December 9, 2007

Polder Timer- Time Crutch for the Timeless…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 9:14 pm by a11en

I’ve been meaning to blog about something that sits on my belt these days… in fact, I’ve become somewhat lost if I don’t feel it by my side. I don’t use it all the time… um, excuse me… time, in fact, is the subject matter of today’s blog post.

I’m slowly coming to a realization and sadness that time just doesn’t wait for anyone. Not even me. You see, I used to think that time would do my bidding. But, in fact, each day I grow older, there is a new grey-hair, and my time for a future family dwindles. Each week spent not focused on my work towards my Thesis and my PhD degree becomes one more week of stagnation and lack of progress towards a happier future. Unfortunately, as everyone who knows me will tell you, time and I just don’t get along. There was one thing I was early for in my life, and that was my birth. After that, I guess, I’ve been trying to make up for it.

I have another small confession to make. Often the reason I’m late is because of my love of what I’m doing at the time. You see, I spend so much of my effort and focus in “The Now” that I literally forget about the “little after now”… which ultimately will become “the now” but apparently I’m not ready for it when it does. That could be because I’m having a deep and interesting discussion about research work with one of my co-workers, and I realize I’m 5 minutes late for my time on a microscope, or it could be because I need my morning coffee “just right”, and I know it takes about 5 minutes to steep. But, what I do know, is I’m passionate and empathic about my current time. I see this as an advantage, but realize that on the other side of “now” it’s a disadvantage.

So, what can I do? What in the world is someone who lives a life bucking Father Time for all eternity to do? Aside from some serious advances in physics and anti-matter, I have to say, I’ve turned to a crutch.

Enter the Polder Timer stage left…

This is the little fellow who’s constantly at my side these days. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t beautiful, and it’s been busted at least once already. What are the things I love about it? How do I use it? Does it work for me?

What I love about it:

The multi-function timer is excellent. The feature which is killer for me is the vibrating feature. The reason for this, is that it’s relatively quiet, but when the timer is on your belt (in your pocket you’ll likely hit one of the buttons) it quietly alarms at your side. One can’t really use a normal timer when dealing with coworkers or technicians etc., and have it sitting there ticking away during your conversation and finally the saxon sounds blaringly loud! Insanity.

(How I use it: )

A little bzzzzzzt on your belt is easily managed. Going to visit an old friend for work, but you can easily get into a 1 hour conversation about life and you have a ton to achieve that afternoon? Before entering his office, set the timer to half-hour.. 15-20 minutes of work talk, 10 minutes of fun-talk. Let him know you have to go at xxx time, and then talk away. It will suck when it buzzes, but honestly, if you’re polite about it, and let him know you’ll return soon, I’m sure it will go well. It can be done relatively incognito also, so the conversation need not end immediately after the buzz. Not to mention you always have the ability to make conscious decisions about your time (Covey) when it’s required. Did he tell you a doozey? His dog just died last night? You can reschedule your next meeting if it’s important to your friendship.

What this timer allows me to do, is manage time and allow my brain to roam free (until the buzz) as it usually does. Instead, it is brought back to earth when I want it to be (my setting on the timer). This is a wonderful wonderful thing. An example… the EDS on the Scanning Electron Microscope needs like 2 minutes to get it’s job done, and the darned machine that runs it has no sound (ugh windows)… set your timer for 2 minutes, read your journal article, bzztt… EDS is done, get back to the SEM. :) Works like a freakin’ charm. I use it like that all day. Need to check on the growth-chamber and check it’s vacuum before growth? 5 minutes degass, 5 minutes off, measure, etc. I can go back to my desk sure that I’ll be reminded of when to check the gauge.

I also use it to do dashes of work when I’m not in front of my computer… 15 minutes of focused work, 5 min. break etc., (or 2 min. but I always eek out more break).

Of course the timer also has a visual cue (blinking red-light on the top you can set if you want), as well as a nice loud buzzer as needed. In the dark, the visual cue is nice, can set the timer down and not disturb SWMBO’d.

What I don’t like:

The belt clip that came with it was busted within the first week. I liked that it had a clip, stand, and magnet on it… but it was too weak. What did I do to solve the problem? For about a week I tried to use it in my pocket, but I always touched the buttons, etc., and it was a pain… so I scoured around various stores to find a cheap stick-on cell-phone clip replacement. Found one, gorilla-glued it on the back, and now I have an excellent clip to hold it to my belt. I’ve got plans to add the old magnet to the clip, but haven’t yet. It’s much easier to clip and unclip now that I’ve replaced the belt-clip. :)

Also, unfortunately, there is little to no memory. That means I set the darned thing all the time. This isn’t so bad, but a few memories would really make work-dashes much easier.

Counting stops at the alarm. I’d much rather it continue on. So, if I set it for 5 minutes, for some reason I miss it, how long did I miss it for? When was that buzzer going? I’d love to know if I missed it by half a minute, or by 20 minutes! No such luck. You can count up from zero, you can count down from X, but you can’t count up from zero after counting down from X. Kinda sucks.
But… the price is right. Nice and cheap, and the killer apps (vibrating and light alarm) are very worth the price. (Even with added new belt-clip.)

The stigma:

I took it on my chin for about a month with SWMBO’d… I got crap like: “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long dinner takes?” … (while heading to the bathroom one night)… “Oh, whatcha going to do, time how long it takes you to SH… (ave)”? ;) [I added the ave]… Oh, she’s a cad alright. Real cad. Real funny gal. But, my timer is still on my belt, and it’s still helping me work. So, if you can live past the joshing you’ll take, you might just fine that a crutch like a timer will really help your timelessness.

Coming from a serious space-case and procrastinator extraordinaire, it’s certainly helped me.

(Oh, BTW, just for the record, Grace Kelly was so damned hot. I just had to let that out. Hell, if I was a King, I’d have married her. Holy crap. (TCM on tonight.))

October 1, 2007

The Importance Of Dreaming…

Posted in Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 8:42 pm by a11en

One of the critical aspects of human nature is man’s capacity for imagination and dreaming. Recently, I’ve been exploring my thoughts as they arise a bit more than I have in the past. The reason for this, is that I’ve found my dreams are critical to my happiness.

Somehow as we age, and as our responsibilities increase, we slowly learn to turn off our dreams. We no longer dream of being an honorable fire-man or police-officer. Somewhere in the more adult version of us is a little whisper that we didn’t have as a child. It says things like: “Come now, that’s silly, you can’t possibly entertain that dream…” In some senses, we’ve either altered our consciousness as we’ve aged, or we’ve added a new darker conscience. Now, I’m not saying we all leave our jobs and pick up learning the fireman’s carry… but, perhaps some of you who’s deepest passions really do bend towards public-service and fire-fighting should consider joining a volunteer fire-department?

What I’m merely suggesting, is not to let go of dreaming. It’s one of those easy things that costs almost nothing. It costs a bit of day-dreaming time. I suspect (and am finding in my own life) it’s very very important.

When I talk about dreaming, I’m not only talking about the pie-in-the-sky type dreams we used to have as kids, but I’m also talking about thinking and dreaming positively about the future of our lives. In other words: “What would it be like if *I* was the manager?”… “What would my house be like if I had any ability to do what I wanted to with our house when we first bought it?”… “How would I be towards my wife if I truly was happy with our lives?” Now, be careful of negatives slipping in there… but, if you had all the time (and the kids weren’t waking up at 2am for water), how would you act with your wife? What would be your night on the town?

If I’m having the effect I want on you, hopefully I’ve touched off some day-dreams. Now, the next step is critical… I want you to entertain those dreams just a bit.  [If you are like me, just thinking of doing that is going to bring a smile and a smirk to your face.  Relish that smile for a bit...]  That night out you just thought of? How much money and time would be required for that? But, you have kids? Ok, well, how much for a babysitter for the night? Can you get someone to watch them overnight? See what I’m doing? I’m trying to get you to entertain what it might take to make some of your dreams come true.  Just *how* much would a Lear Jet to Paris really cost?  [go find out!]

When you start to see your dreams as being possible, start to entertain them a bit, a change likely will begin to happen. That negativism (that little conscience that used to say- yeah, but you’re grown up… or you’ll never make it… ) is quieted a bit. You’re turning a bit more positive in your dreaming, and positive in your life directions. And this, my friend, is *so* important.

I’m learning this first-hand. Somewhere down the line of my graduate work, I slowly became more and more depressed. Depressed because I wasn’t saving the world; wasn’t making the talks at conferences I expected; wasn’t publishing to the level I had dreamed of when I first started. Over the years I somehow started seeing me as someone other than I was at heart. That was at the core of my general malaise. Then, a dream, (which I likely won’t talk about here unless things look like they’re moving forward positively) became possible.

Oh, likely it won’t ever happen, but, I found myself encompassed by that dream for 3-4 days straight. Thoughts of: “I’ll never make the cut.” ; “I don’t have the physical ability for this.”; “I’m not fancy enough for them.” Were riddling my thoughts… but somehow, that possibility of the dream I had when I was younger was constantly in the fore-front of my mind. And it caused me to smile. I was laughing at myself. Seriously, I’m entertaining this craziness? Yes. I was/am. Hilarious. So, I continue to entertain this possible dream, and that’s when I noticed a positive change in attitude. I seem to have more energy to set goals and tasks than I had before. All because I had a focus, and a hope for something I never would have ever tried.

So, my thought for you, is to dream. Think of those things that used to focus your interest as you were younger. In the very least, entertain them at least a little. Are there hobbies or things you could learn that would make you smile a bit more? If you find a little dream (say learning to tap-dance, or paint with oils, or play the piano, or even learn to enter and exit a burning building…) talk with your spouse about them. Tell her of the importance of dreaming, get her to dream and talk to you about what she would love to try and do. Share your thoughts/ dreams/ idiot ideas together, without negativism. As your spouse’s help-mate, confirm her dreams, and either openly, or in secret, help her to pursue them.

I suspect that you will be finding a bit of a spring in your step, and more smiling happening. We are living on this earth a short time. It would be a shame to get to the end, and not to have done a few things that your adult-conscience would have said “Silly stupidness” to. Or, that negative voice saying: “You can’t possibly do that.”

The difference between adventurers and those who read about adventurers happens right after they dream. If you’re an adventurer, you’ll entertain that dream and make it possible against all odds.

September 25, 2007

GTD, Now Habit, 7-Habits Update: The Weekly Schedule

Posted in 7 Habits, GTD, Procrastination, Productivity, Work at 12:55 pm by a11en

It has been some time since I’ve talked about productivity, so I thought it might be time for a new post. Since my work has been heating up, and I’m trying to finish up a serious breadth (and depth) of work in my research, I’ve also updated my productivity tools. What I’m going to tell you about here, is only one new aspect of my tools, one that I’ve been meaning to re-try for a very long time.

Remembering Covey’s 7-Habits (my first reading)…

The first time I read Covey’s 7-Habits book, I was struggling with my work and direction. Even though I was a bit brain-numb after the incessant use of “paradigm”, the book touched me deeply. The advantage of my first reading, is that I read it on my own time, and on my own prodding. In my opinion, this is the way all productivity books should be read. If you are not self-driven to read them, it will only be painful. One of the important aspects that hit home was Covey’s discussion of the weekly schedule. The weekly schedule as Covey describes it has the advantage of David Allen’s GTD Weekly Review. Focusing on your Roles and Goals for each role, Covey has you set up your weekly priorities and ToDo’s in such a manner as to forward your long-term goals on a weekly basis. The idea being that if you are not furthering every aspect of your life that is important to you each week, you will feel stagnant in that area, and therefore, unfulfilled.

Covey also suggests your week should be viewed all at once (say on a single 8.5 x 11″page). The advantage of this is a longer-term view which keeps you moving through the week, but on a tight enough view that you can get your work done. The daily view often hyper-focuses us, and when we hit the 5pm clock hour, we suddenly realize we missed doing something for the morning meetings. So, viewing everything over the whole week allows us to prioritize a bit better. Sure, there are other methods than this, but this is a simple method and I suspect it works well whenever it’s implemented. I found it to be true for me…

A top-down view of my direction at the time I read 7 Habits was very important to me to re-invigorate my focus and drive in my work. Doing so through the weekly Roles and Goals allowed me to see my week’s work together as a whole, and subsequently that week’s work as a part of the longer-term goals I had laid out for myself. The time-period I consider one of my more productive set of months was when I was xerox-copying the blank weekly schedule located in Chapter “Habit 3- First Things First”. This Chapter was so influential to many, that it eventually became a second book by Covey entitled the same. Certainly for me it hammered home some very important ideas. [Like the time-quadrant.] So, with merely a set of xeroxed sheets, I was making good headway in juggling my days. From there, and it’s success, I purchased the Franklin-Covey planners, and moved away from that simple one-page form. A mistake for me. Having the printed out sheets may help some, but for me, not seeing my week all together really hurt my productivity. I just couldn’t get into the planner.

So, for many years I’ve thought about that sheet. In fact, a good friend of mine, who had success with the Franklin-Planner after I described in crude terms the majority of the first half of Covey’s book, was using it as well with good success. Missing it, I finally decided to make another one from scratch (since I couldn’t find my old printouts and xeroxes). I had a few new goals for the sheet, which I’ll describe here, and how they fit together.

If you are interested in a downloadable pdf of what I worked out, please see the very bottom of this blog post. It’s not perfect yet, and so it’s a bit hard to release something that is not perfect, and I haven’t checked out to see if anything is copyrighted etc, adding more difficulty to tacking it up here for download. But, if you request it, I’ll likely do so, unless I hear from someone that it’s illegal for some weird reason.

My new goals- The Now Habit, and PCEO…

The Now Habit’s Unschedule

Another influential book I’ve discussed here, is the Now Habit. One important aspect of the book is an understanding of the time you have during your day. [Many procrastinators believe they have all the time in the world- that they can do something "later." Consequently, most procrastinators appear to have very poor conceptualization of time; at least in the way they fit in to the whole "time" thing. Surely, that is true of me.] Fiore’s concept of “The Unschedule” is an attempt (and a great one) to help procrastinators see where their time is going, and how much time they have to accomplish things. In particular, everything *other than* work is scheduled. So, you can look forward to this or that time off, etc., and you can see your blocks of time available for work (if you so choose to work). The start of this process is to track your time during your day, and attempt to see how you spend your time (say for 2 weeks before starting the unschedule). Then, you plan your week with time-blocks, for the items that you would like to do (having fun, eating dinner with your hottie, sleeping, breakfast, etc.). So, in this respect, Neil Fiore’s work also has a week-view focus. Similar to Covey, he suggests not putting everything in your schedule. [Both allow for set-time appointments etc., but not for work-tasks that can be done at anytime.]

So, automatically, when I do this one-page form, I’m going to be using the unschedule with it. The form needs, therefore, a 24 hour view of the day. So I can see all the available time. I’m often using extremely late hours as well (for various reasons, one being that I’m unfortunately a night-owl). (24 hours in the day, check) [The full sheet is show below. The left hand column is for Weekly Priorities, Roles and Goals, and Sharpen The Saw tasks. The upper half of the rest is for daily tasks that require focused time, and daily tasks that only require a check-mark. The lower half is a 24 hour schedule, colored for the UnSchedule.]

The Printable CEO…

David Seah‘s Printable CEO forms have been intriguing me for a very long time. They’re a bit like the pages, although their focus is more on tracking projects and time spent on projects. I’ve played around with a number of Seah’s forms, never finding one that I really liked the bestest (probably my fault). But a number of things about Seah’s forms have hit home for me. One, those darn time-bubbles. What a wonderful idea. Bubbles. You see, for long projects that require me to do tons of work on one subject, I never get to cross these off. But, give me 15 minute bubbles, and couple that with a work-dash of focused 15 minutes of work, and all of a sudden, I can sit there and focus for 15 minutes, and scribble in a bubble. Something just feels good about filling those bubbles in. Very non-test-like. More like- “Yea! I filled in a bubble!”. Positive reinforcement and focus- ah… very very nice. The form I used the most for this was his Task Order Up (3×5) forms. I would set up the 4 major tasks that required over 15 minutes of time each and attempt to work through those during my day. Usually that was with a work-dash, and with a hyper-focus attitude towards the work. So, I wasn’t really using Seah’s forms properly, but the killer-app was working really well for me.

The rest of Seah’s forms look fantastic, but that one idea really was the “killer-app”. So, bubbles are required… not to mention a task-area. (check) [Covey's schedule has a task area above the schedule, so we're already seeing synchronicity- now we just need to add bubbles.]

I decided to take a few tips from the Task Tracker, and add bubbles to the day’s view below the schedule. This means the very last thing on the page is a row of subdivided bubbles, larger than the 15 minute bubbles, signifying hours. I’ve noticed a wonderful benefit to this. At a single glance, I can see how many hours in the day was spent on a focused task, and if I look above, in the task area for that day, I can see which task can be associated with that time. [Attached is the task-section of each day show. One bubble corresponds to 15 minutes. Once a row is filled (or equivalent), a 1 hour bubble at the bottom of the sheet can be filled.]

Bringing it all together…

So, the basic basis was the productive tool of the Weekly Schedule of Covey’s. The idea of Roles/Goals which to me tend to focus the multiple higher-level views of David Allen (5,000ft +, etc.) are available on the left of the schedule. Right now, there isn’t a direct link to context or to project views. I’m assuming that on this sheet you’ve chosen some Quadrant 2 type tasks that are not specific in time, other than you’d like to get them done that week. Ostensibly, you’ll choose these items from your Context list or Project list of GTD’s (I like to use OmniFocus for this), but this is a quick way to see your focus for the week/day in a quick glance. For getting more done, I’m hoping to use 3×5′s of printouts of OmniFocus tasks or OmniFocus directly as a normal GTD system would. So, see this form as an advanced calendar (that you fill in yourself), not as a whole system replacement.

With this schedule, I can look at my UnSchedule (colored pencil outlining in my week’s schedule area to see my blocks of time), I can track my progress on each task for the day, and see a final tally of the important task’s work at a day’s and week’s glance. I’m also using it to overlay what I *actually* do during my week, and see how I’ve been bad at my unscheduling. So, if I say I should sleep from noon-8am, and I actually sleep from 2am-8am, I can see that immediately throughout the week.

The bubbles are also becoming a bit like Sienfeld’s Chain Of X’s approach in some senses. If I see that I’ve been good the past few days, I’m more likely to want to see more filled bubbles across the bottom for the current day. Nice little side-advantage. [Sorry no bubbles are filled in this form- I scanned it last week before I started filling it.]

I’m still tweaking space etc., as a one-page week view is always very difficult to fit everything in. But, for now, it’s going fairly decently. I’m finding my old success again, renewed by these new concepts, and finding that creating the new week’s page helps me to review my weekly goals and tasks (ala GTD).

One final note- this sheet gets punched into my Circa notebook at the very back. I’ve been editing a number of short journal-article like papers which I try and complete with every major item started in my Thesis work. So, this becomes a very rough overview of my work. It’s worked so well, that I often refer to it while talking with microscope technicians and others interested in my work. So, I’ve found I frequently am carrying this Circa around with me everywhere, hence making it a natural place to keep this schedule. [Not to mention I can print out the schedule on paper that my fountain-pens love.]

(Just between you and I, I don’t have many bubbles on my form for today… ach. So, I better do some good tomorrow and the next day to make up for it.)

Earworm: “Brandy Alexander” performed by Feist from Bonnaroo 2007, Manchester, Tn

Edit, Thursday; September 27, 2007, Here’s the first version for your perusal (pdf, 160 kB): WeeklySchedule ver.1

April 28, 2007

Ugh, Women.

Posted in Procrastination, Rants, Work at 5:30 pm by a11en

One of the most beautiful days of spring… wonderful sun, clear skys with teddy-bear making clouds… Chel comes home from a conference (must have been all day sitting on a seat), and starts in. First, she calls ahead- I want to go do something. Fine. I like the idea. Except I’ve been enjoying the day and I’m not showered yet. So, I jump in the shower immediately. She gets home and continues to berate me about how I haven’t done this or that… I apologize, then argue… I say, fine, sorry, where do you want to go? She wants to go to the mall and freakin’ buy shoes. Beautiful day, spring flowers in bloom (freakin’ arboretum is only 10 minutes down the street), and she wants to go to a dark dingy mall and buy shoes?!?!

Her first mistake is thinking any man would ever want to accompany women to buy shoes. I’m supposed to determine which shoes look good? Hell, does any man *ever* look at women’s shoes? [I suggest that likely the eye immediately goes to a woman's calf once the ankle has been spotted... ] Knowing the sun is only up for a few hours, I suggest the Arboretum… am met with frustration, and more argument, and how lazy I am… ugh.

So, I sit on the back-porch trying to do more research work while she’s off doing Lord knows what fuming at me about our inability to do things together, while I’m concerned about my Thesis.

I guess I’m the bad guy.

ps- this is linked to Procrastination and the Now Habit- because people who have trouble working and fear bad outcomes don’t ever let themselves do anything fun… and while they are supposed to be working, often they aren’t working and are procrastinating.  That goes to Fiore’s the un-schedule.  If she had told me she wanted to spend the evening together, fine, I’d prep for it… work hard until the time to go out hits.  Instead, we watch a movie together last night, and she wants to spend tonight out and watch another movie… not something I can do right now.  Oh well, will have to talk with her when we both calm down.

March 27, 2007

Positivism and grad-school…

Posted in Procrastination, Work at 10:00 pm by a11en

Well, just a few days from my optimism-v-cynicism post, I find myself a bit in the dumps about work.  I hate how my emotional state directly effects my productivity.  David Allen talks about this at times also… basically, our brains aren’t good tools for figuring out what to do.  They’ll pick either the items that have the largest emotional burden on us, or they’ll pick the item which was made closest to “now”.  That emotional comment struck home for me.  Just today we learned that our heaterblock wasn’t fixed by a simple re-soldering.  So, it’s being shipped back to the company, and will likely also not be able to be fixed.  Hopefully they’ll ship us all the parts back, because I’d like our crack-machinist to have his hand at it.  With enough time, I’m positive he could fix it.  The man is a genius at his job.

So, I lost some time to me just sitting and pouting about this stuff.  Totally stupid, totally no reason to do so.  If I had had all my ducks in a row, and my lists in proper order for the *next* actions, I wouldn’t have been in that situation… just look through my lists and hammer through this stuff.  I need to overcome this as it will make me an ineffective worker at times.  I’m sure you all get this also.  Things going bad, makes you think for long periods of time about how to fix them, or just malaise of them going badly is enough.  A slump in other words.

Well, I think I’m back on the horse today.  Hammered out a few more matlab programs to do my work.  Need to write another tonight before I’ll feel I’m getting somewhere.  I’ve found someone is wrong… either me, or some other fellows who wrote the books, or the software company.  We can’t all have different answers to this one- so somone or some of us are wrong.  Will need to be absolutely sure about my calculations before getting anyone on the phone from tech-support, however.  Can’t just say they are wrong without proof.  :)

So, here’s to another night of hard work, if possible… and to letting your brain forget about the crap, and plug on through it.

Let me know how you like to get yourself into your work even when things are going rough, if you’re inclined to share!  I’m sure Fiore would have some good quotes about this, but will look for them later if I have time.

March 20, 2007

Grad-student Woes, Post #1- Cynicism -v- Positivism

Posted in Procrastination, Work at 4:42 pm by a11en

[Trying to go through some old posts that never got finalized and get them out of the in-box here.  More coming soon...]

One of the first ways a graduate student can have a crisis of faith in science is in the growth of an internal conscience of cynicism. From without, the hallowed halls of scientific study appear pristine in all their perfection- each old brick standing credence for all that is contained within; an unshakable and infallible human institution.

From the inside, the older graduates here will known- it isn’t all shiny baubles and Jacob’s ladders like in the movies. Surprise! This human institution is fallible. (Is anything human ever infallible?) For those of us who are idealists, this presents us with a serious crisis. My comment on this to my fellow idealists is: Deal with it! If you don’t, you will never survive an existence as a human. (Unless perhaps you grew up on Mars, Mr. V. M. Smith.)

My Prof. once said: “Allen, you’ll never make it as a scientist if you are a pessimist. A good scientist is an optimist.” How true. And so, I offer to you the importance of balance: Cynicism balanced by Optimism. This is best of course if you are cynical of all work done by other research groups and optimistic about your own group’s work. ;) This is one of the true ironies of science. Scientists claim to be completely impartial to the outcome of their work, but in conducting their work, they focus on an hypothesis and do everything they can to show their hypothesis is true. Sometimes they completely ignore statistical significance, and sometimes ignore other “uninteresting” reasons an observation may occur. Now, a scientist will say that ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the hypothesis proves out or not, but with today’s extremely difficult funding environment, at least on one level, this is certainly not the case. As well, it must be conceded that the scientist is truly focusing on a single hypothesis at the detriment of all others, at least until he gives up hope (faith) in proving it true.

Now, the fallibility of the Prof., and perhaps more importantly, the graduate student (who’s likely doing all the work after all) means that most scientific research must be scrutinized with the utmost care. Hence cynicism is your friend:
“What was forgotten in that ‘landmark’ study?”, “What isn’t being said?”, “What is ignored and how serious is it?” When you start digging (especially in the soft sciences) you find numerous questions abound. Frequently, there are little to no answers to be had. Sometimes it’s amazing science survives at all. So, be cynical. Dig for problems. Attempt to avoid them in your own work as well.

Speaking of your own work- being too good of a cynic will cause you problems. You see- Gradschool is ultimately one big ol’ problem. 99 out of 100 times you will fail at the test you are running. I myself have worked on well over 10 major projects in my grad studies. An example: Want to run some Hall-effect measurements (DC) on the old machine in the back lab? Well, the machine may need to be fixed, or reprogrammed, or perhaps babied to work. This will happen at each step of the way. At times it will feel like the Universe is conspiring to prevent your work from succeeding. Likely it is. Sometimes the problems are too coincidental to ignore. However- lamenting this fact will not help you. Here is where my advisor’s words ring true. If at each impasse you sit on the ground Indian-style with arms folded and bottom lip pouting- complaining that said experiment is doomed to failure… well, you can imagine how well and how fast that work will turn into your thesis! Ultimately, that’s what you are here for.

So being cautious and slightly cynical about your work can help, but it must be balanced by optimism. If it isn’t, you are in for a world of hurt. Your optimism can come from any source you feel is acceptable- internal, external, etc. This we will save for another post.

So, learn to balance your new Grad-student pathway. Cynicism has it’s useful points, but it can easily become so overwhelming so as to hurt your progress (procrastination), create malaise (procrastination), and ultimately cause failure of your goal. You are here to attempt this great job of “Science”- and it would do you well to pay close attention to those in your field who are successful in it.

(BTW, you may even have to face the odd firing squad. You had better learn optimism so that when faced with it, you can stand up to the onslaught. Questioning yourself, your work, and your purpose can be a good thing- just remember, they don’t give out theses for “questioning” nor for “internal struggles” – They only give these out for tangible work. More on internal struggles in future posts…)

Good luck with all your experiments. Hang in there- yes, it’s likely to not work- but, well, you won’t know that until you actually try it, now will you? ;) So, get in there and try it!

September 18, 2006

OmniPlan – Gantt Outlining & GTD

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 5:31 pm by a11en

A quick tip of the hat to the OsX software producers OmniGroup for tackling the Gantt chart project planning in their new beta-product OmniPlan. But first, some discussion of one of the difficulties in GTD the way I implement it…

Sibling/Children Tasks in GTD (a difficulty?)
One of the things about David Allen’s Getting Things Done which has been slightly off-beat for me, is that it’s somewhat difficult for me to determine related tasks (especially when resorted into context views). Now, don’t get me wrong, GTD is absolutely fantastic, and it’s changing the way I deal with my work and projects. For nuts and bolts of how to organize and think properly about tasks, GTD is where it’s at. Currently I’ve been using Kinkless’s kGTD to do my sorting etc., of my tasks, and printing them out onto 3×5 cards for use in my Levenger‘s Ballistic Shirtpocket Briefcase. I love the flexibility of 3×5′s, and the ability to take my hi-Fi to my lo-Fi world is nice. [Going the other way is a bit more difficult, just to warn you.]

I find that in my simple task or project view, in kGTD and surely other apps- it can be somewhat difficult to understand children/sibling tasks when viewed all in a single context. In other words, in one project I may have @research, @lab work, @analysis on a microscope, and finally @writing in regards to the research done. All these may lay under a project tab- like “Determine 3D plane of grain-boundary 1.” Nice- it’s in a project, so they’re related, and it’s in a subproject (my thesis), etc. Now, the good thing about GTD is having a task list based on context- i.e., @lab-work. So, I page over to my @lab-work task list. All the labwork I need to do is there. BUT- what it doesn’t show me, is the fact that in the real-world, I need to do my @online/library research first before going into the lab. So, technically, that task of “grow bicrystal @lab” shouldn’t be in my task-list yet- as the library research hasn’t been completed. So, when moving between context lists, I tend to loose some serious information- the order and pre-requisites or parent tasks.

I strongly suspect some sort of pending task indication in kGTD or other GTD implementations is needed. Perhaps context lists should be only current actionable items and not include any of these parent-pending tasks. In GTD words, the context lists would include only “next actions”… not all actions, as kGTD currently is setup. This in itself may solve this problem.

I highly value GTD for freeing up my mind (I’ve slacked a bit lately, but I’m getting back on the horse with organization). So, I am grateful to D.Allen [2] [3] for his work. As well, as to S. Covey [2] [3] for his work. I’m just wondering if we’re missing another level of mind-stuffing information here: namely the proper order and relation of tasks. In my current mode of organization, I seem to lose this information, or am required to remember it. In the project view, usually I have things organized in such a way that I can see this natural parent/child relationship, but when contexts are used, my brain must remember these things- which seems to go against the basic tenant of GTD. At least *I think* it does. [Lord knows I'm not an expert here.]

Gantt Charts, Procrastination and Tasks
Back to our discussion of Gantt charts. A long time ago I found Gantt charts. Even though they are painfully structured (not loose in scheduling or linking etc.)- they do allow you to very quickly see the tasks required to complete a project. In some ways, producing even a Gantt-Chart fake (structured todo list with fake times), you can see/walk through a project’s progression to completion more clearly. It’s very easy to see sibling/child/parent relationships in Gantt views. So, it intrigues me that OmniGroup chose a task-list and a Gantt project view for their OmniPlan application. Their app appears to be more focused towards small business or units within an organization, but it may prove to be interesting for personal project planning as well. So, I will begin to play with it a bit and see what can be determined. If I find it good or bad, I’ll let you know!

BTW, the Gantt project view may be useful for those of you working through the Now Habit. The idea of the reverse-schedule works quite well with Gantt planning. Starting with the required completion time, and working backwards through tasks to complete, you get a better feel for how much time is required for a project, its related tasks, and what needs to get done in a timely manner to achieve your goal. I’m not sure OmniPlan is good for GTD. I’m still playing. As I find out more, I’ll be sure to post.

GTD Evangelism (sic)
In describing GTD to my brother (the consummate devil’s advocate at times) he asked me: “Why- how has it helped?” The one comment that gave him pause was when I mentioned the ability to leave a project alone and jump back in right where you left off. It’s true. One of the great things about GTD, is that when you have your tasks and projects all in the system, and all the items are properly filed, you now can flip over to your project list/folder, and see what needs to be done immediately. Even if it’s been a month since you last got to that particular project. This is a serious benefit, as usually project switching requires you to spend quite a bit of downtime determining what needs to be done next. The methodology of filing/processing items from your projects into next actions and reference material means that you have all the necessary tools for completing your project at your finger-tips. Even if you leave it for a short time period to work on another necessary project. So, those of you who find it difficult to flip between various items when left for periods of time (almost a weekly event in grad-school), may find implementing GTD to be helpful.

Fountain-Pen Friendly Notebooks
A quick blurb about fountain-pen friendly notebooks: Barnes and Nobels has spiral bound Miquelrius as well as the faux-leather journals. Miquelrius paper is fantastic with fountain-pens! Love it- love it. My m400 has been writing so well lately, and on Miquelrius paper, it’s a dream. :) (almost as good as Clairfontaine for smoothness)

I hope your week turns out to be great!

August 14, 2006

Confessions of St. A11entine…

Posted in Procrastination, Work at 1:21 am by a11en

Hey! A quick one here guys… I have a confession to make- for some reason, procrastination has me in its vice-like grip. It’s so frustrating. I just can’t bring myself to get my work done on Sat./Sun. even though I know it needs to be done for Monday. As well, completely disregarding the Now Habit, I pretend-schedule long sessions of work that I know will be hard to start… even when I know it needs to be done, and it’s itching under my skin… I keep doing stupid stuff, like reading my bloglines feeds. UGH. This is going to be a long process… the long hard process of productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. I guess all I can do is get back on my horse and keep trying. Grr… So, sorry that the blog is not with it this week, it’s been a rough one. I hope to have more for you guys very soon. I should have remembered my 20 minute dashes, my 10+2×5 hack, and my “just start it!” rules! I wish you guys a fun and productive week! Don’t forget to schedule your unschedule events- the things that you do outside of work, so you can see your free time better… and actually plan real breaks that you can look forward to. I seem to constantly be stealing time away from myself… having half-a$$ed breaks that I feel bad about- that doesn’t help me relax, or get work done, now does it?

Incidentally, all of the above is addressed in Fiore’s book- so, I’m not doing a good job of implementation this weekend it seems.  It’s amazing how dead on Fiore is on this stuff.  (The Now Habit by Neil Fiore)

At least I can look forward to a good shave tomorrow morning! Oh, and I finally did some work on the motorcycle- so that’ll soon be up and running again. That’s been on my action list for a very long time!

Ok, off to do 20 minute dash on my work! Earphones, check, Beethoven Symphony number 8, check… pen and paper, check… I’m off to the races!

Relevant links:

August 8, 2006

Update on FP’s, Wet-Shave, Now Habit, future posts…

Posted in FountainPens, Mac Software, Pipes, Procrastination, shaving at 7:37 pm by a11en

Well, a post has been long over due. I try to ensure that I don’t post nonsense here, so that those who visit will visit often, and get something out of reading my insane ramblings. :) Maybe I’m hoping for too much. I’ve been incommunicado, as I’ve been concentrating on work, as well as somewhat unsure how to tackle my little hack. I’ll call that my “Book Underline Liberation Hack” or BULH… uh… well, you get the idea.

About my “BULH” (pronounced as Bull-@#$@?) hack: My biggest problem in posting a how-to on this, really, is that it utilizes a number of programs that you guys/gals might not be too familiar with. Some surely are, but some may not be. So, I think I’m going to start it as a series. I’ll talk about each program separately, point you to appropriate interesting links that may be of use to you, and then bring everything together in the end. Since it’s a bit of a crazy hack, and I haven’t made any scripts to help you in the hack, a lot of you guys may choose not to use it. But, hopefully the series will help some of you (who may not have decided to install some of the programs before). My ultimate goal is to give you a way to liberate and utilize all those great underlined sections in your books. I find they’re useful when I do re-reads, but often I don’t re-read, and would love to have those sitting where they’re visible to motivate my work. I think the first program up on the block will be Growl. Before this, let me brain-dump a few items of interest. I’ll work on my post on Growl over the next few days.

Fountain Pens

My strong suggestion for anyone who wishes not to get trapped on a slippery slope- is don’t ever try a nice fountainpen. I recently stopped by a local antique store. After looking around a bit, I ask the proprietor if she has any fountain-pens. She says: “Yes, but they’re not out and ready for sale yet…” She digs a bit… out pop some interesting older pens, nothing too exciting… as I look over them and tell her about my limited experience with FP’s, she digs some more, and out pop some big-dogs. We talk for around an hour, and all of a sudden, she says: “Would you be willing to help me?”… “If you help me figure out what these are worth, I’ll give you your pick.” I’m floored… I think on it for a day, and decide to help. So, in front of me sits the following after a stint of hand-polishing (there are more of lesser value as well):

  • Parker “51″ Vacumatic, Third-quarter, 1947 (T47), gold-filled cap, straight line pattern, blue-diamond GF clip, black body
  • Parker Vacumatic Junior, Maxima size, Brown Pearl laminate, 1947
  • Shaeffer’s Snorkel Saratoga, green body
  • Conklin with nice green striated celluloid body, sac-filler
  • Cartridge Shaeffer’s yet to be determined
  • Epenco little sac-filler with wonderful marble celluloid body

Just those three pens on top of the list there were a joy to come by in the wild. There of course a lot of questions- one of the more important for the owner of these, is: Is it better to spend the money on repairing/refurbishing, or is it better to sell them as-is. Being a FP-fellow now, of course I’d love to take a crack at them, or send them away- they’re much easier to buy without being repaired. ;) Any and all comments regarding this, please chime in!

The Wet-Shave Update

Finally got an amazing shaving brush. I purchased a Vulfix Super-Badger brush with a nice knot-size. Price was reasonable- larger than I’d ever spent on shaving accoutrements, but, reasonable. While walking through Marshal-Fields this weekend, I came across a small “The Art of the Shave” shop on the first floor. Talked shaving equipment with the salesman there for a bit. Turns out their smallest super-badger (silvertip) was double the price of the Vulfix brush I purchased a week ago. The brush was at least half as large as mine, to boot. Amazing price difference.

I have to admit that the brush is awesome. I didn’t need much soap on the bristle tips to get a fantastic lather on the face. Incidentally, I’m using that Lavendar soap by Taylor of Old Bond Street mentioned previously. Great soap. Now, I just need to find an after-shave moisturizer that fits nicely with the lavender. The brush hopefully will last me for many many years. I finally actually look forward to my shaves, instead of wishing I didn’t have to do it before heading to work. I’m starting to realize that money spent on things of luxury are often worth it, if they can be enjoyed for many years to come, and you aren’t neglecting an important expenditure. Oh, and that 12-hour 5′O-clock shadow procrastination I mentioned earlier- it’s true. I’m getting a closer shave just by changing to the badger brush and soap. Amazing. Highly recommend a good brush, and a good soap. [Incidentally, the soap looks like it's gonna last me for a couple years as well!]

Now Habit Update

I need to spend more time on this in the near future. Some wonderful things found since I last discussed Fiore’s book. Unfortunately, keeping them in mind often is difficult. I’ve experienced a truth too often: No matter how late I stay up, there’s no way to add more time to my day. Important items often will slip by if I am not more conscious to choose to do them first. Fiore’s book explains the idea of the “unschedule”. It’s quite simple really- schedule your time for everything *but* your work. Sleeping, eating, playing time- showering, tooth-paste time, etc.- when this is accomplished, you see all too clearly how much time there is for work. Often there’s not much time to do your work, so realizing this helps you to make proper decisions about that unscheduled time you have. As well, you should commit to yourself to only do 30 minutes of work. That’s right… 20 hours total a week tops. 30 minutes of focused time. The reason is that if you attempt to do all the time you wish to accomplish in your head (say 18 hours a day, is what I’d love to be doing)- there’s no way you’re going to actually do it. In fact, because you know you should do 18 hours a day, you’ll find it *very* hard to start. Instead, 30 minutes of extreme focus without distractions often gets more done. It’s all a matter of starting. All projects get done just by starting, and starting and starting… over and over again, until the project is finished. Little starts of focused time.

Oh, a bit of a tip, as well- it appears that the infinity journal (both the normal and the mini) from Levenger will fit the Miquelrius journals that I find at Pendemonium and Barnes and Noble. So, if you’re looking for a real leather cover, and a ribbon book-mark for it, the cover will likely fit. Nice to know incase the one that comes with it, runs out. :)

Tobacco And The Sea

After a trip to Levengers at Fields, I walked over to the oldest family owned business in Illinois- Iwanries & Co. Paid for a pipe I had money down on, and perused their tobacco. Lo and behold- I find tins of Murray blended Dunhill blends!! I couldn’t believe it! So, I snagged a number of London Mixture tins. Happy with my surprise find, I walked down to the warf to pay a call on an old friend- The Abegweit. She’s now the Columbia Yacht Club club-house. A number of very kind club members talked with me about the old ferry, and invited me and the family back at a future date. I was floored at their kind offer. As a kid, I leaned over the Abegweit’s bow watching the ocean race by on my way to my grandmother’s house in Prince Edward Island. It was great to see the boat being well-loved.

As I walked, with my pipe in mouth, enjoying the tall-ships that came that weekend to Chicago, I was reminded of how the sea and tobacco were often the two things that most stirred man’s imagination in the days gone by. The days of shaving-brushes, and lavender soaps, wooden ships, and pipes…

July 21, 2006

Short one today (aggregators and time)…

Posted in GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 1:40 pm by a11en

Just a short post for today… a bit of a productivity hint here and kudos go out to Bloglines. I’ve recently started using Bloglines as an online aggregator. (I wanted some sort of simple aggregator to pass through geektool, but for now, bloglines and their simple unread web-notifier api will work for me…) I hate to say this, but it really helps free up some of my time. I tended to surf to various pages with RSS feeds (a number of blogs as well as productivity sites), and perhaps surf them a number of times, only to find them not updated yet. I guess I sort of enjoyed this mind-numbing surfing, not realizing it was taking me too much time. Now, with the firefox extensions installed, or my geektool notifier running, I’m less likely to worry about the sites I like to read, and concentrate on other things. It’s one less “goof off” time-waster when I’m trying to avoid my work (procrastination). Kinda like the fact that it’s no longer a time sink now. :)

So, if you haven’t tried some sort of aggregator, you should check one out- either web-based or computer based, it might save you some time- allow you to enjoy the sites you like to read, yet free up your time so you don’t keep checking 5 sites over and over again. ;)

Future posts that I’m working on for you:

  • How to liberate those underlined and exclaimation-pointed sections in those books you read so that they can feed your work on a daily basis.
  • Esterbrooks- a woman’s backyard stream, or an everyday man’s pen?
  • And at some point in time, a bit more on changing the face of graduate education and a Now Habit procrastination update. BTW, the Now Habit is absolutely superb. I’m totally loving that book. I hope to sometime have an outline overview of the book posted, but I may have to contact the author just to ensure I can post it in full. I’m around 3/4 of the way in at the moment, and it continues to change my view of my work, and motivate me.

BTW- Some kudos goes out to the creators of FlexTime. A promising young application for more advanced and easily created alarms. I use it to feed my 10+2×5, or 10-minute dash hack (see my previous procrastination posts). (Add applescript ability [both in and out], multiple triggers for a single alarm event- along with scripting triggers, or perhaps shell-script triggers- and you’ll have a very interesting program there! As well, a minimization or transparent running clock window which floats above all applications so we can see events if we want, would allow me to hide it and still keep track of my time.)

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