Weekly review: Week ending December 5, 2014

A combination of being mostly asleep and feeling out of sorts meant that I ended up writing this review on Tuesday instead of Sunday, but I’m backdating it so that it falls into its rightful place in the endless march of posts.

It was a good week, though! I had a great Emacs chat with Karl Voit, picking up lots of ideas for Org Mode and knowledge management. I sketchnoted a book and experimented with colour schemes. I learned more about network analysis and visualization. I helped people on my consulting gig. I made Japanese curry from scratch (I think I’ve pretty much gotten the hang of that recipe). I finished reading the Minna no Nihongo I textbook out loud, and am now looking for a good source for the second set of books.

One of my personal projects fizzled out, but oh well. C’est la vie. Can’t learn unless you take risks. Anyway, the next few weeks should have better momentum!

Blog posts


Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (24.6h – 14%)
    • Earn (6.8h – 27% of Business)
      • Prepare invoice for E1
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (15.0h – 60% of Business)
      • Drawing (10.6h)
        • Collect and catalogue different colour techniques
        • Try different approaches for colouring sketchnotes
          • Accent text
          • Background
          • Flood
          • Decorations
          • Toned text
          • Form an opinion about colour techniques
        • Colour “Inner Game of Work” sketchnote
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (1.4h)
        • Actually submit tax return
        • Revisit accounting changes
        • Review CRA message
      • Quantified Awesome
        • Investigate library renewal error
        • Review pull request simplifying Quantified Awesome setup
        • Add deletes back
        • Doublecheck that I can add note fields to a record category
      • Blog
        • Add Javascript for locating a blog post in my outline
        • Modify WordPress theme so that TOC links use permalinks but still permit efficient scrolling
        • Draw Sketchnote Army Interview response
        • Figure out how to reimport comments into Disqus
        • Fix HTTP upload error on my blog
    • Connect (2.8h – 11% of Business)
  • Relationships (1.4h – 0%)
    • Make gift
  • Discretionary – Productive (22.3h – 13%)
    • Emacs (3.1h – 1% of all)
      • Emacs Chat: Karl Voit
      • Learn about edebugging macros
      • Revise transcript for Emacs Chat: Karl Voit
    • Japanese
      • Work through Minna no Nihongo I
      • Minna no Nihongo Chapter 21
      • Minna no Nihongo Chapter 22
      • Minna no Nihongo Chapter 23
      • Minna no Nihongo Chapter 24
      • Minna no Nihongo Chapter 25
    • Writing
      • Revise post about prioritization based on Alan’s feedback
      • Sketch idea for blog link graph
      • Thinking about how to make better use of Yasnippet in my Emacs workflow
      • Visualize the connected components in my blog
    • Writing (12.6h)
  • Discretionary – Play (15.1h – 8%)
  • Personal routines (28.1h – 16%)
  • Unpaid work (12.2h – 7%)
  • Sleep (64.3h – 38% – average of 9.2 per day)

Emacs Chat: Karl Voit

Org Mode, Memacs, lazyblorg, .emacs, Yasnippet, tags . http://karl-voit.at , http://twitter.com/n0v0id , http://github.com/novoid.

Check out Karl’s notes for more details. (Or at least, you can check them out when his server is up again!)

Thanks, Karl!

Got an interesting Emacs workflow? Please share. =) Happy to bring on more people for Emacs Chats. Also, check out the upcoming Emacs Hangout on Dec 17 (8 PM Toronto)!

Check out TRANSCRIPT here!

Monthly review: November 2014

I wrote last month that in November, I planned to:

  • Get team members up to speed with prototype designs and reporting tips
  • Experiment with Emacs hangouts and learn more about functionality
  • File my corporate tax returns
  • Dust off my delegation processes

I’m glad I invested time in writing things down, building standardized reports, and coaching team members, since I ended up spending November mostly working from home (whenever I wasn’t asleep).

We experimented with casual Emacs Hangouts and those were awesome. I hosted the first one and Cameron Desautels hosted the second one. Great way to pick up tips and hang out with folks. I’m looking forward to doing more of them in December and in 2015.

I filed my corporate tax returns, yay! This year, I learned how to file HST using the quick method (which isn’t really all that quick), and I also found a bookkeeper who could help me answer some of my tax questions. Nice to get the paperwork out of the way.

Delegation-wise, I continue to be really bad at assigning tasks to my virtual assistants. On my consulting engagement, though, I’m getting better at asking team members to do stuff (providing notes and help along the way) instead of giving in to the temptation to have fun doing things myself.

I also learned more about building flexible reports using Tableau and PostgreSQL, wireframing before implementing, testing. I picked up Minna no Nihongo and started working my way through it. I learned how to make a really simple LEGO ball contraption. I mentored a young developer. I dealt with fuzzy brain, squirrel brain, and other challenges, and I figured out a few things that work well for me. (Getting things ready for good-brain time, for example.)

Also, having a process journal is great! I updated each entry by summarizing it in the headline, and now I can look at my date outline and get a quick sense of how the month went. =) Pretty well, actually, despite having lower energy than usual.

In December, I plan to:

  • Continue helping my consulting client with prototyping and analytics
  • Dive into Emacs improvement
  • Help out with family projects
  • Do a calendar-year annual review

Blog posts:



% Avg h per week Avg h per day
Sleep 41.3 69.4 9.9
Personal care 14.4 24.2 3.5
Business 14.3 24.0 3.4
Discretionary – Play 9.0 15.1 2.2
Discretionary – Productive 9.4 15.8 2.3
Discretionary – Family 6.5 10.9 1.6
Unpaid work 5.0 8.4 1.2

I’m trying a new thing in this review – I’m also using it to mark items for follow-up, like sketches that haven’t been blogged yet (0% this month, yay!) or actions to take. We’ll see if this helps me build momentum and connect the threads!


How I can improve how I organize notes with Org Mode

Let me think about how I organize my Org Mode files, and how I might improve that. =)

Separate files

You can put different things in different files, of course. I use a few large Org files instead of lots of small ones because I prefer searching within files rather than searching within directories. Separate files make sense when I want to define org-custom-agenda-commands that summarize a subset of my tasks. No sense in going through all my files if I only want the cooking-related ones.

What would help me make better use of lots of files? I can practise on my book notes, which I’ve split up into one file per book. It’s easy enough to open files based on their titles (which I put in my filenames). But I don’t have that overall sense of it yet. Maybe #+INDEX: entries, if I can get them to generate multiple hyperlinks and I have a shortcut to quickly grep across multiple files (maybe with a few lines of context)? Maybe a manual outline, an index like the one I’ve been building for my blog posts? I can work with that as a starter, I think.

Okay. So, coming at it from several directions here:

  • A manual map based on an outline with lots of links, with some links between topics as well – similar to my blog outline or to my evil plans document
  • Quick way to grep? helm-do-grep works, but my long filenames are hard to read.
  • Links between notes and to blog posts
  • TODOs, agenda views


Within each file, outlines work really well. You can create any number of headings by using *, and you can use TAB to collapse or expand headings. You can promote or demote subtrees, move them around, or even sort them.

I generally have a few high-level headings, like this:

* Projects
** One heading per current project
*** TODO Project task
* Reference
Information I need to keep track of
* Other notes
* Tasks
** TODO Lots of miscellaneous tasks go here
** TODO Lots of miscellaneous tasks go here
** TODO Lots of miscellaneous tasks go here

Every so often, I do some clean-up on my Org files, refiling or archiving headings as needed. This makes it easier to review my current list of projects. I keep this list separate from the grab-bag of miscellaneous tasks and notes that might not yet be related to particular projects.

I use org-refile with the C-u argument (so, C-u C-c C-w) to quickly jump to headings by typing in part of them. To make it easy to jump to the main headings in any of my agenda files, I set my org-refile-targets like this:

(setq org-refile-targets '((org-agenda-files . (:maxlevel . 6))))

How can I get better at organizing things with outlines? My writing workflow is a natural place to practise. I’ve accumulated lots of small ideas in my writing file, so if I work on fleshing those out even when I don’t have a lot of energy–breaking things down into points, and organizing several notes into larger chunks–that should help me become more used to outlines.


In addition to organizing notes in outlines, you can also use tags. Tags go on the ends of headings, like this:

** Heading title     :tag:another-tag:

You can filter headings by tags using M-x org-match-sparse-tree (C-c \) or M-x org-tags-view (C-c a m).

Tags are interesting as a way to search for or filter out combinations. I used tags a lot more before, when I was using them for GTD contexts. I don’t use them as much now, although I’ve started tagging recipes by main ingredient and cooking method. (Hmm, maybe I should try visualizing things as a table…) I also use tags to post entries under WordPress blog categories.

How can I get better at using tags? I can look for things that don’t lend themselves well to outlines, but have several dimensions that I may want to browse or search by. That’s probably going to be recipe management for now. If I figure out a neat way to add tags to my datetree journal notes and then visualize them, that might be cool too.


Org Mode links allow me to refer not only to web pages, files, headings, and text searches, but to things like documentation or even executable code. When I find myself jumping between places a lot, I tend to build links so that I don’t have to remember what to jump to. My evil plans Org Mode file uses links to create and visualize structure, so that’s pretty cool, too. But there’s still a lot more that I could probably do with this.

How can I use links more effectively? I can link to more types of things, such as Lisp code. I can go back over my book notes and fill in the citation graph out of curiosity. Come to think of it, I could do that with my writing as well. My writing ideas rarely fit in neat outlines. I often feel like I’m combining multiple threads, and links could help me see those connections.

In addition to explicit links, I can also define “radio targets” that turn any instance of that text into a hyperlink back to that location. Only seems to work within a single file, though, and I’ve never actually used this feature for something yet.


You can set various properties for your Org Mode subtrees and then display those properties in columns or filter your subtrees by those properties. I’ve used Effort to keep track of effort estimates and I have some agenda commands that use that. I also use a custom Quantified property to make it easier to clock into tasks using my Quantified Awesome system.

I could track energy level as either tags or properties. Properties allow for easier sorting, I think. Can I define a custom sort order, or do I have to stick with numeric codes? Yeah, I can sort by a custom function, so I can come up with my own thing. Okay. That suggests a way I can learn to use properties more effectively.

There are even more ways to organize Org Mode notes in Emacs (agenda views, exports, etc.), but the ones above look like good things to focus on. So much to try and learn!

Learning slack

Amy Hoy’s post “Don’t write 1000 words a day” goes:

What would bring a person to ask, “How do you motivate yourself?” … This question presumes that You are not a single entity, but a split one: a cart driver, and a donkey.

The cart driver is trying to flog the donkey and the donkey is digging in its heels. If only the cart driver can figure out how to overcome the stubborn donkey, Writing Will Ensue.

This reminded me of what I wrote about word counts and chunks, and thinking in terms of ideas instead of an arbitrary number of words. I want to learn at least one new thing or share at least one thought, whether that takes lots of words or just a few. My goal isn’t to write, and it definitely isn’t to Become a Writer. It’s to learn, and I learn so that I can have more fun and live an awesome life. (You can see how everything fits into my evil plans. ;) )

On a different note, what Amy said also reminded me of this post I wrote in January 2014 about a conversation about writing, and reflections on taskmasters. I had resolved to let myself explore, instead of setting myself firm deadlines and concrete goals like all the productivity and entrepreneurship books tell you to do. I coded whenever I felt like it and didn’t when I didn’t. I reduced my consulting hours and spent more time writing, reading, and drawing. I went to parks with friends and hung out in the afternoon sun.

This is the story so far of my 5-year experiment:

  • Hitting the ground running, working more than I did before, trying out lots of different business ideas
  • Settling into a good rhythm, gradually decreasing commitments
  • Now, prioritizing flexibility, enjoying the journey

danceSlack turns out to be a powerful thing. These past few weeks I’ve been very much under the weather, almost out-sleeping our cats. It was great to be able to ride it out without getting too annoyed or frustrated at the changes in my energy. I told my clients about my limited availability. I turned over all my commitments to other people. I gave myself even more permission to nap, to read, to relax. Occasionally, as life permitted, I worked on little things that could help people (but whose absence wouldn’t hurt them). The world went on, and it was wonderful.

I found out that when I gave myself permission to do anything I wanted, my decisions worked out mostly like this:

  • Am I tired? If so, sleep.
  • Am I fuzzy-brained? If so, consider taking a nap, or relax with some light reading.
  • Do I feel semi-okay, and am I tired of reading? If so, practise drawing by copying other people’s sketches.
  • Am I somewhat coherent? If so, write.
  • Do I feel alert and logical? If so, code.

And even spending almost half the time in bed, I still feel pretty good about the things I did manage to do:

  • pick up recursive SQL queries and use them to create even better Tableau reports for my consulting client
  • coach team members on development and analytics
  • write a lot, and get better at working with outlines
  • work on Quantified Awesome a little bit
  • play around with Emacs and swap tips with other people

Things are slowly returning to normal. I can feel my mind becoming more alert, although it’s still a little squirrelly from the protocol I need to follow. But it was great to be able to explore what trusting myself more with time looks like.

I’m so glad that I could do something like this instead of having to force myself through the usual routines, or pretend to energy I didn’t have, or meet commitments I couldn’t shake. It’s a privilege and other people get through a lot worse. But hey, I’m here, so I might as well learn from what I can learn and share what I can share.

I’m not quite a slacker, but the word intrigues me. It might be interesting to be a slack-er, a master of slack, someone who knows how to create just the right kind of balance between tension and space, someone who can pay attention to the shifts in energy. If there’s just enough play, you can feel where things want to take you. If you pull too hard, you lose that sense. If you hold too loosely, you don’t pick up that difference either. Oh! Perhaps like dance.

I like the tips in J. B. Rainsberger’s “Productivity for the Depressed” (handy even if you aren’t). In particular, I resonate with:

  • Either work and feel terrible or avoid work and feel good, but don’t let yourself avoid work while feeling terrible.
  • Go with your energy.
  • Avoid commitments. Refuse commitments when others try to force them on you. Look for self-contained opportunities to contribute where completing the work helps people but not completing the work does not hurt them.
  • Look for any opportunity to build more slack into your life: money slack, time slack or energy slack.

surfAnother metaphor here that makes sense to me: energy comes in waves, and you can ride them. For me, it’s not just a single channel, not just a single beach to surf to. I can go lots of different ways. I don’t have to work with just the big waves either. I can take the small ones for a little bit of adventure. (Oh, that reminds me of this March 2014 post about having a buffet of goals, and this Oct 2014 post about wandering through parks.)

Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success (Shane Snow, 2014; Amazon affiliate link) has a chapter on catching waves. The best surfers look at patterns and decide things like:

  • Where should you position yourself to catch a good wave?
  • Which wave will you catch? (It doesn’t have to be the next one that’s coming.)
  • How can you paddle in order to catch it?
  • What will you do with it?

You can’t force a wave. (Okay, maybe you can engineer one.) If you’re out there, you just have to learn how to read the energy. There are waves going in different directions, and sometimes they combine to make pretty good ones. Even if nothing’s coming for a bit, you can still enjoy the view.

I’m reminded of how my sister kept a close eye on weather forecasts back when she was into the scene. Storms can lead to good surf, and calms can have their own charm. In life, too.

I like those metaphors. Not taskmaster/slave, but dancer, surfer. Let’s see where this goes.

(In real life, I was terrible at surfing: never keen on water, and with too much of a healthy appreciation for possibly poisonous or otherwise dangerous things in the sea. But that’s why metaphors are metaphors.)

Recording from Emacs Hangout #2

Thanks to Cameron Desautels for hosting this one! =D I totally like Emacs Hangouts. We should have more of them.

  • tips for showing people how awesome magit is: partial staging, history browsing, diff viewing and jumping to the source file
  • org-present, org-babel, org inline images, source code highlighting
  • themes
  • magit new version, dealing with problems, history browsing, subcommands (:), remoting (M), interactive rebase (E), new features, Wazzup – shows you branch differences (w)
  • magit workflows, customization (ex: full-screen), fun with bisecting
  • use-package, delaying configuration
  • Dvorak, keyboard customization
  • evil-mode
  • selective display – folds everything beyond an indentation depth
  • managing large screens – folding, follow mode, etc.
  • projectile-mode
  • flx ido
  • ace-jump-mode – binding to C-0
  • Emacs on Mac OS X, terminal Emacs, sharing clipboard (pbcopy)
  • binding things to C-number; M-number, prefix arguments