I have recently made the decision to get more done with my time. I realized that, although I was working fewer hours at the day job, I was not getting any more of my personal projects done. I (clearly) haven’t been blogging. I have gotten very little music done. And I hadn’t written a line of poetry or a paragraph of prose in quite some time. It took me a while to realize that, but once I did I decided to put a good deal of my effort into getting things done. I couldn’t go on in the way that I had been. So, I made some changes.
First up were the mental changes. I had to tell myself that I was going to get a certain amount of things done every day. I had to make sure that a minimum amount of progress was made no matter what before I went to sleep, even if that meant that I would have to short change my friends and family on occasion. That was the hardest part.
I enjoy few things as much as my family. Even if we aren’t actively doing anything. Most days, I’d rather be in a room with my family doing nothing than actually doing stuff without them around. But frequently I find myself wasting entire days just sitting around with the family messing around on Facebook and YouTube because I don’t want to start a project and have the family decide that they want to go do something or that they need me to have some one on one time. I found myself so afraid of having to pull myself out of the groove on a project that I never started any. To get anything done, I had to tell myself that it was ok to tell my family that I couldn’t engage with them if I was in the middle of something. But I had to be objective about it. If I was writing poetry or prose, an activity that requires me to concentrate deeply and work very quickly before the ideas in my head evaporate, I have every right to ask my family for distraction free time to finish my work so I don’t lose the thread. On the other hand, if I am doing something like sound design or auditioning drum samples for a new song, I have no reason to tell my family to hold on. That is the kind of work that actually gets done better if I take the occasional mental break from it.
I didn’t really discuss any of this with my family (which probably wasn’t the best way to go about it), but I wanted to make sure that I was actually going to carry out these changes in myself before I subjected the family to some form of “big discussion”. After a few weeks of this, I found out that I was getting quite a bit more done. So much more done that I realized that I had very few reasons to ever tell my family that I couldn’t stop what I was doing to interact with them. It was a bit of a revelation to me, though I guess that it seems obvious, that the more work that I got done the less work that I had to get done. Work just got done and family time was something that was there in abundance.
At least that’s how it works most days. The last mental change that had to be made was the ability to tell myself that it was OK if I didn’t finish my list of goals for the day. Sometimes life just gets in the way of work. Sometimes I just don’t have the ability to finish. To get things done in a timely manner. There are days that things will come up and plans get scuttled. There are days when I’ll just say “Fuck it. We’re going to go eat Indian food and then hang out at Starbucks all day!”. And that’s OK if it happens. As long as I set goals, and made an actual effort to complete them it was alright if I only got part of the way through my list.
After the mental changes there were the physical changes. The big one was time. I have worked second watch for years now. On most nights I get out of work somewhere around midnight. After I get off of work, I’m generally in the mood to do something. Go have a drink with the crew from work. Watch a movie or something on Netflix with the wife. Even just catch up on my email and reading the various blogs that I like. That means that I generally get to bed around four or five in the morning. Because of the time that I go to bed, I generally wake up late in the day. So lately I have been trying to make myself wake up earlier. I try to get up around ten in the morning to get a jump-start on the day. This gives me a few hours alone to get some things done before the family wakes up. The down side of this is that I don’t get enough sleep. So I schedule in some days where I have less that I plan on getting done. That, and naps. Naps are the best thing ever invented by man. Also a good nap in the afternoon gets my brain reset and allows me to work smarter and faster after I wake up. Doing less lets me get more done!
The last stage was to create a perfect working environment for myself. When the Tax Return Fairy came through this year, she sprinkled a new Mac Mini into our laps. An HDMI cable connects it to the TV that I bought last year to move the PS3 upstairs to the playroom. That has given me an absolutely immense screen in which to do my main work on. When the family isn’t around, I am able to set up in front of this giant screen and set my laptop up next to me. Lately I have been trying to use the Unix shell for as many processes as possible. I find that the minimalism of the command line allows for extremely distraction free work. I log into my SDF shell account through iTerm on the MacBook. From there I can ssh into my email account to check mail in Alpine or browse the web in Lynx. Lynx is a text-based browser, so I miss out on most of the advertisements. I don’t get any of the pretty pictures on the internet, but that is another way that the shell allows for distraction free work. I have even begun to use TTYtter for keeping up with Twitter while working in the command line, thus turning one of the most distracting things for me into a real-time crowd sourced database of information. Another transmogrification of distraction into a boon for my work. As the old saying goes, “From Shit thus extract pure Shinola”.
So, here’s a picture of my new preferred working environment:
It’s a grand setup, and an environment that allows me to get quite a bit done. If I need a mental sabbatical, I can stream a bit of Netflix on the MacBook and still have my main work up on the big screen. If I really need to step away from the work for a bit, I can switch the input of the big screen from the Mac Mini to the Playstation 3 and kill some dragons.
I’ve also set up my home folder as a synced Dropbox folder, so that I have the same working files whichever system I am on. The only things that aren’t in my Dropbox folder are my music files which I only worked on in my MacBook and are too large for the amount of space that I have on Dropbox. I do have cloud backup for my music production files through Gobbler. Gobbler works similar to Dropbox but only syncs audio and video production files. I have been using it since the early public beta and I love it as a product. If I ever start doing any production Mac Mini I will set up a folder for Gobbler to sync to. The great thing about this setup is that if someone else needs to use the big system I can just shut down the file on the Mac Mini, and by the time I have picked up my laptop to move to a new location to continue working it has been synced in the background by Dropbox. By the time I’m on the couch my project is ready to go.
I’m also completely mobile. I can start writing on the big screen, switch to the laptop in the kitchen while making breakfast, then take it out to the coffee shop to work during lunch. Dropbox keeps everything nice and synced up without me having to do anything. When I shut down my laptop and head home, I can go right back to the Mac Mini if I want.
I am also in the process of relearning the vi editor. I figure that since I am trying to do more writing and have gone through the trouble of setting up a multi-platform system to do my writing on, I should try to do as much writing as possible in a program that was a cross-platform as possible. In my youth I used to use Emacs for everything. I always felt that the two mode system of vi was unnecessarily complex. But over the years I have taught myself how to touch type, and have decided that the ability to keep my fingers on the home row while typing and editing is a better way of working than using the complex multi-finger modifier chords of Emacs. So vi it is for most of my every day typing. It is not easy to remember everything, but I’ve been working my way (repeatedly) through the vilearn tutorials by Jill Kliger & Wesley Craig. They have helped tremendously in my learning of vi.
vi rounds out my basic universal setup, but I have a whole host of Mac OS X specific products that I use as part of my digital workflow. In the coming weeks, I will delve deeper into my setup and explain how I have started to work with these tools in greater detail. This post was mainly intended to highlight the ergonomic and lifestyle changes that I am working on as an aid to getting things done during my day.
With these mental, physical, environmental, and operational changes complete, I have been able to work smarter and faster. I am able to get much more accomplished in a day, which leaves me feeling exited, enthusiastic, and energized instead of wiped out. I look forward to the free time that I have to spend with my family and to the next day’s allotment of work. All of this is a work in progress, and as such my setup might change drastically from time to time. But so far, everything has been working out extremely well.