Failures in productivity

This post is a form of procrastination. I’m not sure of its purpose, but it feels right to write it.

Possible purposes may be:

  • To distract me from other work
  • To foster some accountability
  • To share my experiences in the hope they help others, if only be showing them they’re not alone
  • To receive empathy from others
  • To get feedback from others with similar experiences

Whatever the case, here we go.

I woke this morning before 6am. I was stressed about work. My productivity has been quite abysmal of late. For my full-time job, I’ve been getting around 1-3 hours of productivity per my 8-hour day, rather than a more ideal 4-6 hours. I’ve been struggling to focus on and be motivated by my work, and allowing myself to be distracted by social media and other non-work-related things.

This is a recurring thing for me, and has followed me from previous jobs I’ve had. I go through phases where I am adequately, even incredibly, productive, but I always find that eventually I fall into bad habits again and my productivity plummets.

I’ve wondered whether it’s because I don’t enjoy my work enough, or if I’m just not good enough at it or not a good fit, or because I have a disorder like ADHD that hinders my focus. This last thing is something I’ve been reluctant to entertain because I fear I’m just using it as an excuse (that said, I haven’t raised this particular possibility with my therapist), and everybody struggles with focus sometimes, right?

I’ve tried various different methods of focus, including:

  • A piece of software that asks me, every 15 minutes “What are you doing?!”, to allow me to more accurately track my time (with the side benefit of being able to log this time in the work time tracking system for billing clients etc.). This is less successful at holding me accountable than it used to be, but I’m better with it than without.
  • Keeping clear lists of tasks I need to do, and prioritising them. I’ve tried paper, Google Keep, Gmail’s Tasks, and currently, Trello, but I also have two ticket systems for work (Jira and osTicket), as well as my email, and between all of the above, I tend to find that I have more lists than I can manage and struggle to consolidate everything into a single list that’s digestible.
  • Removing distractions from my work laptop by closing social media and chat apps. This can help, but requires self-discipline. I’ve eschewed technical methods of blocking these apps, because I’m a techy and very few of these techniques would take me more than a few seconds to disarm, so we’re back to self-discipline, which I don’t seem to have in adequate supply.
  • Working from somewhere other than home. This has had limited success, but motivating myself to leave and go to the library, a cafe, a co-working space, or a friend’s place is often a struggle.

I’m also considering things like Pomodoro Technique, and Getting Things Done (GTD), the latter of which I’ve bought the book on, but not made time to read yet (ah, the irony!). In a timely event, yesterday I got an email newsletter from Trello that linked to a blog post about our penchant for switching productivity tools. It was slightly reassuring, but also a bit disheartening; I don’t want to have to keep switching tools to keep my brain engaged; I want to just find something that works and be able to stick to it.

This morning I have:

  • Done a little research on Pomodoro and GTD unsure if I’ll try either yet
  • Checked social media
  • Gotten up at 7am
  • Showered
  • Done a load of washing
  • Had breakfast
  • Cleaned the kitchen benches, sink and stove top
  • Hung out washing to dry
  • Cleaned my bathroom mirror
  • Cleared and decluttered my desk (moving some stuff into stupid places where I probably won’t find it when I need it, and from where I’ll eventually, in the fullness of time, need to move it from to somewhere more sensible. But the key is that it’s out of my way and I feel better about having a clean)
  • Started writing this blog post

The above indicates I’ve been shocked into motivation by my fear that I’m not performing adequately, and needed some easy wins to ease my mind and get the ball rolling.

So, the summary of this post is that I’m struggling with focus and self-discipline, and have done so on and off for years, unsure if it’s a disorder, insufficient passion/competency for parts of my work, or if I just need to suck it up and do the things I don’t necessarily want to do. I’m feeling inadequate and unproductive, which is a self-fulfilling prophesy, for which the only remedy I know is to just find a task and complete it in an attempt to boost my self-esteem and hope that sets me on a more positive cycle.

I would prefer people don’t offer me advice without asking permission first, because I don’t respond well to this, however I am interested in hearing from others who have experienced chronic failure to focus on work for a sufficient quantity of the day for their full-time jobs, and what’s worked from them. Maybe? I dunno.

Brains are weird. And sometimes frustrating.

Now it’s 9:33am and I’m late for work. I guess it’s time to just harden up, do some tasks and see how I feel. Here goes nothing.

Commute delays, frustration, and empathy

“Keep the doorstep clear, please,” The tram driver intones over the PA for what must be the tenth time during my commute. The doorstep remains crowded, along with the rest of the tram. Standing, back against the window, occupying as little space as I can, I crank up my music and try to relax.

My day starts well: I wake relatively well rested with plenty of time to shower and breakfast before leaving home. Walking to the bus while texting a friend, I’m pleased to observe that the sun has decided to briefly grace me with its presence.

The bus is almost 10 minutes late. I could’ve walked to the tram instead, and maybe I’d have just caught the one I watched sail past as I disembarked my bus. How could I have known?

On a route with a usual frequency of 8 minutes, that tram was the last one for over 30 minutes. There had been a route disruption and the network was still catching up.

I catch the tram because, despite the extra 10 minute travel time, I can sit down and maybe get some productive work or recreational reading done, whereas the train is often so packed I can’t hold my phone in front of my face.

I should have caught the train, I tell myself as I await the tram. How could I have known? Well I could have checked the live public transport app that told me there were delays. But I didn’t; can’t change that now.

The sun has gone behind the clouds. My mood takes a hit. I’m frustrated. I’m going to be late. This isn’t a problem; I will still get my work done, and maybe I can get a head start once the tram arrives.

The tram arrives. It’s a single-section Z-Class vehicle, rather than this route’s more regular dual-section B-Class vehicles. It’s packed, or near enough to that there are no seats. I consider awaiting the next one, but it’s another 7 minutes away, and I’m already late. I board the tram.

I’m jostling for space, trying to maintain balance as the tram accelerates and decelerates by turns. There will be seats after people disembark at the train station. Wrong. By the time we reach the station, more have boarded, and I can’t move. The pressure eases off with the station passengers’ departure, but still no seats. I shuffle from the aisle to the available space against the window, where I’m out of the way and reasonably well supported.

So much for the sun: it has started raining. Another hit to my mood. This is Melbourne, and I’m prepared with my umbrella to handle the practical aspects of inclement weather, but my brain has other ideas.

I hate everything. The current weather, my fellow passengers, the public transport provider, the tram driver and their insistent announcements about clearing the doorstep. I should’ve followed my instincts and worked from home like I was considering before getting out of bed. This is not how to set a positive tone for my day.

I stop.

I take a deep breath.

I consider the commuters around me. They didn’t ask for this. They’re just trying to get to work, same as me. Some of them may not work somewhere as flexible as I do, where being a little late isn’t a huge deal. They’re doing the best they can.

I consider the public transport control centre. Who knows what sort of disruptions they had to deal with today while I was still eating my breakfast? They’re probably frustrated, trying to get back on schedule, willing physics to bend the rules so they can get their trams where they’re needed in a timely manner. They’re doing the best they can.

I consider the tram driver. They’re just doing their job. Surely they have safety precautions to which they must adhere. They’ve possibly received instructions from stressed control centre folks, and are trying to make up time that they’ve lost. They’re dealing with trams that are packed far earlier in their journey than usual, and commuters standing in awkward places because there’s nowhere else to go. They’re doing the best they can.

We’re all doing the best we can, with the information we had available at the time. The world is deliberately trying to make our lives difficult.

Today will be OK. My office is warm and dry, with plenty of natural light, sun or no. My to-do list is manageable. I have things to look forward to.

Standing on the tram, I extract my phone from my pocket, and I begin to write.

2016 Highlights

2016 was a struggle for many of us, with some pretty unpleasant stuff going on all over the world. To combat the feeling that 2016 was nothing but a huge trash fire, several of my friends have published lists of their 2016 highlights, and reading them really warmed my heart, as I felt so pleased for them having some wonderful experienced (there was much compersion to be had!). So, in return, here is my list of things that were awesome about 2016. I hope next year is half as amazing!

  • Went to the Australian Scout Jamboree 2016 in NSW with 39 other awesome people for 10 days, and watched kids have awesome fun, and learn and grow as they took care of each other.
  • Quit my job, after 7 years, for a proper holiday that didn’t involve attending conferences or scout events!
  • Went to Linux.conf.au 2016 in Geelong, and ran a one-day Open Knowledge Australia mini-conference. I’ll get to do this again in 2 weeks’ time in Hobart!
  • Helped out with the Scouts Victoria Kangaree, getting about 10 hours sleep in 3 days, and generally being amazing. It was really gratifying.
  • Went to my first festival, Confest, in NSW. It was an amazing week in which I did too much volunteering, had very little mobile reception (which was the best!), and met awesome people!
  • Saw some awesome shows for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, including Lisa-Skye’s “Spiders Wearing Party Hats,” which, between MICF and Fringe, I saw 3 times!
  • Experienced and participated in my first ever scene at a kink club, expanding my comfort zone. It was a fascinating experience!
  • Helped set up computers for Popup Playground’s Small Time Criminals, which is still running until February, and which you should totally book in if you haven’t already!
  • Went on my first overseas touring holiday to Europe. This was amazing, three weeks was exactly the right duration, and I absolutely loved it!
  • Did some awesome and fulfilling work with Invent The World, using Minecraft and other games to teach kids online empathy, problem solving, teamwork, and keyboard and mouse motor skills. Seeing these kids work together and learn was exhausting, but extremely rewarding, and I really hope to do more of this in the future.
  • Planned and ran GovHack Melbourne 2016, a weekend hackathon for about 100 people, with an amazing team of volunteers!
  • Attended my first PyCon AU in Melbourne, where I went to an education seminar, learned some awesome stuff from some even more awesome friends, new and old!
  • Went to Slut Walk Melbourne for the first time, and marched with hundreds of others against slut shaming and rape culture.
  • Attended HealthHack Melbourne 2016, as a participant, and not a volunteer, for a change, and, with my team, achieved second place for our hack!
  • Visited Adelaide for the first time, for the GovHack 2016 National Red Carpet Awards; a beautiful city!
  • Returned to Wellington, NZ, for yet another amazing KiwiCon, which ran in spite of the earthquake earlier that week!
  • Presented a talk about getting youth involved in tech at that fantastic BuzzConf emerging technology festival in Ballan, Victoria. A delightful, family-oriented feel permeated the event, and I met some of the best people!
  • Expanded my comfort zone further by attending my first ever gay clubs etc.
  • Went to the ever awesome Swingin‘ Bella Christmas, and sang and danced to the excellent music they play there every year!
  • Formed new relationships (from friendships to intimate partnerships) with some brilliant folks, while amicably ending some that had run their courses.

The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met this year have been unforgettable, and I’ll cherish many of them for years to come. Thank you to all of you who have made my life amazing simply by being a part of it.

To blog, or not to blog

For years, I’ve pondered the idea of starting a blog. It never seemed worthwhile, and there always seemed to be plenty of hurdles.

Hosting

Where would I host a blog? As a big supporter of data sovereignty and data liberation, I didn’t want to lock myself into a particular service and so considered self-hosting.

On the flip side, as a systems administrator, I didn’t really want go have to deal with the maintenance of yet another service on one of my servers, particularly something like WordPress with I get the impression needs regular updates applied, which aren’t necessarily available in a timely manner from my Linux distribution’s package manager.

Ultimately, after creating a WordPress.com account in 2012 to occasionally contribute to another blog and squat on my username, and subsequently determining that the site has an Export function which returns all content as XML, I decided that was Good Enough(TM) and made my blog publicly viewable and searchable.

Content and frequency

What do I have to blog about? If what I write is only of interest to me, I may as well keep a private diary. If you look at my Twitter feed, you’ll see a huge percentage of it is retweets of others, rather than original content. Do I really have anything to say?

Of course I do. Despite being busy out and about actually living my life, I still spent significant time reading and forming opinion on topics that are important to me (see my About page). Occasionally, there’s a topic I feel strongly and educated enough about to weigh in on with my own thoughts. Sometimes I do this on Twitter, however sometimes 140 characters just isn’t sufficient.

Is it worth setting up a blog, though, for the seemingly rare occasions I feel like sharing my opinion with the world? Well given I’m hosting on a managed service, the cost of maintenance is basically zero, so there’s no harm in having a site that is often dormant until I need it, and I have no obligation to set a schedule for how regularly I post content.

That said, I enjoy writing, and if I don’t strive for anything too close to perfection (e.g. in the form of ensuring I know everything about a topic before authoring a post on it), just the fact that I’ve got a space available to share my thoughts may lower the barrier enough that I do so more often than I’d expect.

Naming

Ah, the all important question. What do I call my blog? I wanted something unique (there are a lot of blogs out there, and many of the names I considered were in use) and memorable, while having a nice ring to it. “mattcen’s mumblings”, which occurred to me the other day, contains a username that is mostly only associated with me across the internet, and it alliterates nicely, so it’s as good a name as any.

Privacy

Privacy is, ironically, the topic that finally made me choose to write a blog post (that’s coming soon), so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that, despite my privacy attempts being largely in vain, I am usually quite conscious about what I share on the internet so there’s little reason to share any more information than necessary. Time will tell whether I have any luck retaining any semblance of privacy.

Conclusion

So I have a blog. It may get lots of updates, or it may not. The posts may or may nor be useful or interesting to anybody. You’re welcome along for the ride to find out!