Improving my evil plans for Emacs

Mwahahaha. My evil plans are yielding results, or at least that’s the impression I get because I’m learning so much from people who tell me that they found my blog helpful years ago. Even more recent experiments bear fruit: punchagan checked out Memacs because of my Emacs Chat with Karl Voit, and ended up writing a blog post about using the Emacs profiler.

2015-01-17 My Evil Plans for Emacs are yielding results -- index card #emacs #sharing

2015-01-17 My Evil Plans for Emacs are yielding results – index card #emacs #sharing

This makes me curious: What am I doing right, and how can I do it even better?

Looking at my Emacs posts, it seems I mostly write about figuring things out (and occasionally about cool things I’ve come across). People like the enthusiasm, and they sometimes pick up cool ideas too. The Emacs Hangouts and Emacs Chats are my way of working around my limitations; I don’t particularly like travel and I’m not up to organizing in-person meetups, but virtual meetups let me reach out to more people (and we can record the conversations more easily, too).

What are my goals?

  • I want to get better at using Emacs, because it’s useful and it tickles my brain
  • I want to help more people become intermediate and advanced users of Emacs, because then I get to learn from them (and also Emacs thrives as a community). I can do this by:
    • Showing people the benefits and possibilities of customization
    • Working out loud, showing my thought processes and the tools/libraries I use
    • Helping people develop a good mindset and handy skills
    • Sharing little tips and neat functions

How can I get even better at helping the Emacs community?

2014-04-26 Helping the Emacs community #emacs

2014-04-26 Helping the Emacs community #emacs

I really like the way (or emacs has daily Emacs snippets and Rubikitch describes Emacs packages in Japanese. I think I’ll slowly ramp up from once-a-weekish Emacs posts to maybe twice or three times a week. I have more posts already scheduled, but I just spread them out so that my non-geek readers don’t get overwhelmed.

Guides

Because I’m interested in things that tend to be idiosyncratic (workflows, customizations, etc.), I have a hard time making clear recommendations or putting tips into logical order. That’s probably why I do a lot more “thinking out loud”-type posts instead. I can experiment with identifying who might find a tip useful, extract the tips from my thinking-out-loud explorations, and gradually build up sets of related tips that way.

2015-01-16 Hmm – not guides but explorations – index card #sharing #packaging

I did actually manage to put together one guide (How to Read Lisp and Tweak Emacs) and half of another A Baby Steps Guide to Managing Your Tasks With Org. The sketches for How to Learn Emacs and Tips for Learning Org Mode are high-level guides, too.

Microhabits

I’ve been going back to the basics, working on developing even better Emacs microhabits. I’ve focused on two so far: abbreviating text and switching windows.I think there’s plenty of space to improve even in terms of taking advantage of what’s already out there (with minimal configuration along the lines of setting variables and keyboard shortcuts). And then there are even bigger opportunities to improve through customization and Emacs Lisp.

Helping people directly

I’ve mentioned coaching a few times. Bastien Guerry and a few other folks offer coaching as a service. Me, I’m not particularly familiar with the kinds of issues people run into or are curious about (ex: Mac OS X, programming mode setup). I’m mostly curious about workflow, and I’m happy to talk to people about that. It could be a good source of ideas for blog posts.

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

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

When I ran my Google Helpouts experiments, I turned many of those tips into blog posts. I think that would be even more effective if people wrote up those tips themselves (it’ll reinforce their learning and it will bring them into the community), so I’ve been playing with the idea of strongly encouraging or even requiring write-ups.

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

Unrealistic, but one can dream. Or one can focus on helping people who are already sharing their questions and ideas in blog posts or discussion forums, so that’s another approach. There’s no shortage of questions, that’s for sure.

Hangouts

I like Emacs Hangouts more than one-on-one coaching. Hangouts are public and recorded automatically, so people can learn from them even if no one has posted notes. It’s shaping up to be a wonderful peer-coaching sort of thing, which is good because I don’t have to be so worried about not being able to help at all. I wonder what this would be like with a bit of a mastermind group structure; maybe we each pick a microhabit or idea to work on for the month (or for two weeks), we help each other out, and then we report back at the next one. That way, there’s casual conversation and discovery, but there’s also purpose and motivation.

2015-01-08 Imagining Emacs hangouts - index card

2015-01-08 Imagining Emacs hangouts – index card

2015-01-16 Emacs community -- index card #emacs

2015-01-16 Emacs community – index card #emacs

Connecting with more parts of the Emacs community

Evil-mode users are a growing part of the Emacs community. Maybe I should try it out to get a better sense of what the experience is like for people who are coming into Emacs via evil-mode. Besides, composability might be an interesting mental tool to add to my toolkit.

2015-01-18 Thinking about evil-mode and Emacs -- index card #emacs

2015-01-18 Thinking about evil-mode and Emacs – index card #emacs

Wrapping up

Maybe I can get better at helping the Emacs community by:

  • Focusing on those micro-habits and sharing what I learn (good for helping intermediate users develop a better appreciation of Emacs)
  • Playing with more workflow improvements and sharing them
  • Writing about how to tinker with popular packages like Org
  • Reaching out through blog comments and Emacs Hangouts to help people learn (in a publicly recorded way)
  • Bringing out what people know through Emacs Hangouts and Emacs Chats (especially if people know cool things but haven’t gotten around to writing about them)

Helping me get better at helping the Emacs community (my selfish reason: so that I learn more from people) can also support your evil plans (your selfish reason: so that you can learn more from me and from other people). Any suggestions? Tell me what I’m doing right and should do more of / better at, or tell me about somewhat adjacent things that are easy to do – low-hanging fruit! =)

Minimizing upward or downward skew in your sketchnotes

When drawing without rules or grid lines, you might find your writing skew a little upwards or downwards. I tend to skew upwards, like the way I do in the image below:

2014-11-12 What are the things I want to learn more quickly, and what would that look like?

2014-11-12 What are the things I want to learn more quickly, and what would that look like?

Minimizing skew gives you a more polished sketchnote, and you don’t end up with awkward space at the upper right or bottom right corner. It’s usually better to correct for this while drawing, since rotating images can result in fuzziness or the need to move things around to fit.

Here are some general tips for minimizing skew.

In general, it helps if you write narrower columns of text, since skew becomes more noticeable the longer your lines get. If you write in narrow columns or with short phrases, you can correct for skew by making part of the next line a little larger.

If you want, you can also mix angles so that the variety is an intentional part of your design.

If you draw on small sheets of paper or in notebooks, you can:

  • Rotate the paper so that it’s perpendicular to your usual writing angle. With experience, you’ll get a sense of how much you normally skew and how much you need to rotate what you’re drawing on in order to compensate for that.
  • Look at the edges of the paper as a guide. If you write your first line while looking at the top edge of your paper, you might find it easier to keep that perpendicular to the edge. Then you can use that as the guide for the next line, and so on.
  • Look at everything as a whole. Every so often, take a step back and look at your drawing in progress. This will help you spot skew, imbalance, and other things you can tweak while you’re drawing.
  • Draw with a guide sheet underneath your paper. If your paper is thin enough, you might be able to see lines or grids printed on a sheet slipped underneath what you’re drawing on. If so, you can use it as an invisible guide.
  • Consider using paper with very light grids or lines on it. You can leave the grid or lines as is, or you might be able to remove the grid or lines after scanning.

If you draw on large-scale rolls of paper, you can:

  • Stand up straight and use your body as a guide. With practice, you can get the hang of drawing perpendicularly to your body. Good posture helps. Of course, when you tape up your paper, make sure that it’s parallel to the floor.
  • Look at the top or bottom edge of the paper as a guide. Looking at a straight line while writing can help you write in a straight line too.
  • Step back and look at everything. This is a good time to check for balance, skew, and other things you can fix while drawing.

If you draw on a tablet or on a computer, writing in straight lines is much easier. If your drawing program supports layers, you can use one layer to show a light grid while you draw on another layer. This also helps you keep your sizes consistent even if you’re working zoomed in. Lock your grid layer so that you don’t accidentally draw on it. I use a dot grid when sketching. You can download the template I use, if you want.

Hope that helps you minimize skew in your sketches!

Weekly review: Week ending January 16, 2015

This was a good week for writing code: little utilities to help me manage my sketches and Evernote entries, some code for my consulting client, and so forth.

The Emacs microhabit I focused on was switching windows. I found that C-u C-u with ace-window (which I’ve bound to C-x o) is handy for deleting windows, and binding a windmove-type keymap to the yy keychord is useful for switching windows with my cursor keys.

Next week, I’ve got an Emacs Chat with Steve Purcell. Looking forward to it!

Blog posts

Link round-up

Sketches

  1. 2015.01.10 Favourite meals – index card #cooking
  2. 2015.01.10 How did schools of philosophy work in ancient Greece and Rome – index card #independence #philosophy
  3. 2015.01.10 Lessons from ancient Rome – index card #philosophy
  4. 2015.01.10 More about philosophers – index card #independence
  5. 2015.01.10 The idea of the Minimum Viable Post – index card #writing #blogging
  6. 2015.01.10 What is the goal of my tracking – index card #quantified
  7. 2015.01.10 What questions do I want to explore with data – index card #quantified
  8. 2015.01.10 Writing into the future – index card #writing #blogging
  9. 2015.01.11 Current state and future states – index card #writing
  10. 2015.01.11 Learning from what I like about books – index card #writing
  11. 2015.01.11 Making better use of Evernote – index card #evernote
  12. 2015.01.11 Neko sleeping – index card #cat
  13. 2015.01.11 Snacks we can make – index card #cooking
  14. 2015.01.11 What makes a good other-focused post – index card #writing
  15. 2015.01.12 Considering ideas for QS mini-guide – index card #quantified #planning
  16. 2015.01.12 Emacs microhabit – window management – index card #emacs
  17. 2015.01.12 How I stopped looking for answers – index card #reading
  18. 2015.01.12 More thoughts about QS mini-guide – index card #quantified #planning
  19. 2015.01.12 Quantified Self and small steps – index card #quantified
  20. 2015.01.12 Reverse outlining – index card #writing #organization #outlining
  21. 2015.01.12 Structure for QS mini-guide on small steps – index card #quantified
  22. 2015.01.12 Undirected questions versus directed questions – index card #writing
  23. 2015.01.12 Weekly reviews – index card #writing
  24. 2015.01.12 What am I learning about – index card #plans
  25. 2015.01.12 What will this QS guide look and feel like – index card #quantified #planning
  26. 2015.01.12 When is Emacs a good fit – index card #emacs #beginner
  27. 2015.01.13 Emacs and the beginner’s mind – index card #emacs #beginner
  28. 2015.01.13 Evaluating posts written for others – index card #writing #questions #blogging
  29. 2015.01.13 Hacklab – index card #connecting
  30. 2015.01.13 How can I do morning index cards more effectively – index card #drawing
  31. 2015.01.13 In terms of Emacs, where can I help – index card #emacs
  32. 2015.01.13 Layout studies for QS mini-guide – index card #study
  33. 2015.01.13 Other Emacs mindset tips – index card #emacs #beginner
  34. 2015.01.13 Using Node as a scripting tool – index card #javascript #nodejs #coding #scripting
  35. 2015.01.13 Visual studies for QS mini-guide – index card #study
  36. 2015.01.13 What’s getting in my way when it comes to reverse outlining – index card #outlining #writing #obstacle
  37. 2015.01.14 Breaking down excuses – index card #excuses #breakdown
  38. 2015.01.14 Filling in the occupational blanks – index card #experiment #occupation
  39. 2015.01.14 How to keep your drink safe from cats – index card #life #cats
  40. 2015.01.14 Projecting my trajectory – index card #writing #sharing #pipeline
  41. 2015.01.14 Projecting my writing trajectory – index card #writing
  42. 2015.01.14 Setting constraints for my writing chunks – index card #writing #constraints
  43. 2015.01.14 Understanding different types of inspiration – index card #inspiration #breakdown
  44. 2015.01.14 What does it mean when something takes too much time – index card #excuses #breakdown
  45. 2015.01.15 Helping people me more selective about email questions – index card #teaching #email
  46. 2015.01.15 How to Read and Why – Harold Bloom – index card #book #raw #reading
  47. 2015.01.15 Imagining coding amazingly – index card #wildsuccess #coding
  48. 2015.01.15 Imagining packaging amazingly – index card #packaging #wildsuccess
  49. 2015.01.15 Imagining working out loud amazingly – #wildsuccess #sharing #writing
  50. 2015.01.15 Imagining writing amazingly – index card #writing #wildsuccess
  51. 2015.01.15 Planning a bibliography Org file – index card #emacs #org #reading
  52. 2015.01.15 Slowing down e-mail – index card #email #connecting #pace
  53. 2015.01.15 Think Better – Tim Hurson – index card #book #raw #thinking #creativity
  54. 2015.01.15 What if I required people to pay it forward – #workingoutloud #sharing #teaching
  55. 2015.01.15 Writing on Both Sides of Your Brain – Henriette Anne Klauser – index card #book #raw
  56. 2015.01.16 How can I improve my experience of e-mail – index card #email #kaizen
  57. 2015.01.16 How much time does it take – index card #response #question
  58. 2015.01.16 Morning routines – index card #life #routines
  59. 2015.01.16 Reflecting on reflecting with index cards – index card #thinking #drawing
  60. 2015.01.16 Thinking about why I don’t meditate – index card #reason #meditation

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (37.0h – 21%)
    • Earn (7.1h – 19% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (20.2h – 54% of Business)
      • Drawing (10.1h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (1.9h)
        • Change sketchnotes to Dropbox
      • Paperwork (0.2h)
      • Upload image to Flickr using node
      • Make a cal-heatmap of my Flickr
      • Simplify Gemfile in order to improve Travis CI performance for Quantified Awesome
      • Parse XML from Evernote and extract all the journal entries
      • Fix cucumber for travis
    • Connect (9.7h – 26% of Business)
      • Talk to journalist about Quantified Self
      • Send resources to journalist
      • Photograph for Star
      • Go to Quantified Self Toronto meetup
      • Check out Sketchnote Hangout
      • Brainstorm ideas for final project in learning course
      • Check out #lrnbook
  • Relationships (1.6h – 0%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (21.8h – 13%)
    • Emacs (1.6h – 0% of all)
      • Set up next Emacs Hangout and announce on mailing list
      • Make sure Emacs Chat is set up on iTunes
      • Set up schedule
      • Update EmacsWiki:Yasnippet
      • Blog about most recent Emacs Hangout
      • [#A] Create Emacs Chat event on Google+ for chat with Steve Purcell
      • Get node to store Org links, oooh
      • Finish Avdi’s transcript
      • Revise transcript for Magnar Sveen
      • Research tidbits for Emacs Chat
      • Clean up uDemy formatting for Emacs Basics
      • Have Emacs Chat with Steve Purcell
      • Contribute to Yasnippet docs
      • Try out Tern
    • Writing (11.2h)
      • Outline mini-guide for QS small steps
      • Revise writing post to include images
    • Ask two guarantors for passport
    • Dip into Learning How to Learn course
      • Complete quiz 3
    • Pick up my lunch
    • Redeposit into TFSA
    • Review dangling sketches and posts
    • Start bibliography Org file
    • Apply for passport
    • Invest in bonds in TFSA
  • Discretionary – Play (4.7h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (25.4h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (15.0h – 8%)
  • Sleep (62.5h – 37% – average of 8.9 per day)

Drawing thoughts on index cards

I’ve got quite a backlog of posts I want to publish, but I’ll squeeze this one in first. I want to think about how I can make the most of this new old (2011!) index card habit, and whether I should reconsider that voluntary bottleneck of publishing one post a day.

For the past two weeks, I’ve drawn at least five index cards each day. (You can find them on Flickr.) Each card explores a single thought. I like the way this lets me briefly capture what I’m curious about. I’ve included many of them in blog posts, grouping several thoughts into a larger chunk that’s easier to link to.

Still, at the present rate, my monthly review for January will link to well over 150 sketches. Perhaps I’ll change the monthly review section to list only the sketches that haven’t made it into blog posts yet. I’ve been keeping a digital equivalent of the roughly-sorted piles of index cards on my desk. It helps me see growing clusters of ideas and choose ones I want to develop with additional sketches or summarize into blog posts.

2015-01-14 Projecting my writing trajectory -- index card #writing

2015-01-14 Projecting my writing trajectory – index card #writing

Also, at the present rate of writing 1-3 blog posts a day (except for Thursdays, when I focus on consulting, and the weekends, when I focus on household life), I will keep accumulating scheduled posts. At some point, this will become unwieldy. It doesn’t make sense to schedule posts a year in advance. Even a backlog of three months seems too disconnected.

I can spend less time writing, but I’ve firmly wired it into the way I learn, so that’s hard. Alternatively, I could spend more time writing, developing thoughts over more time and packing denser experiences into a post. This approach might work.

2015-01-14 Projecting my trajectory -- index card #writing #sharing #pipeline

2015-01-14 Projecting my trajectory – index card #writing #sharing #pipeline

I can also get ideas out in other ways. My blog is the main archive I trust, but I can give myself permission to share one-off sketches on Twitter. For example, this sketch about keeping your drink safe from cats: it’s not quite a blog post and I don’t think I’ll develop the thought further, but it might be okay to share it on its own.

So, if I write blog posts for the thoughts that are already developed and tweets for the one-offs that won’t be developed further, that leaves the ideas that are waiting to be developed. They wait because I’m still figuring things out, or because they aren’t quite connected to other thoughts, or because my attention has moved on to other things. In Toyota Production System terms, they are muda – waste because of waiting or possible over-production.

I want to do better. What are some ways I can improve at this?

2015-01-16 Reflecting on reflecting with index cards -- index card #thinking #drawing

2015-01-16 Reflecting on reflecting with index cards – index card #thinking #drawing

 

2015-01-13 How can I do morning index cards more effectively -- index card #drawing

2015.01.13 How can I do morning index cards more effectively – index card #drawing

One way to reduce waste is to reduce quantity. Is five a good number for index cards, or should I reduce it to three? I think five works well for me. It forces me to dig deeper into a topic or to capture some of the other thoughts I have floating around.

Another way to reduce the waste in this process is to be more focused. If I think about and articulating 2-3 key questions for the week, that might guide most of my index cards. But then interesting ideas come up during the week, and I draw lots of cards for those as well. I turn many of my index cards into blog posts on the same day, so within each day, there’s focus. If I try to use any “extra” index cards to build on a previously-drawn thought, that helps me connect.

A third way is to reduce my attachment and let things go. Perhaps I might decide that after I make a monthly index of unblogged cards, I’ll clear that index and archive the physical cards. That way, each month starts fresh, but I still have the ability to go back and look for those roughly-categorized cards in case I have an idea that’s strongly connected to that. I don’t have to worry about visualizing this archive, tracking my statistics, using all the dangling threads, or getting to 100% use.

So that can help me deal with index cards, but what about blog posts? The benefits of limiting my blog to one post a day are:

  • I occasionally add to or revise a scheduled post, especially with feedback from sharing drafts
  • I can schedule different kinds of posts for a week, turning my sprint-type learning into a variety that helps readers
  • People don’t get as overwhelmed (although daily posts are already more frequent than most other blogs do, and I’m pleasantly boggled that this is the most frequent option chosen by people subscribing to the mailing list)

The downsides are:

  • If I write something useful, whoever searches for it while it’s in hidden draft mode won’t come across it, but I guess that’s almost the same as if I hadn’t written it at all
  • It delays the feedback cycle
  • Sometimes posts get out of date

One option is to go back to publishing two posts during the weekend: a weekly review, and maybe another thinking-out-loud/reflection post, since that’s the one that has the most surplus.

Another option is to post two times a day. I’m a little less keen on that, although it might be doable if I can keep my main archive but split off specific, lower-traffic, topic-focused views that people can subscribe to.

A third option is to write longer posts. I find my constraints on chunk size to be helpful, so maybe not.

Hmm. Maybe I’ll publish two posts during weekends, and then revisit this when I find myself scheduling three months out… =) Suggestions?

Thoughts in context: Connecting posts to my blog post index

I’ve been thinking about how to improve the inter-post organization of my blog so that I can write more effectively and so that other people can find things faster. I often link to posts I’ve previously written, but I rarely update old posts to link forward to other related posts. There are quite a few internal linking plugins for WordPress, but they seem more slanted towards SEO and keywords than I’d like.

I wanted to come up with another approach that could take advantage of the big outline of my blog posts at http://sachachua.com/index that I update every month. I’ve found this to be pretty handy for organizing things into finer categories instead of going back and updating lots of posts in WordPress. I can search this easily on my computer by using helm-swoop, and I can move things around using Org Mode.

It got me thinking: Is there a way I can make it easier to connect posts to the index so that if people find an old post useful, they can explore related posts?

So here’s what I came up with: a small See in index link at the end of the post.

2014-12-08 16_45_13-sacha chua __ living an awesome life - Page 2 of 1159 - learn - share - scale

Index link on old posts

Not all the posts are indexed yet, but for those that are, clicking on that link will open up the blog index and scroll it to the right post, highlighting the match, so people can see what else is in the neighbourhood.

2014-12-08 16_45_33-sacha chua __ blog

Matching link

To make this work, I added the following HTML code to my blog index:

<script type="text/javascript">
// from http://www.jquerybyexample.net/2012/06/get-url-parameters-using-jquery.html
function getURLParameter(sParam)
{
    var sPageURL = window.location.search.substring(1);
    var sURLVariables = sPageURL.split('&');
    for (var i = 0; i < sURLVariables.length; i++)
    {
        var sParameterName = sURLVariables[i].split('=');
        if (sParameterName[0] == sParam)
        {
            return sParameterName[1];
        }
    }
}

function sachaScrollToBlog() {
  if (getURLParameter("url")) {
    var link = $('a[href="' + getURLParameter("url") + '"]');
    if (link.length > 0) { 
      $('html, body').scrollTop(link.offset().top - 100);
      link.addClass("highlighted");
    } else {
      alert("Sorry, could not find post in index.");
    }
  }
}

$(document).ready(sachaScrollToBlog);
</script>
<style type="text/css">
a.highlighted { background-color: yellow; padding: 10px }
</style>

Then I added this to the post.php and single.php for my WordPress theme:

<?php
if (get_the_date('Y') >= '2008' && get_the_date('Y-m') < date('Y-m', time() - 60 * 60 * 24 * 7 * 2)) {
  print '<a href="http://pages.sachachua.com/sharing/blog.html?url=' . get_permalink() . '">See in index</a>';
}
?>

The date condition is there to minimize frustration. I’ve indexed posts published 2008 or later, and I usually post an updated index within the first half of the month. I might spend some time indexing older posts; if I do, I’ll update the starting position.

It would be interesting to refine my writing workflow so that my blog index is always up to date. That way, even new posts will have this magic indexing power. It might be difficult to get that squared up with my scheduling, though, since I sometimes write a few weeks in advance. Anyway, neat, huh? This should make the archives marginally more useful. =) Good for me too!

Think more effectively by typing to yourself

Whenever I need to think, I often switch to my text editor and start typing. Whether I’m coding, debugging, making decisions, or simply figuring things out, I find that typing helps a lot.

Typing keeps a record of your thoughts, which is invaluable when it comes to untangling complexities or picking up where you left off after interruptions. Typing feels more socially acceptable than talking to yourself out loud. You don’t interrupt other people’s thoughts. You might even look like you’re doing serious work – which thinking is, but it’s sometimes less obvious when you’re just staring into the distance. You feel a sense of progress, and you can stop yourself from endlessly retreading the same topics.

I sketch my thoughts on paper if I want to play around with visuals or if I want the big picture, but typing feels more useful for having internal conversation, including links and references, and covering lots of ground.

I type at ~120 words per minute, which lets me keep up with my thoughts. I think faster than this, or at least I think I do. But when I think without typing, I often feel my mind jitter between topics like a squirrel on a sugar rush. Handwriting is too slow, talking out loud too ephemeral. Typing is just right. It slows me down just enough to keep my thoughts coherent.

(And really, when I measured how fast I type when I’m copying something and how fast I type when I’m coming up with something from scratch, the result was clear: thinking is the slow part of this process, not typing.)

I often use typing as a way of talking to myself, much like you would talk to someone over social media or instant messaging. I ask myself questions. I explore my uncertainties. I tell myself things that I know or that I want to find out. I put on different hats, adopt different perspectives. I make progress, and I can see that progress. Sometimes it almost feels like I’m simply transcribing a conversation that I’m observing. I can focus on typing and let my thoughts go where they want.

Typing lets me write and think non-linearly. I jump around, fleshing out points, following up on thoughts. Sometimes I organize my thoughts into outlines or link between ideas. As I type, I notice interesting questions or ideas and mark them as TODOs. I can flag them without losing my train of thought or worrying that I’ll forget about them.

At the end, when I’ve written my way towards understanding or resolution, I can step back to get a better look at the choices I’ve considered and my reasons for choosing. I’ve got something that I can extract TODOs from or even neaten up into a blog post. I keep the rough notes in my journal, which is part structured review and part brain-dump of whatever I’m thinking about. That way, I can review these notes, months later, to improve my understanding, see if I made the right decision, and think about what else I would like to learn or do next.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my journal entries:

What’s good to do now, after the sketchnote?

I should focus on other things, I think – limiting flow to encourage balance and planning ahead instead. Besides, I already have three sketchnotes queued. I don’t need to draw my way into February, and I can learn from people’s feedback in order to improve the next sketch. So it’s okay to spread it out to one sketch every other day or so. I’ll try a two-week publishing frequency first, and then I’ll up it to weekly if I manage to queue enough. (Editorial Calendar is handy!)

I think it would be interesting to tweak Emacs to make this sketchnoting workflow even more effective.

How would I do that?

Well, for starters, I can write some Emacs Lisp that copies my basic template, renames it appropriately, adds the date, adds the property, and links to the file. Wouldn’t that be cool?

I wonder if i can drive the redirection from Emacs Lisp as well. I don’t have to do it in WordPress, after all. I can get a snippet that I can copy and paste into the Nginx site configuration for sketchedbooks. Mwahahaha.

Typing to yourself is even more effective when you’re trying to write or debug code. I use Org Mode for Emacs, so it’s easy for me to include links to StackOverflow answers that I’m trying to apply, source blocks with code I’m experimenting with, descriptions of approaches I want to try… If the comic “This is why you shouldn’t interrupt a programmer” resonates with you, then you know how useful it is to have notes on what you’re trying to figure out.

If you’re frustrated when you can’t pin down your thoughts, if you find yourself circling topics but not making much progress, consider typing to yourself. If you don’t type fast enough and you find yourself getting annoyed, invest the time in learning how to type faster so that you can reduce the friction. If you type fast enough to keep up with your thoughs, try using a conversational approach, talking to yourself with different perspectives. Might be a handy way to think more effectively. Good luck, and tell me how that works out for you!

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