Weekly review: Week ending March 20, 2015

This was a good week, rich in people: lots of family things, and wonderful conversations. I’m getting better at seeing and responding to things the way I choose to, and it makes life’s surprises better.

Next week: I’d like to build a yoga habit, and I’d like to get even better at reaching out.

2015-03-22f Week ending 2015-03-20 -- index card #journal #weekly


Blog posts


Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (25.2h – 14%)
    • Earn (16.1h – 63% of Business)
      • Attend comm session
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (2.5h – 9% of Business)
      • Drawing (2.5h)
    • Connect (6.6h – 26% of Business)
  • Relationships (19.3h – 11%)
    • Check on project F4
    • Hang out with Ewan and Eric on Friday
    • Drop gift off at Michael and Jen’s
  • Discretionary – Productive (20.4h – 12%)
    • Emacs (4.2h – 2% of all)
      • 2015-02-18 Emacs Hangout
      • Help Sean with Emacs
      • Hang out with Emacs geeks
    • Research yoga places
    • Writing (2.8h)
  • Discretionary – Play (5.4h – 3%)
  • Personal routines (22.0h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (15.6h – 9%)
  • Sleep (60.2h – 35% – average of 8.6 per day)

The imperfect fungibility of time: thinking about how to use money to accelerate learning

2015-01-30 Leaving money on the table -- index card #consulting #experiment #balance

2015-01-30 Leaving money on the table – index card #consulting #experiment #balance

Any time I want to, I could spend more time consulting. This would make my clients happy. It would help me create much more value, and they would get more value from me than from other ways they could spend their budget. I would improve my skills along the way, especially with people’s requests and feedback. And to top it all off, I would earn more money that I could add to my savings, exchange for other people’s time or talents, or use to improve our quality of life.

How hard is it to resist the temptation to work on other people’s things? It’s like trying to focus on cooking lentils when there’s a pan of fudge brownies right there, just waiting to for a bite. It’s like wandering through the woods in hope of coming across something interesting when you know you can go back to the road and the road will take you to an enormous library. It’s like trying to build something out of sand when there’s a nifty LEGO Technic kit you can build instead. It’s probably like Odysseus sailing past Sirens, if the Sirens sang, “We need you! You can help us! Plus you can totally kit out your ship and your crew with the treasures we’ll give you and the experience you’ll gain!”

Maybe I can use this temptation’s strength against it.

2015-02-02 What if I use the lure of work to help me grow -- index card #consulting #experiment

2015-02-02 What if I use the lure of work to help me grow – index card #consulting #experiment

Maybe I can treat client work (with its attendant rewards and recognition) as a carrot that I can have if I make good progress on my personal projects. If I hit the ground running in the morning, then I can work on client stuff in the afternoon. A two-hour span is probably a good-sized chunk of time for programming or reporting. It’s not as efficient as a four-hour chunk, but it’ll force me to keep good notes, and I know I can get a fair bit done in that time anyway.

The other part of this is making sure that I don’t give myself too-low targets so that I can get to client work. It’ll be tempting to pick a small task, do it, and say, “There, I’m done. Moving on!” But I have to sit with uncertainty and figure things out. I expect that learning to work on my own things will mean encountering and dealing with inner Resistance. I expect that my anxious side will whisper its self-doubt. So I lash myself to the mast and sail past the Sirens, heading towards (if I’m lucky!) years of wandering.

Part of this is the realization that even after my experiments with delegation, I’m still not good at converting money back into time, learning, ability, or enjoyment. Time is not really fungible, or at least I haven’t figured out how to convert it efficiently. I can convert time to money through work, but I find it difficult to convert money back to time (through delegation) or use it to accelerate learning.

2015-01-07 What am I happy to pay for in money or time -- index card

2015-01-07 What am I happy to pay for in money or time – index card

Extra money tends to go into projects, tools or cooking experiments. Gardening is one of my luxuries: a few bags of dirt, some seeds and starters, and an excuse to be outside regularly. Paying someone to do the first draft of a transcript gets around my impatience with listening to my own voice. Aside from these regular decisions, I tend to think carefully about what I spend on. Often a low-cost way of doing something also helps me learn a lot – sometimes much more than throwing money at the problem would.

2015-01-27 Financial goals -- index card #finance

2015-01-27 Financial goals – index card #finance

But there are things that money can buy, and it’s good for me to learn how to make better decisions about that. For example, a big savings goal might be “buying” more of W-‘s time, saving up in case he wants to experiment with a more self-directed life as well. House maintenance projects need tools, materials, and sometimes skilled help. Cooking benefits from experimentation, better ingredients, and maybe even instruction.

2015-02-01 Accelerating my learning -- index card #learning #accelerating

2015-02-01 Accelerating my learning – index card #learning #accelerating

What about accelerating my learning so that I can share even more useful stuff? Working with other people can help me:

  • take advantage of external perspectives (great for editing)
  • organize my learning path into a more effective sequence
  • learn about adjacent possibilities and low-hanging fruit
  • bridge gaps
  • improve through feedback
  • create scaffolds/structures and feed motivation
  • set up and observe deliberate practice
  • direct my awareness to what’s important

In order to make the most of this, I need to get better at:

  • identifying what I want to learn
  • identifying who I can learn from
  • approaching them and setting up a relationship
  • experimenting
  • following up

How have I invested money into learning, and what have the results been like?

Tools? Yup, totally worth it, even for the tools I didn’t end up using much of (ex: ArtRage). Do more of this. How can I get better at:

  • keeping an eye out for potentially useful tools:
    • Emacs packages
    • AutoHotkey scripts/ideas
    • Windows/Linux tools related to writing, drawing, coding
  • evaluating whether a tool can fit my workflow
  • supporting people who make good tools
    • expressing appreciation
    • contributing code
    • writing about tools
    • sending money

Books? Some books have been very useful. On the other hand, the library has tons of books, so I have an infinite backlog of free resources. Buying and sketchnoting new books (or going to author events) is good for connecting with authors and readers about the book du jour, but on the other hand, I also get a lot of value from focusing on classics that I want to remember.

Conferences? Mostly interesting for meeting people and bumping into them online through the years. Best if I go as a speaker (makes conversations much easier and reduces costs) and/or as a sketchnoter (long-term value creation). It would be even awesomer if I could combine this with in-person intensive learning, like a hackathon or a good workshop…

Courses? Meh. Not really impressed by the online courses I’ve taken so far, but then again, I don’t think I’m approaching them with the right mindset either.

Things I will carve out opportunity-fund space for so that I can try more of them:

Pairing/coaching/tutoring? Tempting, especially in terms of Emacs, Node/Javascript, Rails, or Japanese. For example, some goals might be:

  • Learn how to improve Emacs Lisp performance and reliability: profiling, code patterns, tests, etc.
  • Define and adopt better Emacs habits
    • Writing
    • Organization
    • Planning
    • Programming
  • Write more elegant and testable Javascript
  • Set up best-practices Javascript/CSS/HTML/Rails environment in Emacs
  • Learn how to take advantage of new features in WordPress
  • Write more other-directed posts
  • Get better at defining what I want to learn and reaching out to people

Actually, in general, how does one accelerate learning?

  • General learning techniques: spaced repetition, skill breakdowns, deliberate practice…
  • Structure and motivation: personal trainers, courses
  • Instruction and perspective: expert, peer, or external
  • Higher-quality resources: original research, well-written/organized resources, richer media, good level of detail, experience/authority
  • Better tools: things are often much easier and more fun
  • Experimentation: learning from experience, possibly coming up with new observations
  • Feedback, analysis: experience, thoroughness
  • Immersion: languages, retreats
  • Outsourcing: research, summaries, scale, skills, effort
  • Relationships: serendipity, connection, conversation, mentoring, sponsorship
  • Community: premium courses or membership sites often offer this as a benefit
  • Freedom: safety net that permits experimentation, time to focus on it instead of worrying about bills, etc.

Hmm. I have some experience in investing in better tools, higher-quality resources, experimentation, feedback/analysis, delegation, and freedom. I’d like to get better at that and at investing in relationships and outsourcing. Come to think of it, that might be more useful than focusing on learning from coaching/instruction, at least for now.

Let me imagine what using money to accelerate learning would be like:

  • Relationships
    • Get to know individuals faster and deeper
      • Free: Build org-contacts profiles of people who are part of my tribe (people who comment/link/interact); think about them on a regular basis
      • Free: Proactively reach out and explore shared interests/curiosities
      • $: Figure out digital equivalent of treating people to lunch or coffee: conversation + maybe investing time into creating a good resource for them and other people + sending cash, donating to charity, or (best) cultivating reciprocal learning
      • $: Sign up for a CRM that understands Gmail, Twitter, and maybe even Disqus
    • Identify things to learn about and reach out to people who are good role models for those skills
      • Free: Be specific about things I want to learn
      • Free: Find people who know how to do those things (maybe delegate research)
      • $: Possibly buy their resources, apply their advice
      • $: Reach out with results and questions, maybe an offer to donate to their favourite charity
    • Help the community (like Emacs evil plans; rising tide lifts all boats)
      • $: Invest time and money into creating good resources
      • Be approachable
      • $: Bring the community together. Invest in platforms/organization. For example, I can use whatever I would have spent on airfare to create a decent virtual conference experience, or figure out the etiquette of having an assistant set up and manage Emacs Hangouts/Chats.
  • Outsourcing
    • Identify things that I want to do, regardless of skills
    • $: Experiment with outsourcing parts that I don’t know how to do yet (or even the ones I can do but want external perspectives on)
    • Use the results to determine what I actually want and what to learn more about; iterate as needed

Huh, that’s interesting. When I start thinking about investing in learning, I tend to fixate on finding a coach because I feel a big gap around directly asking people for help. But I can invest in other ways that might be easier or more effective to start with. Hmm… Thoughts?

Emacs Hangout 2015-03-18 show notes

We chatted about Org coolness and workflows; learning Emacs and deliberate practice; speech recognition; alternate layouts.

Event page: https://plus.google.com/events/cbj3rg26d8j9ifaiff5uq00ncr4

What’s this Emacs Hangout thing about? This is an informal way for Emacs geeks to get together and swap tips/notes/questions. You can find the previous Hangouts or sign up for the mailing list at http://sachachua.com/blog/tag/emacs-hangout/ . The next Emacs Hangout will be on April 15, 2015, at 8 PM Toronto time (12 midnight GMT): https://plus.google.com/events/c3igul0rj6cfc1qbcar91lrcj0s Want to get notified about upcoming hangouts? You can sign up for notifications at http://eepurl.com/bbi-Ir .

Experimenting with org-timer. Times are approximate, despite the seeming precision. =)

  • 0:00:12 Intros
  • 0:04:22 Howard – Prettify Your Quotation Marks
  • 0:06:37 Org Mode Spreadsheets
  • 0:12:44 org-aggregate
  • 0:12:50 summing up tables
  • 0:15:38 Hiding things from export with :PRIVATE: .. :END:
  • 0:16:30 Navigation
  • 0:17:10 Relative line numbers
  • 0:19:32 Org prettiness: org-bullets
  • 0:20:51 EMagicians Starter Kit
  • 0:26:23 More table stuff
  • 0:27:32 Org Mode workflows, reasons to use Org
  • 0:28:16 Org to replace Markdown, executable code samples, etc. Literate programming. Attachments.
  • 0:29:34 Org tables
  • 0:30:11 Literate programming, technical notes
  • 0:30:49 Links
  • 0:31:54 Keeping all your notes, reference information, and so forth
  • 0:32:25 As a simple database
  • 0:34:59 Leo’s demo: Org task management, scheduling, linking, refiling, org-pomodoro (with sound and tweaks) and time reporting
  • 0:44:47 clock reports, clocktable
  • 0:46:09 C-u org-refile
  • 0:47:53 tagging strategies (prefixes, @ for contexts, etc.), search
  • 0:49:45 using org-drill
  • 0:51:19 scheduling vs using agendas
  • 0:51:34 org-habits for visualizing consistency
  • 0:54:34 erc and other IRC clients
  • 0:55:20 devices
  • 0:56:47 Other apps like Wunderlist – tasks to synchronize; work/home separation
  • 0:59:44 org-trello – close, but no cigar
  • 1:00:26 orgzly
  • 1:01:44 MobileOrg =( hasn’t been updated in a long time, etc.
  • 1:03:15 org-timer, meeting notes, colouring neato
  • 1:05:37 spacemacs as a way for Vi converts to try Emacs out
  • 1:06:47 keybindings – rebind lots, or not? a few frequently used ones? ErgoEmacs?
  • 1:10:23 hydra, key-chord, prefixes, see Sacha’s config for making key-chord more specific
  • 1:12:52 pair-programming? tmux and different modes?
  • 1:13:09 httpd, impatient-mode, multi-tty?
  • 1:18:04 deliberate practice and learning new things
  • 1:18:41 putting new things in a temporary section (1 month)
  • 1:19:02 reading blog posts (ex: planet.emacsen.org), reading configs, doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html
  • 1:21:29 cheat sheet
  • 1:22:14 another vote for a staging area (experimental.el)
  • 1:24:35 blogging is awesome, org2blog, etc.
  • 1:28:59 edebug is a great way to explore how things work
  • 1:31:39 watching over people’s shoulders when it comes to Emacs; Hangouts, virtual conference? Moderators are helpful. Handing a virtual microphone out – moderator names someone who can then check in, ask the question, etc. monitoring comments. (Could use help reaching out to speakers, organizing schedule, etc.)
  • 1:34:55 Speech interface: less navigation, just commands. Better speech integration – requires C, or can be done with Emacs Lisp? What you’re operating on is different. Intent (what has to happen) vs action (what to do), audio wizards with contextual grammar. Pretty far out still. Translating dictation-friendly names to code-friendly names and vice versa.
  • 1:42:02 Quick wins: accelerators, focusing on intent
  • 1:44:19 Context
  • 1:46:03 LaTeX for math notes? Export to LaTeX or HTML with images, inline images. LyX if you need WYSIWYG? Snippets can help you work at a higher level (instead of memorizing a lot)
  • 1:48:52 Alternative keyboard layouts and keybindings; also, typing less (abbreviations, expansions, thinking, etc.), Kinesis
  • 1:53:57 Speech recognition. Saying things again instead of editing.
  • 1:58:06 Suggestions – more Org workflows, chatting leading up to the next Hangout, asking for help

Text chat:

Philip Stark 8:04 PM This one?
Cameron Desautels 8:04 PM yup
Howard Abrams 8:04 PM Yes!
Cameron Desautels 8:04 PM If you guys haven’t seen this, we should all try to contribute and help out: https://github.com/sachac/emacsconf2015/blob/gh-pages/index.org
me 8:08 PM (Dan: I muted you because of background noise, but you can always unmute yourself when you’re ready to ask a question )
Jonathan Hill 8:10 PM does anybody know how to full screen the hang out? I guess I could just full-screen chrome on the mac..
me 8:10 PM If you reduce your font size a lot, the main screen gets bigger, but let me just ask Howard to increase his text scale
Leo Ufimtsev 8:11 PM Btw, I came across an aggregator module: https://github.com/tbanel/orgaggregate allows sql-like aggregation for tables
Jonathan Hill 8:14 PM Howard, I’ve got a sidebar question about how you’re jumping around with the cursor seemingly arbitrarily when you can find a convenient spot to answer.
me 8:15 PM He might not see the chat while screensharing, so maybe you can ask out loud when there’s a gap
Cameron Desautels 8:15 PM Could be the mouse Though it took me a minute to realize that.
me 8:16 PM By the way, the nifty bullets on the headings are probably because of org-bullets.el, if you like that effect
Jonathan Hill 8:16 PM his modeline is gorgeous
Cameron Desautels 8:16 PM That’s likely powerline. https://github.com/milkypostman/powerline (Busted!)
me 8:17 PM <laugh> Ooh, relative line numbers
Cameron Desautels 8:19 PM I think I have some bad lag. Sorry about that. My ISP is terrible.
jason Peak 8:22 PM hi everyone, sorry I’m late
Leo Ufimtsev 8:23 PM I don’t think I’ll have time to prepare org-aggregator in this hangout. I can show a org-dot-emacs setup thou. Or some stuff on time-reporting
me 8:23 PM No worries!
jason Peak 8:24 PM yep
Philip Stark 8:26 PM how do you increase the font quickly?
Cameron Desautels 8:26 PM C-x C-=
Philip Stark 8:26 PM and decrease would be C-x C–?
Cameron Desautels 8:27 PM (text-scale-adjust) yep!
Philip Stark 8:27 PM great, thanks.
Will Monroe 8:28 PM I spend most of my time in emacs in org-mode FWIW
Leo Ufimtsev 8:30 PM I’m on twice. My hangouts crashed on my phone, (black screen). @Sacha would you be able to kick out my 2nd instance? (the one with black screen, not the one with picture)
Leo Ufimtsev 8:31 PM thanks
jason Peak 8:31 PM Complete beginner – I like the idea of using org as an organically developing a database of My stuff
Cameron Desautels 8:32 PM Will: that’s interesting. Do you want to speak about your uses? You might have a unique perspective.
Jonathan Hill 8:32 PM WOW That’s absurdly powerful, S
Will Monroe 8:33 PM Cameron: I’d be glad to. Very much a beginner though! ; )
Cameron Desautels 8:33 PM There are other beginners here—it’s probably exactly what they’d need!
Philip Stark 8:34 PM yeah
Leo Ufimtsev 8:35 PM I could show some things if folks are interested.
Howard Abrams 8:40 PM Can’t believe that Chrome crashed and I lost the chat history… I’ll try to catch up.
Philip Stark 8:41 PM http://0paste.com/7356-3b5998af chat history so far.
Will Monroe 8:45 PM Is that ticking?
Howard Abrams 8:46 PM The problem with demonstrating org-mode is not revealing too much about ourselves. Good thing we’re among friends, eh?
Cameron Desautels 8:46 PM haha, indeed
Philip Stark 8:46 PM indeed. and on youtube :S
Cameron Desautels 8:46 PM Just don’t read the comments. :p
Will Monroe 8:46 PM Ha!
jason Peak 8:47 PM how many tags is too much ?
me 8:47 PM Heh. Should I redact this text chat segment from the show notes?
jason Peak 8:47 PM how many tags are too many ?
Will Monroe 8:48 PM That’s a great question.
jason Peak 8:48 PM loaded question; just curious about others no mic, Sacha thanks, Will!
Jonathan Hill 8:49 PM someone has a lot of static on their mic
me 8:50 PM That’s Leo’s background noise, oh well.
Philip Stark 8:50 PM That’s Leo, I think. he’s probably on a phone.
me 8:50 PM <laugh!>
jason Peak 8:51 PM I’ve wondered about namespacing tags; org does not support namespaces as part of its tag data structure, though? Maybe I need to make it ?!!
me 8:51 PM I recognize that technique
jason Peak 8:51 PM thank you! yes
me 8:51 PM jason: You can probably combine a tag with other search filters, like the category (file)
Cameron Desautels 8:52 PM org-habit
jason Peak 8:53 PM sacha: thank you, I will exploreit
me 8:53 PM
Cameron Desautels 8:54 PM His setup minds me of mine from a couple years back…these days I use org-mode less because I want my tasks and calendar notifications on all of my devices. *reminds me
Will Monroe 8:54 PM I would love to hear about simple setups for erc
Philip Stark 8:55 PM What is erc?
Will Monroe 8:55 PM or any other emacs irc client
Howard Abrams 8:56 PM I like circe.
Jonathan Hill 8:58 PM Cameron, what about a cloud-based sort or read-only solution like syncing your stuff on dropbox or google drive or something? s/sort or/sort of/
Cameron Desautels 8:59 PM Yeah, I’ve actually tried that sort of thing, exporting an HTML version of my list into Dropbox so I could read it on any of my devices.
Howard Abrams 8:59 PM http://goo.gl/uWjFye
Cameron Desautels 8:59 PM But I’d really like r/w access on multiple platforms.
Cameron Desautels 9:00 PM And more ability to filter on the go.
Leo Ufimtsev 9:01 PM Sorry about vacum cleaning noise >_<
jason Peak 9:01 PM trello is great! not sure about the integration
Cameron Desautels 9:02 PM http://www.orgzly.com/
Jonathan Hill 9:02 PM There’s MobileOrg in the App Store for IOS
Leo Ufimtsev 9:04 PM I was wondering about that. Nifty.
jason Peak 9:04 PM very nice!
Jonathan Hill 9:04 PM does org-calendar interface with Exchange calendar with a tolerable level of setup pain?
Will Monroe 9:05 PM Jonathan: someone recently released an interface for Exchange.
Cameron Desautels 9:05 PM https://github.com/syl20bnr/spacemacs
Will Monroe 9:06 PM It was announced on the listserv…can’t recall the name. But it was within the last few weeks.
Leo Ufimtsev 9:09 PM I use a different keyboard layout “Colemak” (like modern Dvorak). I found emacs was more friendly for non-standard keyboard layouts like colemak.
jason Peak 9:09 PM I’m back, but only to say goodbye for now; Sacha, everyone, thanks for all you’ve shared; I look forward to being back here soon…
Leo Ufimtsev 9:09 PM take care
Will Monroe 9:09 PM bye jason!
Will Monroe 9:14 PM Leo: thanks for mentioning that. I’ve wondered about other keyboard layouts being more /less appropriate for emacs too.
Howard Abrams 9:17 PM I need to run, but I wanted to point out this gist that I wrote today … https://gist.github.com/howardabrams/67d60458858f407a13bd
me 9:19 PM (I use Dvorak, and haven’t remapped extensively – I mostly keep things the same, although my key-chords are Dvorak-friendly)
Leo Ufimtsev 9:20 PM http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html http://emacs.stackexchange.com/ <<< very good place for asking for help http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/OrgDotemacs << organise your .emacs in orgmode
Cameron Desautels 9:26 PM https://gist.github.com/camdez/c0f4c53ee847d5d1e2f0 ^ That’s how I add my experiments. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done. If you use org-mode you could use capture targets for something similar.
Will Monroe 9:29 PM Thanks, Cameron! That’s a great idea. I like the idea of keeping new and potentially unstable functions in a separate file…and the idea of commenting on them could lead to a nice diary of sorts.
Cameron Desautels 9:30 PM Exactly. Plus I don’t commit this so I don’t have to be embarrassed about pushing gross code to my public config.
me 9:30 PM Cameron: Hah! That’s a great idea. Although maybe I’ll keep the weird area in my config, just because
Cameron Desautels 9:31 PM Oh, and I load it like this so someone can pull down my config and have it still work whether or not the file exists: (load camdez/experiments-file ‘no-error)
Will Monroe 9:34 PM Thanks!
Jonathan Hill 9:35 PM @cameron I didn’t know about ‘no-error. neat trick
Leo Ufimtsev 9:35 PM Use trello lol
Cameron Desautels 9:39 PM Jonathan: really that argument can be anything non-nil, I just use that symbol name so it’s self-explanatory.
Jonathan Hill 9:39 PM Thinking Miserable? was that the phrase?
Cameron Desautels 9:40 PM ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m not entirely sure how we got here.
me 9:41 PM It’s a thread from near the beginning of the Hangout in a Q&A question (Eric said he might have something to demo), so it’s not quite connected to the conference conversation
Leo Ufimtsev 9:41 PM Is the voice recognition business cross-platform or specific to windows/mac/linux?
me 9:41 PM (Although we can continue that in the backchannel if people have ideas/suggestions)
Cameron Desautels 9:42 PM Ah! Ok. I must have missed the thread.
Eric S. Johansson 9:42 PM https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1M-TzfRaSaAhFXQk1OmcmHNOaW31_7W_7q0bf8CAJqSw/edit
Leo Ufimtsev 9:46 PM Btw, does anyone use Emacs with Latex.>? for math notes..?
Will Monroe 9:50 PM Sacha (or anyone): this is a much earlier comment you made, but I’d be interested in hearing about your experience using the “standard” Emacs keybindings with Dvorak some time. Maybe during the next Emacs Meetup!
Jonathan Hill 9:54 PM /me E I gather that’s likely not what you actually said. I seem to have gotten stuck on it, though
Will Monroe 9:56 PM Thanks for the advice, everyone. This was the first time I’ve been able to interact with so many Emacs users. Hope to return next month and perhaps again at the possible conference. All the best!
Cameron Desautels 9:57 PM Take care, Will. Nice to meet you.
me 9:57 PM See you!
Leo Ufimtsev 9:57 PM See you next time :-=
Will Monroe 9:57 PM You too! Mabye next time I’ll have something to share.
Jonathan Hill 9:58 PM /me C let me get your info before we go if you don’t mind oops

Thinking about when I enjoy helping people

Sometimes I love helping people, and sometimes I feel hints of stress. I’m a good fit for some questions or approaches, and I’m not for others. What’s the difference, and how can I tilt it towards positive experiences more than negative ones? Let’s look at the negative side first, since that often gives strong clues.

2015-01-30 How can I get better at being clever on demand -- index card #emacs

2015-01-30 How can I get better at being clever on demand – index card #emacs

I tend to feel a little bit of an impostor syndrome around coaching, because I doubt my ability to be clever on demand. In terms of Emacs, I’m not a good substitute for Stack Overflow, mailing lists, or newsgroups. I’m not going to teach the One True Way of doing things. In terms of drawing, I’m not a visual thesaurus.

But I shouldn’t let this get in my way, since people don’t expect me to be those things. (And if they do, that’s under their control, not mine.) Instead, I can focus on the fact that people are often looking for a discussion of workflow options with some ideas, and that they’re going to translate those thoughts into something applicable to their situation anyway.

2015-02-09 Why do I respond differently to variants of the same question, and what can I learn from that -- index card #coaching #preference

2015-02-09 Why do I respond differently to variants of the same question, and what can I learn from that – index card #coaching #preference

I also feel a bit of friction when we start from a negative position (“This sucks”, “I’m frustrated”, etc.) instead of a positive one (“I’ve figured some stuff out”, “I’m looking forward to learning this”, etc.). I can filter it out when I pay attention, but it feels easier to build up something positive than to shore up something that’s sloping downwards.

I think part of it is the difficulty of distinguishing these situations:

  • someone who isn’t ready to change, but who wants to vent
  • someone who wants to change, but who’s frustrated at being stuck
  • someone who’s uncomfortable with being a beginner (still attached to the feeling of competence?)

Actually, the first situation can be identified by focusing on action. The third situation is a matter of mindset and patience. For the second situation, how can you tell the difference between something that will eventually become a good fit after practice and learning, and something that just doesn’t jive with what someone wants? Hmm. I think this is why I like focusing on building a tiny beachhead of happy competence first, because it’s frustrating to deal with the feeling of constantly running into walls.

On my side, it’s not fun to only see the parts where someone bumping into walls. I feel much better when people share their triumphs and excitement, too, instead of just presenting me with the next thing that annoys them. It’s like the criticism sandwich. I want to hear about stuff people like, not just stuff that needs to be fixed. In fact, I prefer it even more if people use something similar to my “How can we make this even better?” mindset: talk about what works and how we can improve.

Hmm. Since I do this voluntarily and I benefit a lot from focusing on people who energize me, perhaps I should just redirect people whose learning styles, stages, or mindsets aren’t a good fit for my own. A number of people offer paid-for services for the kinds of things people often ask me about, so I can refer work to them. Someone who isn’t ready to change won’t bother investing. Someone who’s frustrated at being stuck can more easily value help in moving forward. Someone who’s uncomfortable with being a beginner can benefit from the attention. But there’s no obligation for me to do that kind of emotional work for free, and I don’t need to earn money that way either.

So if I reduce the kind of help I don’t like to give, what kind of help would I like to focus on?

2015-02-06 What kind of coaching do I like to give -- index card #coaching #teaching

2015-02-06 What kind of coaching do I like to give – index card #coaching #teaching

I love it when people write about what they’re learning in blog posts or other ways to share with the community. I think the reflection time is important, and it helps me build on their understanding. I like reading blogs as a way to keep in touch. Best yet, blogging brings them closer to the community, so they (and I!) can learn from other people’s comments.

Few people blog. Sometimes people are intimidated by the thought of posting mistakes or not explaining things well enough. I think that’s actually one of the best reasons to write, since then you can learn more. Maybe requiring them to write blog posts (even rough notes) will demystify the process. It’s also a good way to see who takes action.

2015-01-15 What if I required people to pay it forward -- #workingoutloud #sharing #teaching

2015-01-15 What if I required people to pay it forward – #workingoutloud #sharing #teaching

Sometimes I take questions and turn them into blog posts myself. While this is useful, I don’t want to rely on it. If I do most of the writing, I benefit from the additional thought and connection, but I’m limited to what I can write about. I’d rather build up more voices in the community.

Hmm. There’s an abundance of questions to explore or topics to write about, so questions from other people are nice to have but not essential. On the other hand, questions from other people are helpful at identifying gaps so that I can fill them. So I’m a little divided on this, although I’m leaning towards requiring blog posts as a way for me to focus on people who create lots of value. These don’t have to be amazing, eloquent, insightful posts either. Rough notes with questions, ideas, or code is fine. The important thing is that the knowledge doesn’t get stuck in e-mail or in conversation.

2015-02-09 What characterizes people I like helping -- index card #coaching #preference

2015-02-09 What characterizes people I like helping – index card #coaching #preference

There’s an interesting idea there. Let’s say that there are a few people for whom my preferred way of teaching/learning is an excellent natural fit. If I focus my resources on those people, we might be able to accelerate each other’s learning tremendously. There might be more people who are somewhat compatible with my preferred way of teaching/learning. Maybe all they need is the nudge to try out blogging, for example. I can create resources to help them bridge the gap, or give quick tips here and there. There are also lots of people whose preferred ways of learning don’t mesh well with mine. It’s okay if they find other sources of help for now. As I grow, I’ll get better at handling a diversity of learning approaches, so I might intersect with them someday too.

2015-01-08 Imagining coaching or guiding others -- index card

2015.01.08 Imagining coaching or guiding others – index card

So maybe wild success looks like this: someone describes what they want to do and where they’re getting stuck or what they’re curious about. I suggest a couple of approaches, and maybe we explore them together. These experiences get turned into blog posts, and the blog posts generate more ideas and conversations. (They might even get compiled into books and courses.) The nature of the conversation is such that we’re both excited about learning, we both learn interesting things, and we both contribute to the greater community.

I like that. I think that’s worth investing time in. It feels selfish to say, “I’ll help here, but not there,” or to tell someone, “The way I work right now might not be a good fit for the way you work.” But if I take a step back and think of the other things that I could direct my time and energy to, it makes sense to try to allocate them where they would produce the most value. Hmm…

A reflection on otium

Still working on working on my own things.

Otio qui nescit uti . . .
plus negoti habet quam cum est negotium in negotio ;
nam cui quod agat institutumst non ullo negotio
id agit, id studet, ibi mentem atque animum delectat suum:
otioso in otio animus nescit quid velit
Hoc idem est ; em neque domi nunc nos nee militiae sumus;
imus hue, hinc illuc; cum illuc ventum est, ire illinc Iubet.
Incerte errat animus, praeterpropter vitam vivitur.

He who does not know how to use leisure . . .
has more of work than when there is work in work.
For to whom a task has been set, he does the work,
desires it, and delights his own mind and intellect:
in leisure, a mind does not know what it wants.
The same is true (of us); we are neither at home or in the battlefield;
we go here and there, and wherever there is a movement, we are there too.
The mind wanders unsure, except in that life is lived.

Ennius’ Iphigenia (~190BC), quoted in Wikipedia

I feel embarrassed to write about this because it’s such a privileged situation. “Oh, gee, whatever shall you do with your spare time? Gosh, I wish I had that problem! Now stop rubbing it in.” And I can imagine all sorts of quick answers I’d be happy with. I’m at least 80% happy with the solution of using my time to learn, code, draw, write, and share.

But there’s a question somewhere in here, and I want to explore it from time to time. I’m not sure what the question is, but maybe I can think around it so that I can sneak up on it.

What would answering this question look like? I don’t think I’ll get to the point where I’ll say to myself: “Aha, I have Answered This Question, and now I know how I should spend my leisure time for the rest of my life.” Hmm. No, I think I’m mostly looking for the feeling that I’m not making a huge mistake, that I’m not wasting my life, that there are people I look up to who have made similar choices.

Huh. That sounds promising. I think I feel more settled if I had more-developed mental counselors who’ve explored this type of lifestyle – something different from ambition and careerism, but also something different from private life or dissipation. The Wikipedia article on otium suggests people to learn more about, such as Seneca, Petrarch, Theophrastus, Aristotle, and Epicurus.

There’s also something interesting there about the idea of activities that justify leisure, lifting it up above idleness. Cognitio and contemplatio, studio and quies… (ref) And maybe both “contemplation and practical action” (ibid.).

So maybe there are three questions here:

  • Who are the role models and companions who can guide me as I try to do this better?
  • How can I improve how I use my leisure time?
  • How should I feel about how I use my leisure time? Satisfaction reduces energy lost to frustration and opens up a relaxed way of thinking, but can also lead to wasted opportunities.

This reminds me of my post on Thinking about leisure activities: noble, advantageous, pleasant. Activities have differently-valued results. Playing video games sometimes leads to shared jokes and personal delight at the designers’ cleverness, but pales in comparison to other things I can do, so my LEGO Marvel Super Heroes languishes at 57.8%. Cooking results in temporary personal and familial value, but doesn’t benefit the wider world. Writing and Emacs geekery benefit a tiny niche, although sometimes I suspect that most of the benefit is personal rather than public.

Hence the temptation of consulting: clear benefit to myself (increased skills), my household (increased safety), and the team (increased capabilities), and possible benefit for tens of thousands of people.

And it’s also tempting to procrastinate the questions, focusing on easy answers like consulting and writing and geeking out about Emacs. They might be the sort of questions that resolve themselves, as my responsibilities and interests evolve. They might be the sort of questions that are easier to answer with more experience and skill. I’ve been reading about how the reasonable economic principle of ignoring sunk costs and focusing on marginal costs can bias established companies towards sticking with what they know, and it occurs to me that people are quite similar in this regard; the smooth groove of habit or expertise can be a rut that’s hard to get out of.

Hmm. I notice that some of the oddness comes from looking at leisure as work, as something to improve – to do more efficiently or more effectively. (This reminds me of this Yiddish saying: “Sleep faster, we need the pillows.”) If I want to, I can accept this attitude, managing myself with projects and timelines. But I’m curious about leisure as leisure, the thoughts you can think when you are unhurried. At the same time, there is this fear of being a slacker – the indolence of a couch potato or the isolation of an ivory tower.

So, something about people who set aside space for leisure, didn’t treat it like work, and yet accomplished useful things. This forces me to confront my definition of “useful.” What do I mean? An effect that lives beyond them. One could argue that spending time with friends or family can have diffuse results that outlive you, but I think I want something else in addition to that. Maybe to add to what we know.

And here something philosophical in me points out: “Why desire to be remembered? When you are dust, it won’t matter. Millions of people have lived and died without their names being remembered past a few generations.”

To which I say, “Okay, maybe it doesn’t matter that I am remembered, but it would be nice to know that something useful has been added.”

Then this inner philosopher says, “Were you waiting for a certificate? Here it is. You have done something that at least one other person has found useful. Whatever you leave undone, someone else will do, or it wasn’t needed anyway. How big of an impact do you need for your ego to be satisfied?”

And then I say, “Now that you put it that way, it doesn’t make that much sense. It’s one more thing to let go.” Slowly making progress. (The doubt pipes up again: “But should I let go? What if letting go is the wasteful thing to do here?” Tenacious, that thing.)

As for role models – I am not a special snowflake. There are countless people who live or have lived aspects of the life I’m figuring out. It doesn’t even have to be a majority-leisure life; I can learn from people who meditatively use the pockets of time they have each day. I can learn through habit and observation: instead of trying to think my way to the answers up front, I can try a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and I can reflect on the results.

It’s difficult to relax, but I’m learning.

How can I make better use of my index card drawing process?

I really like this practice of working with index cards, especially now that I’ve sorted out a sweet digital workflow for them.

2015-02-10 Evolution of my index card workflow -- index card #drawing #workflow

2015-02-10 Evolution of my index card workflow – index card #drawing #workflow

I started with a straightforward workflow:

  1. Think of a question.
  2. Draw it on a paper index card.
  3. After I complete 5+ index cards, scan the cards.
  4. Convert and process the cards (colouring, etc.).
  5. Rename the cards.
  6. Upload the cards.
  7. Add them to my Flickr set (and to blog posts and so on).

I replaced my Flickr uploading process with a script. Then I replaced the paper index cards with digital index cards. I wrote another script to make renaming files easier. Then I built an outline of questions and used that to create index card templates. So now my workflow looks like this:

  1. I use Org Mode in Emacs to collect and organize questions. I use TODO states to track ones that need further research, ones that are ready to be drawn, and ones that are ready to be blogged.
  2. When I switch to tablet mode, I can select questions to draw using a custom pen-friendly Emacs interface that sets up the template for me.
  3. I upload the images using another script and add the links to my outline.

After I draft the blog post, I use another bit of code to move the relevant images out of my “To blog” directory and into another directory so that I can easily upload them (since I still haven’t tweaked the all-Emacs way of doing things the way I want them).

An index card is a good size for a chunk. It’s smaller than a blog post, so I can accelerate my learn-do-share-review cycle. If I invest more time into creating, organizing, and sharing them, I think they’ll pay off well. Other people report that their Zettelkasten (index card organization systems) become almost like conversational partners and collaborators. I already feel that way about my blog archive, and it will probably be even more

Hmm… Should I add a unique identifier to sketches so that I can refer to them more concisely than giving the full link? This mostly matters for referring to sketches in the drawing itself, since I can use links in text or metadata. For example, I can assign codes to each chunk, possibly differentiating between sketches (letters?) and blog posts (numbers?). So, maybe “2015-01-01a” for the first sketch on January 1, and “2015-01-01-1″ for the first blog post? I could omit the dashes, but then searching requires that mental translation, so we’ll keep the dashes in there. The downside is that there’ll be a little additional clutter, but it might be interesting to experiment with – adding a reference line, and maybe even adding the info to the filename. It gives some linking capability that can survive the disparate systems I publish sketches to (my blog, Evernote, Flickr), even for sketches that don’t get turned into blog posts.

What about my 5-cards-a-day target?

2015-02-08 Reflection on 5 index cards a day target -- index card #drawing #reflection

2015-02-08 Reflection on 5 index cards a day target – index card #drawing #reflection

Sometimes making five cards feels like a stretch, since I have to Think Interesting Thoughts. Using templates can help – I could make four cards and a journal entry, for example. I expect the awkwardness will subside as I build up my question store and do more research/experimentation.

Colour slows me down if I think about it too much or worry about becoming too repetitive. It might be fine to just quickly highlight things most of the time and save the development of colour sense for sessions of deliberate practice.

2015-02-09 How can I make better use of my index card drawing process -- index card #drawing #index-cards #zettelkasten

2015-02-09 How can I make better use of my index card drawing process – index card #drawing #index-cards #zettelkasten

In terms of thinking, spending the extra few minutes to think about and capture the next questions or actions for a card can make a big difference in my focus. I can also relax my chunking guidelines so that a single sketch can be fleshed out into a quick blog post instead of waiting until I accumulate several sketches related to the topic – taking my own advice to schedule Minimum Viable Posts. If I phrase my outline in terms of questions instead of keywords, I’ll probably find that more motivating and easier to scope.

2015-02-09 How can I make better use of my laptop -- index card #tech

2015-02-09 How can I make better use of my laptop – index card #tech

That will probably also help me with some of the bottlenecks I identified while contemplating how I can make better use of my laptop. I’m doing okay at generating questions and drawing index cards, but I can do better at translating those ideas into research, experiments, and blog posts. So, I can clear out more of my backlog of index cards that I want to share (probably ending up with two months of scheduled blog posts, or maybe even more!). Then I can research and try out more ideas, so I’m not just drawing questions that I can answer with what’s currently in my head. =)