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Writing for myself

Sometimes, when I feel my mind filling up with thoughts of other people (tasks, questions, ideas for helping), I take a step back and focus on something more selfish. It’s important to me that I sometimes write mainly for myself. If it so happens to benefit other people, wonderful, but it’s got to be stuff that I need too.

What are the kinds of things I write about when I’m writing for myself?

  • Notes on things that I’m figuring out
    • Idiosyncratic interests that hardly anyone will find useful
    • Puzzling through the tangles of life
    • Straightforward questions and the journey towards answers, including research and backtracking
    • Plans, scenarios
    • Data analysis
    • Things I’m learning, in case other people want to help out (and sometimes people can learn from it too, which is nice)
  • Things I want to remember
    • Reasons for decisions and expected outcomes
    • What this experiment feels like
    • The influences on my life

Based on a quick scan of the blog posts this year, I’d say that around 25% of my blog posts have been mostly for me rather than other people (excluding weekly and monthly reviews from the count). This is higher than I thought it would be, and I think that’s good. It’s probably just the buzz from e-mail and from a recent experiment tilting my blog towards more technical topics.

Month Mostly-reflections
Jan 6
Feb 6
March 8
April 5
May 3 so far

Based on my time records, drawing has been on a decline (62.6h in Jan, 34.7h in Feb, 18.2h in March, 12h in April), while Emacs has been on the increase. In fact, the correlation is -0.86 over five months. Interestingly, the only negative correlation for sleep in my top 10 activities is with Emacs: -0.43. Pretty strong positive correlations for sleep with work and writing. I probably like a balance like March, where I mixed things up a bit more with personal reflections. Hmm…

Okay. So maybe I dial back a little on the Emacs side, and do more drawing and writing as an experiment to see how that affects buzz. That probably means that Wednesdays and maybe a bit of Friday will be for Emacs (course, e-mail, blog posts, tinkering). Mondays and a bit of Friday will be for planning. Ideally, we’ll get to the point where I don’t feel a smidge of guilt for my inbox or limited ability to explain things, so it’s all upside. =)

If I set the expectation that I mostly care about my inbox only every 2-3 days (and that I sometimes take a week to reply), I think that will un-buzz-ify my brain enough. It’ll be interesting to see if I can still run an engaging e-mail course with those bounds. I like the conversation. I don’t want to give that up. =) I just want to make sure my brain has the quiet it needs for other things, too.

What’s the quiet for? I want to be able to catch myself being confused, to see the gaps, to say, “Hmm, that’s a good question,” and to dig into things further. What am I likely to find interesting after ten years? Easy enough to compare April 2014 with April 2004 (technical posts, snippets, links, teaching, flash fiction), March with March, and so on. I like the mix of March 2014 mix more than April’s. More exploratory, maybe? Hmm…

Emacs beginner resources

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s like to be a beginner, so I’m experimenting with asking other people to help me with this. =) I asked one of my assistants to look for beginner tutorials for Emacs and evaluate them based on whether they were interesting and easy to understand. Here’s what she put together! – Sacha

Emacs #1 - Getting Started and Playing Games by jekor
Probably the most helpful Emacs tutorial series on YouTube. Goes beyond the “what to type” how-tos that other tutorials seem bent on explaining over and over. Emphasizes games and how they help users familiarize themselves with the all-keyboard controls. 5/5 stars

Org-mode beginning at the basics
What it says on the tin. Essential resource for those who are new to Emacs and org-mode. Provides steps on how to organize workflow using org-mode written in a simple, nontechnical, writing style. 5/5 stars

Xah Emacs Tutorial
Though the landing page says that the tutorial is for scientists and programmers, beginners need not be intimidated! Xah Emacs Tutorial is very noob-friendly. Topics are grouped under categories (e.g. Quick Tips, Productivity, Editing Tricks, etc.) Presentation is a bit wonky though. 4.5/5 stars

RT 2011: Screencast 01 – emacs keyboard introduction by Kurt Scwehr
Keyboard instruction on Emacs from the University of New Hampshire. Very informative and also presents some of the essential keystrokes that beginners need to memorize to make the most out of the program. But at 25 mins, I think that the video might be too long for some people. 4/5 stars

Emacs Wiki
Nothing beats the original- or in this case, the official- wiki. Covers all aspects of Emacs operation. My only gripe with this wiki is that the groupings and presentation are not exactly user-friendly (links are all over the place!), and it might take a bit of time for visitors to find what they are looking for. 4/5 stars

Mastering Emacs: Beginner’s Guide to Emacs
The whole website itself is one big tutorial. Topics can be wide-ranging but it has a specific category for beginners.
whole website itself is one big tutorial. Looks, feels, and reads more like a personal blog rather than a straightforward wiki/tutorial. 4/5 stars

Jessica Hamrick’s Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Emacs
Clear and concise. Primarily focused on providing knowledge to people who are not used to text-based coding environments. It covers a lot of basic stuff, but does not really go in-depth into the topics. Perfect for “absolute beginners” but not much else. 3/5 stars

Jim Menard’s Emacs Tips and Tricks
Personal tips and tricks from a dedicated Emacs user since 1981. Not exactly beginner level, but there’s a helpful trove of knowledge here. Some chapters are incomplete. 3/5 stars

Emacs Redux
Not a tutorial, but still an excellent resource for those who want to be on the Emacs update loop. Constantly updated and maintained by an Emacs buff who is currently working on a few Emacs related projects. 3/5 stars

Jeremy Zawodny’s Emacs Beginner’s HOWTO
Lots of helpful information, but is woefully not updated for the past decade or so. 2/5 stars

This list was put together by Marie Alexis Miravite. In addition, you might want to check out how Bernt Hansen uses Org, which is also pretty cool.

Managing virtual assistants: My process for managing talk deadlines and information

  1. Log on to docs.sachachua.com and open my Talk planning spreadsheet.
  2. Click on the last tab near the bottom of the page. (Talk planning)
  3. Select the F and G columns, right-click on the column header, and choose Insert 2 Left.
  4. Select the D and E columns, copy them, and paste them into F and G columns. Delete the TEMPLATE header.
  5. Replace the date and title from the text.
  6. Fill in the other information about the talk.
  7. Log on to Toodledo.com in a separate window, and arrange your windows so that you can see the spreadsheet and create tasks at the same time.
  8. Scroll down to see the tasks on the spreadsheet. The dates should be automatically calculated based on the due date of the talk. Manually set the dates if any were specified.
  9. In Toodledo, click on Folders, and then add a folder with the title of the talk. Then go to the To-Do List and add the tasks (shortcut key: n). Specify the folder, due date, and length based on the spreadsheet and/or talk information. Set the context to “home” (unless I indicate otherwise) and the tag as “presentation”. For the tasks before “Call or e-mail organizer to confirm details”, set the start date to be one week before the due date.
  10. Create a Timesvr reminder for two hours before the presentation with the following text:
    Please call me on my cellphone to remind me about the upcoming talk on (talk title). Remind me of the title, the time, the organizer’s name, and other information.
  11. Create a calendar entry for the presentation on my Sacha – Main calendar, including the talk title and organizer contact information. Add location, transit instructions, and driving instructions if specified. E-mail me when you’re finished.

For reference, this is what the left side of my spreadsheet looks like:

DATE OF TALK
Title of talk
Organizer contact info
Duration
Length Task Days
30 Send organizer title, abstract, bio, and picture -21
15 Get talk details -21
30 Outline talk -18
120 Do background research -14
60 Assemble detailed outline -7
150 Write pre-talk blog post -5
60 Storyboard presentation -4
120 Make presentation and send it to organizer -3
10 Call or e-mail organizer to confirm details -2
60 Give presentation 0
60 Post recordings 1
30 Update ROI spreadsheet 2
Talk information
Abstract
Bio

Planning projects for April: making remote presentations that rock, managing virtual assistants

There are two interesting projects I’d like to get going for April. One will be a guide on making remote presentations that rock, and another will be a guide on managing virtual assistants. I would like to put together blog posts and perhaps a nicely-formatted e-book. For the presentation project, I’m also planning to run a couple of seminars at work, and maybe even offer one-on-one coaching too.

What do those projects look like?

Making remote presentations that rock

Possible topics:

  • Technology tips and screencasts
    • Sametime Unyte
    • Audacity
    • Camtasia Studio or some other video/screencast software
  • Challenges and opportunities of remote presentations
  • Tips on information organization
  • Tips on visual presentation design
  • Delivery techniques
  • Preparation and follow-up
  • Virtual conferences – when you’re part of a bigger event

Coaching opportunities:

  • Give feedback on title, abstract, and bio
  • Give feedback on outline, navigational structures
  • Give feedback on design and organization
  • Evaluate delivery (in person or with recordings) – maybe swap with people? =) – to help people learn more about how to do presentations even more effectively

Possible tasks to delegate:

  • Transcribe my presentations and audio recordings on the topic
  • Edit audio to remove ums, ahs, and repeated words
  • Compile presentation tips from the Internet
  • Find illustrations for slides
  • Create draft slides
  • Format the blog posts into an e-book
  • Follow up after coaching

Managing virtual assistants

I’d like to focus on documenting lots of processes so that we can come up with something like a manual. =) Possible topics:

  • Web research
  • Product search
  • Calendar management (meetings, phone calls, and get-togethers)
  • Writing and content development
  • Everyday tasks (wake-up calls, concierge services, etc.)

Each post will have the following structure:

  • Why outsource to a virtual assistant
  • Sample requests and time saved (Examples for 15 minutes, 1 hour, 4 hours)
  • What information should be included?
  • What milestones are useful?
  • Example step-by-step process, similar to the ones I’ve shared
  • Sample output template so that both the client and virtual assistant know what results are expected

Possible tasks to delegate:

  • Compile sample requests and templates
  • Find me other bloggers interested in collaborating on an e-book
  • Draft the text
  • Document step-by-step processes, including screenshots
  • Find client testimonials
  • Format the blog posts into an e-book

Tips for managing virtual assistants

There are plenty of tips out there for becoming a virtual assistant, but not that many for managing virtual assistants. There are also plenty of books and resources about management and delegation, but none of them quite address the quirks of managing a diverse, changing virtual team. So I might as well start putting together useful resources here.

Found any useful resources on how to manage virtual assistants? Share them here!

Wake up calls

I’m beginning to rather like wake-up calls.

I set up a recurring task in Timesvr to have someone call me at 6:30 every morning with an inspirational quote, the day’s weather, upcoming appointments, and a wish for a great day. This turns out to be surprisingly useful because:

  • The call is an alarm that I don’t feel like snoozing, because I know that there’s a real person on the other end of the line who’ll try again and who will probably send me an apology if he or she can’t reach me, even though it was my fault. For example, I set my alarm for 6:00. I ended up hitting snooze button twice, but I didn’t worry about over-snoozing because I knew someone would catch me at 6:30.

    Snoozing is particularly bad in this household. Once the cats have heard any wake-up sounds from our room, they’re immediately at the door, meowing and knocking. They don’t have a remote snooze button, so I really should get up as soon as my alarm goes off. =)

  • The call puts all the information together in one place. I could figure out most of this stuff by using my iPod Touch, but the call puts everything together and makes sure I don’t forget any of the important things.
  • The call brings a little bit of energy to the start of my day. All the calls I’ve had so far have come from cheerful people, and that little bit of energy gets my day off to a great start.

As a result of getting up earlier and with more energy:

  • I’ve been making breakfast for W- and J-. =) W- often makes breakfast, and it’s nice to be able to let him sleep in bed a little longer.

  • I’ve been writing in the morning. Thoughts are much easier to write when your mind is fresh. These schedule tweaks let me squeeze a blog post into that time between eating breakfast and starting work.
  • I have more morning-time to work in the zone. I’m most creative in the morning, when I’m not tired from handling e-mail and things like that. I love programming in the morning – it’s so much fun to blast through problems and figure out solutions. Starting early lets me have a good, long block of “flow” time before I get interrupted by lunch and meetings. I save e-mail and other tasks for the afternoon. =)

What would the wake-up call even better?

  • I can add my top priorities for the day and for the week. What if, in addition to reminding me about upcoming appointments, Timesvr reminded me about tasks due today (urgent), my top three tasks for today (important), and my top three goals for the week? I can do this by e-mailing the tasks to the account I’ve created for my assistant, tagging tasks as such on Remember The Milk, or blocking off time on a planning calendar. The call could even keep me accountable by reviewing the tasks for yesterday and crossing off the ones that I indicate are done, and the practice will help me make a habit of planning the next day before I go to bed.

  • I can slowly nudge my wake-up time earlier. What about nudging my wake-up call to 6:15 AM, and eventually maybe even getting it all the way to 5:00 AM? Wouldn’t that be cool?
  • I can add more motivation to exercise. Hey, if we’re building good habits, why not? =)

Hmm… =D

(Disclaimer: Timesvr link above is an affiliate link. I figure that if I’m going to advertise them for free because I like the service, I might as well get that tracked. Who knows, it might get me better service, or even a credit someday. ;) )