Where’ve I been?

Seem to have fallen off the blogging train recently – after I (mostly)
finished drpfd, October rolled on the front of the storms, and I was
(am) caught up among client work, personal projects, and a busy home
life. All of which has been good, just not very public, and definitely
with little time to write Words Which Might Matter.

Still, it’s good to check in. Throughout the maelstrom, I’ve been
learning a lot. For instance!

* Modern CSS units for site responsiveness

in an age where scrollbars are ethereal, and the real difference
between “fixed” and “sticky” positioning.
* How to make things in Pulp ,
the 1-bit editor for Playdate games, and how to
keep a devlog in Discord.
* How to use Carbon Fields , a free
alternative to ACF Pro in WordPress.

Behind the scenes, there’s a lot happening at Writing Our Legacy
too, and I try to keep some time for
relaxing. I really need to meditate more when my brain is trying to
juggle so many things though.

I also keep coming back to personal principles and the “bigger game”
that is social equality, climate change, and building something better.
Maybe I’m not doing enough here, or maybe now is not the right time to
make changes – this dichotomy is, in itself, an interesting conundrum.
Busy-ness leads to routine. Routine leads to acceptance. Acceptance
leads to busy-ness.

There is never the Right Time to break the cycle, so is now the Right
Time to break the cycle?

From Task Lists to the Art of Enjoyment

It must be late summer, as the bindweed in the garden has begun to take over. I spent a few minutes today pulling out some of the runners and untangling the plants it had wrapped around, which gave me some time to think more about why we do things.

As per yesterday, I’m reassessing the general idea of task and to-do lists. A part of me wants to shift to something more enjoyable, and alongside this notion of “joy”, I’ve been mulling over what gives me joy. (Is there a big difference between “joy” and “to enjoy”? Perhaps not semantically, but there’s a lot to be said for thinking about things in terms of verbs – behaviour, temporarily in flow and doomed.to change, rather than the asset- and accumulation-driven realm of nouns.)

What is that feedback loop that makes me enjoy things? Sometimes it’s the simple process of facing a challenge and resolving it in an inventive way. But there still needs to be a reason behind it – I feel like something should be improved as a result, and I think back to the idea that “if you’ve made the world better during your life, you’ve done ok”.

I had this vaguely in mind as I pulled up the strings of weeds with gloved hands. To-do style: “I must clear out the bindweed.” Enjoyment style: “I can improve the garden’s environment.”

But then. I wondered what I was improving. Or rather, who and what it was being improved for. Was I really clearing the weeds so that the small apple tree could grow more vigorously? Or was it to make the garden neater, for me, for the family, for the neighbours? What did the bindweed think about this, or the spiders that scuttled out of the way as I removed the undergrowth around them?

I didn’t have a firm answer. But with that, I kind of realised that there wasn’t necessarily an answer to be found. “Improvement” depended on your point of view – your own values and interests, and your position in the system. In your timescale for awareness, and in your appetite for change.

Plenty of land and cultures have been torn down and apart, based on one idea of “improvement” or another. Entire educational industries try to shoehorn attitudes into learning alongside skillets and opportunities. “Improvement” can be a form of wielding power, an ominous and subjective decision around what is good and bad. Can we ever say that improvement is a net-positive game rather than a zero sum one, that to improve something is always to deny something else?

It is not wrong to want to improve things. It is a natural (and unique) human desire. But it can be wrong to do it without thinking through the power balances involved, and to enforce an aim of improvement where consent, rationale and emotion are bypassed in the process.

Which leads back to a more nuanced perspective about what it means to enjoy something. It can be a delicate thing, if one is aware of the systems involved. Thinking too much about it can severely curtail that getting l hedonistic idea of doing something for the love of it, but perhaps that just means we should tread more carefully, and be proud of the smaller changes that we’re more certain of?

Re-examining my relationship with To-do lists and Life…

[Image: Original Groundlake logo sketched out in biro, re-discovered recently while clearing out old notebooks.]

The bank holiday weekend started out well. We packed the car, left in a semi-timely manner, took the scenic route, and ate our favourite local pizza (one napoli, one pepperoni and pineapple) in the evening. I managed to enter one of my favourite – and dangerous – secondhand bookshops the next day, and spent two days meeting a new family member for the first time. We played table tennis, went to the beach, drank beer and enjoyed a fair bit of Vampire Survivors.

Sunday evening I was a bit weary though, and too tired to be sensible and get an early night. And when Monday came around. It was like my body had given up. And, with it my mind had spiralled down into something of a grump-hole. I crashed pretty hard all day, managing to play the mini-golf I’d hoped to get to all weekend, but having to leave the long drive home to my wife while I mostly stared out the window into the distance.

I’ve been thinking more about life and energy since then. Not that it’s a new thing, I guess I often feel pretty exhausted – there’s a cycle of feeling okay, taking on too much, and then getting overwhelmed and wanting it to all go away. I suspect that’s a decent description of a light form of manic-depression. But that’s me. And I feel like I’m unpicking it a bit more this time round.

I am, however, slightly sick of simply trying to change up my “routine”, or find short-hand ways to be more “effective”, “productive”, “GTD”, etc. I’m generally on board with that and have multiple methods to organise things – they usually work, although at times I think it means my threshold is simply higher, so I get more of a rebound effect when I do get to that limit.

So perhaps I’m missing a whole realm of alternative answers here. Ones that don’t just restructure the pieces on the board, but actually change the rules of the game. For instance, I’ve noticed that a more organised to-do list (even if just 2 or 3 items long) can simply turn into a to-fret list, a machine for making you concerned about whether you’ve ticked your own boxes or not. It can remove a lot of the joy and creativity of doing, and I know myself well enough to know that it’s that joy which keeps me going – without it, the overhead of worry either creates or amplifies the down side of the cycle.

I have a festering belief that (my) focus methods should simply set some basic guidelines, such as time spent, and on a particular area/client/topic/etc, and that I should then encourage myself to enjoy improving that space as much as possible.

Sure, task lists are still a good way of organising and breaking down possible work to avoid confusion, but it’s about shifting the starting point for going into that work. It’s about returning to the reasons for why you started doing something in the first place. It’s all about Intent.

I’m going to give this a mindful go, alongside other small tweaks to try to improve my rest cycles (less coffee, more reading, more water, slowing down generally). I don’t want to set out any specific steps for how I’m going to do it though, other than a few minutes of thought time before I begin things – that would seem to defeat the whole point of it. And I don’t want it to be just a work thing, despite this being my work notes blog. I feel like it’s a me thing, across everything I do.

Let’s go.

Daynotes 2023-07-05: “Mind” as brain gardener

Feeling different this week as I continue to read "The Middle Path of Life" (see previous post); it seems to trigger some latent meditative states of mind in me, back from when I actually used to practice sitting. In particular, I am detaching from stresses slightly more, being more comfortable with my own tiredness, and – particularly of note – discovering a perspective that is akin to a mental "gardener" than the brain itself.

Ie. If we treat the brain as a processing machine – or something more organic, such as the ecosystem of a tree – then the mind (the reflective surface, rather than the conscious and rational brain or the emotional ego) the mind can be detached as a kind of mechanic, gardener or host role. It can create the conditions for activity to happen, without getting involved in the activity itself. It can act as a scrum master, a distant but loving parent, the scrubber in front of a curling stone. This pattern is everywhere in life, yet we ignore it for ourselves.

The brain may be stressed due to too much work, for example. The forceful mind drives the brain to work harder, but the reflective and supportive mind asks what might help identify and relieve that stress. That might take the form of external actions (speaking to someone to rearrange spec, or deadline) or it might be internal (reassessing priorities, doing something distracting, or so on).

That’s just one example – I’m wary of equating mindfulness with productivity and used that just because I’m heading to my place of work today, but it equally applies to all relationships with the world and the people in it.

The bus has unexpectedly halted before my intended destination. I may be late. Never mind. The growl of the bus engine has gone. Out in the distance, I see scaffolding the fluffy clouds of morning.

Daynotes 2023-06-29: Meditative everyday work

Woke up at 5.20, went back to sleep. Woken up at 6.20, went back to sleep. Dreamed the world was ending but nobody really knew how to react, so everyone carried on as normal. I was worried that people didn’t realise they had to say goodbye to their kids properly when they sent them off to school, as they wouldn’t see them again.

Dreams don’t do punctuation.

A large, rectangular white and yellow building-like structure is obscured by close up detail of raindrops on a window.

Nearly June end. At the start of the month, I took a day out to think a little about where I’m at with freelancing and life in general. I haven’t got round to a better write-up yet, but the big cha(lle)nge I took away from it was a need to work more "mindfully" – that is, to move from a productive-but-mundane approach of following a list of tasks, to a process and routine that "bakes in" the longer term values that are important to me.

It’s one thing working in the field of what I’m calling "long term tech", but it’s another to stick to it in the detail of everyday life. So figure out ways to bring it all together.

Tangentially, this week’s new book is "The Middle Path of Life" by Dhiravamsa. The first few chapters have dug into why meditation is important, and how it requires a shift from an "unconscious" form of behaviour (modern everyday life, the ego, etc) to an approach grounded in "curious awareness" (or maybe "aware curiosity?").

I think this can act as a pivot point for working differently and more mindfully. I started trying to plan out not just what I was doing for the day when it started, but also the things I wanted to be conscious of when doing the work – for long term tech, this often means a lot of good practice, such as decent documentation, clean code, keeping people informed, and so on. (Separate blog post/book/etc…)

Like meditation, this proactive planning is hard to keep up in busy periods, but it’s really all about the practice, not the ritual. If I’m aware that I’m not doing something, this is sometimes more important than making the time to actually do it.

The rain has come and everything smells of overwhelmingly of tarmac.