tagging them with keywords in the filenames, and uploaded my sketches to Flickr as a way to back up and share my files.

I’ve recently been exploring ways to take advantage of the Samsung tablet that W- bought some time ago. It works wonderfully as a second screen that I can use to review an old sketch while I draw another one. The FlickFolio app lets me do a random slideshow of the past 2000 images in my photostream or in an album. This turns out to be an excellent way to jog my memory and prompt me to revisit questions or decisions.

2016-01-22d What do I want from my idea pipeline -- index card #zettelkasten #ideas #thinking #questions #index-cards

2016-01-22d What do I want from my idea pipeline – index card #zettelkasten #ideas #thinking #questions #index-cards.png

Now those fragmented thoughts are starting to pay off. Many of my old index cards are on topics I haven’t thought about in a while. It’s fun to see what I’ve learned in the meantime, or to follow up on things I’ve forgotten. It’s like I’d been filling an idea pipeline or seeding an idea garden. I get this steady stream of questions, decisions, observations, memories, ideas, and notes, and I can build on those prompts instead of having to start from scratch.

2016-01-18g How do I want my sketches to help me think -- index card #drawing #sketches #zettelkasten #notes ref 2015-11-18a

2016-01-18g How do I want my sketches to help me think – index card #drawing #sketches #zettelkasten #notes ref 2015-11-18a.png

I want these index cards to help me shuffle ideas and possibly see serendipitous combinations. They’re small, so capturing thoughts on them doesn’t require as much effort as, say, writing a blog post. They’re a good way to smooth out and organize thoughts, and I can chunk up those thoughts into longer posts. The sketches are easy to review, too, so they work well as digital footprints. I re-read the year’s blog posts as part of my annual review and sometimes I reread my posts on a monthly basis as well, but it’s not as immediate or as wide-ranging as flipping through a random selection of images.

A random slideshow is a good start, but I’ve been meaning to make a sketch browser that’s a little more tuned to what I want.

2016-01-18d What do I want in a sketch browser -- index card #drawing #coding #plan

2016-01-18d What do I want in a sketch browser – index card #drawing #coding #plan.png

I wrote a simple NodeJS server that I can run on my laptop and access from the tablet (or other devices) while I’m on my home network. At first, I was trying to figure out an interface that would let me navigate by month/week/day, but then I realized that something simpler might be a more useful way to begin.

I started off by making it display random sketches:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-16-34

Then I extended it to let me browse by tag:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-19-33

And then to see a list of tags by frequency:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-17-12

Or by alphabetic order, since that might be handier if I’m trying to look for something specific on a mobile device

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-17-23

I like distinguishing between daily/weekly/monthly/yearly reviews and non-journal sketches, too:

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-16-43

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-18-04

Screenshot_2016-01-22_17-17-34

It’s nice to be able to build custom little tools like that. =)

Here’s the script on Github, in case you’re curious or you want to build on the idea.

What do I want from my review process?

I’ve just finished reviewing 2015. I reread my blog posts, reviewed my photos, analyzed my time, and wrapped it up in a summary that surprised my recency-biased brain. It turned out to have been a pretty good year, even though I had felt a little bit lost and frazzled at times.

It got me thinking about what I want from my daily/weekly/monthly/yearly review process. What would I like to tweak for next time?

2016-01-02e What do I want from my yearly review -- index card #writing #review

This year, my index cards turned out to be an convenient graphical way to roll up everyday notes into larger and larger chunks. I even have some code to make it easier to create montages of lower-level sketches (for example, the daily sketches when I’m doing a weekly review) and include them as a layer in my drawing program so that I can choose the highlights for redrawing. Some days, I didn’t have much to draw. Other days, I overflowed with things I wanted to remember. Being able to quickly jot a few keywords or make a quick card kept me rolling even when my mind was too fuzzy to write a blog post, so that worked out wonderfully.

I think next year will be pretty similar. With that in mind, I’d like to get better at using my reviews to:

  • See the connections that aren’t obvious: Sometimes a thought weaves its way in and out of my mind over a long period of time, or sometimes several ideas are fascinating when juxtaposed. My working memory tends to be more limited when I’m fuzzy-brained, so it’s hard to see those connections. If I reread a bunch of posts in quick succession or I shuffle my index cards somewhat randomly, though, that can help me see those links. This tends to kick in for the monthly and yearly reviews. It might be interesting to see if I can get this working longer-term, too.
  • Use data to adjust for biases: I notice I have a strong recency bias when I’m fuzzy-brained. Recent experiences colour my perception and make certain things easier or harder to remember. Both analyzing data and reviewing archives can help me counteract that bias and get a better view of what happened. In general, I’ve tended to underestimate progress and be pleasantly surprised during review. I wonder if that means I tend to pessimistically evaluate day-by-day progress, and if tweaking that would result in a positive effect on motivation and momentum.
  • Get a sense of progress and direction: This is good for celebrating progress and catching drift. I tend to not have fixed goals as much as general directions, so drift could be a little harder to notice. It’s still interesting to play spot-the-differences with my past selves, though.
  • Summarize chunks for easier review: I don’t need to remember all the details from each day. It’s nice to have memory hooks for the highlights, though. Reviewing and chunking periods of time helps me make sense of longer and longer periods. I wonder if it makes sense for me to do quarters or seasons as a step in between months and years…
  • Remember and follow up on ideas, decisions; consider what’s coming up: Sometimes the review reminds me of something I want to follow up on, a decision I want to revisit, or an idea I’d like to try. I could get better at this by explicitly calling out things to revisit and scheduling reminders for myself. That’s one of those tips for managing oneself, after all.
  • Revisit and archive memories: I’m not particularly sentimental, and there are few memories that I deliberately revisit outside the context of a conversational reference. That might be something worth playing with, though – maybe as a way to understand life more, maybe as a source of ideas for future experiments, and maybe something that can eventually become another source of happiness or satisfaction? Hmm.
  • Capture a snapshot of life at this moment: Related to archiving memories: sometimes it’s helpful to capture the everyday, ordinary things, since that can be unexpectedly interesting when looking back.
  • Place things in larger contexts: I don’t do nearly enough of this, I think: seeing things in a larger context, with a longer-term perspective. I occasionally check things against 5- or 10-year periods, and sometimes against expected lifespan, but there isn’t that sense of deep understanding yet, and it’s still mostly limited to my own scope. I do some wider reflections from time to time, borrowing the Stoic practice of remembering that things are transitory and insignificant. I think a larger perspective will probably develop over time; might be a wisdom thing.

Practically speaking, that probably translates to:

  • Continue drawing daily/weekly/monthly index cards, possibly with more details and observations.
  • Consider drawing a quarterly round-up too: maybe the previous quarter + three monthly cards.
  • Organize my notes on decisions for review, including predicted consequences and reasons for choosing, and schedule reminders for them.
  • Write or draw memories, maybe organizing them by person/trigger, and reflect on them from time to time.
  • See if I can get better at explicitly linking small day-to-day steps with my bigger picture, and celebrating those small steps instead of waiting for the monthly or yearly review to make sense of them.

Hmm….