Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Daily notes let me sleep at night.

Published: 20 Jul 2012

I have a hard time sleeping. When I lay down, my mind starts to race. I think of all the things I did. I think of all the things I need to do and want to do. I think of things I could have done better. I’m not unique in this, a lot of people have this problem.

Before my wife entered my life, I cycled through many inefficient strategies. I would watch the same movie every night to fall asleep. I would listen to various white noise generators. They all worked, sort of. And then one day my wife discovered that it’s pretty much impossible for me to stay awake when I get a foot massage. She’s a massage therapist. Talk about a match made in heaven.

However, that doesn’t help the overall sense of why I can’t sleep. It treats the symptom (and does so very, very well) but not the cause. Although to some degree it does because I have lucid dreams and think about specific problems. I still have to know what those problems are before hand, though. If I can clearly identify what I’m trying to accomplish, it helps. But now I have to know what I’m trying to do.

We rarely know what we’re doing.

In my years in college studying everything but computer science, I took a lot of psychology and sociology courses. In one course, the focus of study was on subconscious actions. On average, we are aware of 10% of our outward behaviors at any given time. We do the majority of things without any awareness.

We also tend to get through life this way. It seems that only 10% of the time we’re doing something on purpose. I don’t like that. It feels like a waste of time to me, and a magnet for bad habits.

Aside from tracking my goals religiously, I’ve found a new technique that really helps me stay on task and focused.

Write down tomorrow, today.

I spent 5 minutes at the end of every day writing down what I will accomplish tomorrow. If I have doubt about getting it done, I don’t write it down. Very simple, and it’s never taken me more than 5 minutes.

I usually only have about 4 real specific items to do, and a few notes and other miscellaneous tasks. It still is a challenge to get them all done. I even missed one the other day and felt terrible about it.

Recognize, review and reorganize.

If I miss my tasks on any given day, I need to recognize why. This part may take more than 5 minutes. I try to ask myself a few questions:

  1. Was I being lazy? Did I spend time doing something damaging to my productivity (video games, etc).
  2. Was I being too ambitious? There is a limit to how much I can do, I must recognize that limit.
  3. Was I just wrong? Sometimes tasks are very intensive and I can’t do them. This is bad estimating and I need to not do that.
  4. External forces? The universe can conspire against us, take that into account.

Defending against laziness.

If I’m being lazy, I just need to review why. Typically I’m procrastinating because I don’t know how I want to do something. Rarely is it that I just don’t want to do it. If that’s the case, I spend 5 minutes at the task and give myself a break. After 5 minutes forcing myself at a task I typically finish it. The first 5 minutes are hard.

If I don’t know how, I should spend more time reading on the subject. Usually reading gets me motivated to try new fixes or figure out what I want to do.

Fly to the sun without burning wings.

Being too ambitious is hard, because when I’m excited I tend to think I can conquer the world. I can move a mountain overnight, of course! When I feel I’m being too ambitious, I write down my tasks I want to do and then remove half of them. What is important is that I do not move them to the next day. Every day my tasks are new. I do not plan more than one day in the future here.

By removing half after I write them down, I still feel like I’m being ambitious because I write down a few things that I know I’m going to remove. I then force myself to remove one big thing. It’s about honesty, but if you can’t be honest with yourself you have other problems.

Being wrong sucks.

When I miss an estimate I really beat myself up. I get frustrated and sulk. I pride myself on my estimating abilities so when they go wrong I tend to disassemble the entire situation. I try to pinpoint exactly where things went off the rails.

Because of my own personal level of loathing for missed estimates, this tends to be something I don’t encounter frequently. Fortunately.

When the world gives you lemons…

I don’t believe in making lemonade. If I wanted lemonade, I would have already made some. Be proactive and have backup plans.

Specifically because I don’t write down tasks for future days beyond tomorrow, I know other things I want to work on. If life gives me lemons, I pick something up from the backlog.

It’s important to track this still, so on my task lists I comment and write down what happened. I may or may not add the task for the next day.

Harping on something that becomes strategically difficult or has an unnecessary burden to complete has no benefit. It’s important to know what things you don’t have to do, and focus on doing the things you are doing instead.

There is always tomorrow to accomplish what you couldn’t today. The day after tomorrow? Who knows, we may be drinking lemonade.