Daynotes 2023-05-26

Thinking about experimenting with daynotes a bit; Context: This blog originally started out as a way of posting weekly notes, back when I was gainfully employed as a developer-up-to-team-lead. It was a way to personally reflect on the challenges of the job, and a lot of the thoughts were me trying to figure stuff out as I went along, in a more open way.

Right now, I’m in a slightly different position – in some ways the work is still largely the same under the hood: make code run, talk to people, keep things progressing – but there’s also an opportunity to do something different. One of the main ideas, after all, of going freelance was to do my own thing, so it makes sense to apply the same mindset to the facets and side-effects that go along with that, like this blog.

From a legacy perspective, I keep finding myself wanting to take notes about the practical work I’ve done. I think that can be harder to do less interesting for me when the work is technical – although there can still be merit in writing up a particularly tricky challenge.

Instead, I’ll try making these notes a bit more about mindset and freelancing life in general, than about specific projects. This, like the job before it, is the current "life puzzle" I’m going through I guess – and perhaps these are also things that are more shared in common with others?

With that in mind…

Photo of a bench on top of a grassy hill, overlooking a small town in the distance, under blue sky with a couple of fluffy clouds.

Since last time:

  • Wednesday: Woke up absolutely exhausted. The wife suggested taking a day off to recover which was a very sensible suggestion. Been through enough exhaustion to start becoming something of a tiredness connoisseur and knew that it was mainly social and mental exhaustion: I do like interacting with people, and can jump between things quickly, but it gets very tiring after about 2 weeks without a break. I packed some snacks in a bag, caught a bus out of town, and walked down to the sea. After clearing out 100 or so emails from my phone, I walked back over the hills into town, grabbed a bite to eat, and read for an hour.

  • Thursday was slightly choppy as I was working from Brighton, but also needed to head home early to watch the kids while my wife popped out. I’m finding a small amount of time planning to work well though, and have made some decent progress on an ongoing project. For me, I’m noticing that a sense of satisfaction comes from the mixture of spending time on something, and achieving realistic milestones, as well as knowing where I’m at in the project.

  • It was good to catch up with people again, including TC and a satisfying badminton session.

  • I’m continuing to clear Things out. I feel like I need to undo a large amount of the stuff (physical and digital) that I’ve been acquiring over the last 20+ years.

Next steps:

  • I want to carry on a few of the mental trends I’ve been following above, namely 1) relaxing into things, not necessarily to do less, but to do things more elegantly (which often equates to "Better", whatever that means), and 2) spending more time clearing things out. I’ve not read the book, but the
    title "Stuffocation" is a great one which I’m coming back to.

Hey, you know what? Maybe that’s it for now. I could do a braindump of the 101 things I’d like to do, but that’s 2 really important things I’ve listed, so why not stop there? Relax and aim for elegance. Less is more. Or, to come back to one of my favourite sayings, "Simplify, then add lightness".

Perhaps there’s something about how to stop myself not doing that. But then again, maybe writing this out in the open is just the first step to being more aware of it (typing slows down as I feel myself absorbing the reflections).

Daynotes 2023-05-23

Photo of a model tortoise sitting on top of 1 of 3 logs, inside the wooden frame of a hut with greenery visible outside.

Since last time:

  • a thousand things, an infinity of moments
  • turned a year older, just like every day
  • slept badly, either I’m too warm or too tired
  • some good conversations with people I’ve never met
  • a cafe full of cats
  • cobwebs cleared from the summerhouse / second shed, evicted like a brutal landlord. two spiders were particularly well-sized, I hope they’re ok still
  • some larger household items removed, finally

Maintenance done:

  • photos stream pushed through from phone to laptop via syncthing, and older photos moved to external drive

Maintenance needed:

  • hazel, the music server, seems to have broken
  • battery still fu’d on my macbook, but I’m putting off getting quotes for a fix
  • emails getting ridiculous

In the radar:

  • lots of small actions required to keep things sensible
  • trying to stick to my new, more rigidly proscribed time block regime
  • finding time to stop, can it be done? Is it useful?
  • robins and an intense flutter of magpie wings

Daynotes 2023-05-17

Must be busy, as I’ve not been writing day notes. Today is sunny, and there are two mini chainsaws yelling outside of the front door. The heron at the pond matched the shape of a tree, and the paths are overgrown with nettles and cow parsley. I suspect this is a metaphor for something.

A path leading away through overgrown plants on both sides, with the top of a house visible in the background.

Since last time:

  • Finished looking into GoGoCarto – it’s a nice tool, but may not do quite what is needed. "What is needed" is then the question.

  • Doing more work in spreadsheets to organise my understanding of different projects and how they work. Something about 2D working seems to fit code documentation nicely a lot of the time, as if copying-and-pasting and flexible functionality are inherently non-linear.

  • Attended a welcome event run by Arts Council England as our charity is now a National Portfolio Organisation, along with all the governance and reporting that goes along with it. Secretly excited by the challenge of overview and data here, although now working out how to make a bit more time for it.

  • Eurovision happened, and I still can’t get Finland’s song ‘Cha Cha Cha’ out of my head.

Coming up:

  • I’m thinking about a way to order my time better, as I still feel like I’m jumping haphazardly between things a bit too much. I think I might try blocks of 2-3 days for a project at a time – enough to get into some solid work, but that allows a bit of flexibility over a 2 week period.

  • I also want to start building in deliberate breaks, what some might call "mindfulness" breaks, but for me, at least, it’s about giving myself the opportunity to step away from responsibilities for a moment. Mid-life seems full of these things, and TBH I’ve been jumping from one set of responsibilities to another for years now: Feeling responsible for my own path, for client deliveries, for parenting and family, and for company Boards, and it can be quite tiring a lot of the time. Ten minute breaks to stop thinking, even just once or twice a day, may go a long way.

  • Thinking about both of these in terms of mini-metrics – I have a large spreadsheet for planning and timelogging, and it would seem to make sense to add it in to that somehow.

Personal Mini-Metrics: 1. An introduction

This post thinks through the idea of lightweight use of metrics for personal reflection and focus. It comes out of a week of daynotes – writing small notes each day – which was inspired in turn by Justin Pickard’s post on binnacles and ships’ logs as a form of taking progress, combined with my own background in data for policy making plus an interest in approaches such as OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, to provide some form of rallying post to bind together time and people. So I’m aware this is, in many ways, nothing new and there are certainly plenty of "habit tracker" apps out here which cover similar ground.

Thinking back, it also ties in with growing up around the practice of confession within a Catholic setting, and the ideas of "safe" personal reflection spaces and quantification of ritual (X Hail Mary’s, Y rosary beads, etc), merging with Michel Foucault’s discussion of honesty and parrhesia – the art and practice of an "authentic" or "bold" form of speech – in Fearless Speech, and from there directly (IMHO) to the modern day rituals of things like regular retrospectives in agile methodologies, and weeknoting. Bullet journalling fits in here too, and I especially like its explicit use of paper as a medium of record.

To tie it all together then, how do these rituals of reflection and spaces for honesty feed into a more personal, meaningful idea of almost hyperlocal metrics? That is, how can I talk about this idea with an air of universal practicalism, yet maintain the notion that the configuration and usage of personal data is entirely a subjective one? And – to offer something different to many other practices – is it possible to stop the data nerd in me thinking too much, and keep the process to something as minimalist as possible?

Perhaps the answer lies in metric theory as a guiding principle, but its application as an intentionally private endeavour, even if worked out in a more public setting such as an open blog. That is, we can learn from each other and from history about what generally works or doesn’t for data, but ultimate responsibility for entering into the practice, crafting something useful, actually reflecting, and "adjusting course" (or changing it significantly) comes down to our own self. We are the captain of our own ship, even if the ship has been built by others, nautical knowledge comes from thousands of years of exploration, and the winds are forever out of our control.

At its heart, a mini-metrics practice should be "lightweight" in the sense that it encourages regular reflection, to bind together our own self-narrative through time. That is, its main purpose is not to generate data or blogposts, but to reconnect our own imagination with our own memory, in a way that has been disrupted by the constant interruption of the attention economy.

Furthermore, the process should grow our own sense of self-awareness, in order to "merely" ascertain our own place in the world. While we should not set out to judge and criticize ourselves, there will be times when reflection may generate either a flash of realisation that ties back in with a sense of weakness and humility, and equally times when we will achieve a sense of pride. (Mental note: Perhaps either of these states of realisation should trigger a re-orientation, and a re-scoping of needs, goals and metrics?)

With that written down, I’ll come back to thoughts on running mini metrics another time, but suggestions and thoughts very welcome. I’m at

Scan of an old sailing ship's log, a table written on parchment paper with various columns with numbers, handwritten text for events, and some images of the boat in question.

daynotes 2023-05-11

Nope, brain not keeping track of day of the week currently. That’s ok though, the sun is out and things are happening.

Since last time (2 days):

  • Been assessing and writing up my state-of-play on a longer term project, in which a lot of under-the-hood refactoring work has been done alongside large amounts of codebase orientation. It was feeling … "messy" in my brain, so I took some time to summarise the key changes in infrastructure I’ve been working on, including why I needed to work on them. Coding can get like that a lot – you need to factor in and schedule time to see the wood again, and reassert why you’re where you’re at. It also means I have more clarity and transparency around communications with the client, which is hugely important on a project like this.

  • I deployed a bit of work I’ve been looking at over the last couple of weeks. While I’m happy to take the end users through what’s been set up, there’s always the chance that a) they’ll forget how it works, b) I’ll forget how it works, and/or c) other people may be brought in to edit the content involved. So I spent a little extra time writing the steps up into a document, including screenshots.

  • Both of the above have been good tasks to do alongside a slightly fragmented day involving bank meetings, shopping, and school pick-ups. Consolidate understanding. Set out plans. These things will stand you in good stead in a busy, choppy world.

  • I also had a good day delving into code properly, really understanding (or not) some of the flow of WordPress hooks.

  • I watched Eurovision semi-final 1 on Tuesday with son 1.

Today is rapidly hurtling towards tools-down time, but has been mostly:

  • Trying out GoGoCarto open source mapping tool for a client. Chance to practice reading French a bit, as well as installing a translation plug-in. Docker install went very well and I’ve had some good initial success importing data and configuring the tool locally.

  • Trying out a gitlab-to-Digital Ocean docker deployment for the first time, but just hit an error message.

  • Last night I got MOP3, a Mastodon-to-POP3 bridge, set up, and accessing/posting Mastodon via a new Thunderbird account has been oddly soothing.

In terms of progress – well, see above really.

Also been thinking about this Progress section. Separate post needed, but I think there is merit in "micro-metrics", in the sense that boats might record a fairly simple set of data in their logbook (I assume – compared to today’s modern data capture, at least). Personal progress metrics for a week, lightweight and relevant. Yeah, something there…

Daynotes 2023-05-09

What day is it? I feel like Link waking up at the start of Link’s Awakening – somewhat discombobulated, but somewhere around here there was a world and an adventure happening. Now if I could just get down to the beach…

Since last time (a long time ago):

  • Dug back into an ongoing, longer term project to make more refactors. After a fairly major shift to bring multiple WordPress sites together into a single site, there are some finer details rearing their heads (or the expected unexpecteds, to put it another way). I spent some time looking into custo URL routes in WordPress, and "acceptable" ways to pass variables between filters and template includes, and generally understanding the space better. It’s a slight rabbit hole, so I may park it and document it.

  • Voted.

  • Generally early starts. Somehow managed to get a lock-in in Seaford, so Saturday was a rather fuzzy day. Up early on Sunday to get the bus over to Eastbourne for my and son 1’s second official Pokemon TCG tournament. (He won a prize pack, I didn’t come last, and I can now happily discuss 90% of mdoern Pokemon card tactics with random strangers 🤔). And another early one Monday to pick up a bike.

  • Also, a weekend of lots of clearing out cupboards and shed junk. I think there is a) something definitely more therapeutic about clearing things out, and "curation therapy" should be much more of A Thing than "retail therapy" IMHO, and b) there feels like significant overlap between the joy of refactoring code and the sense of zen that comes from decluttering, and maybe I should make more of a thing out of that, personally speaking.

Black and white photo of a wheel and side of a car, with rippling reflections of sunlight being cast onto the nearby pavement


  • I’m going to spend a bit more time in the same project as before, but need to set out some overview structure to start locating progress and testing plans as things come together. It’s at the point where I need to make more functional changes, and I don’t want to lose track of which things are broken, which things aren’t, and which things are being intentionally changed.

  • Eurovision semi-final 1. Can you believe that these are actually being shown on BBC 1?


  • A bit of mental progress really, which is often more important than tangible or otherwise-visible progress – that is, development of an understanding around where you are on a piece of work, what the challenge is, and what the next steps are – even if you haven’t technically done anything to show. I wish people understood this aspect of "knowledge working" more, as it’s the key to unlocking a lot of productivity. In my case, it’s the realisation that I need to step back and document things before ploughing on with code.