Field Notes #001

When I first set up this blog, it was my goal to use it to publish frequent field notes, i.e. a bunch of informal observations and brain dumps about whatever I happened to be working on day to day.

But then what happened was what happens with any blog of mine, I started thinking it had to be more than just that: it needed to be a place for Serious Educational Articles and Essays Only. That of course meant that I fairly quickly ran out of steam and stopped publishing.

And so with that in mind, I think I’ll try to get back to my original intentions. These notes in the Field Notes series will more for me than they will be for anyone else. But through them, you’ll get to see a bit of how one experienced software developer who runs their own solo consulting shop lives and works.

With that bit of introduction out of the way, let’s get into some notes!

I’ve always noticed that different kinds of work feel different–and that to get the best results, matching the work I do to how I’m feeling is always a good idea.

If I’m feeling very distracted, I tend to work on small self-contained chores, because they require only a tiny bit of focus to complete, and can be fit in between the gaps of discursive thoughts and the pursuit of shiny objects.

If I’m feeling focused and motivated, I try to to work on the hardest, most important work I have on my plate. Deep focus is something I experience less often than I wish these days, but I get enough of it in small bursts to keep up with my daily responsibilities.

If I’m feeling unwell or stressed, I’ve started to get in the habit of taking intentional breaks for as long as I need to. I run my own company! The idea that I should sit there and feel guilty about not getting work done and curse my boss for not being more compassionate makes no sense. But that voice in the back of my head still fights me whenever I take a break, even though results show that it’s actually a shorter path to getting back into a productive zone for me.

The hardest thing for me is figuring out how to deal with the fact that a lot of my work falls in between these specific buckets, as does my typical energy level. I am often just focused enough to be thinking about how I ought to be doing deep work, but not quite motivated enough to sit down and do the work.

I’m still working on this side of things. I find that scheduling time blocks with a specific theme help for dealing with the medium intensity stuff, especially when I’m actively collaborating with another person rather than working alone… or when I have a deadline to meet.

Another thing I am working on is how to change my state of mind so that I can do different kinds of work when I want to instead of hoping for my “mental weather” to change in the right direction on its own.

For example, today I have a training session I need to run in the afternoon. I almost never have trouble focusing during those sessions but sometimes I don’t make the best use of my mornings because I can use the excuse of “not having enough time” to get focused work done. But it’s really not about time, it’s about energy and mood.

And so right now as I write this, I’m doing something that I think of as climbing a ladder of focus. I’m writing some personal reflections, which is getting me out of the “reflexively check social media and converse with strangers” mode, and into the deeper thinking mode. After I finish this set of notes, I will go and work on some arpeggio exercises for ukulele to quiet my mind even further. And then after that I will try to sneak in a few Pomodoros on heads down Rails development work before my training session.

Each step along the way requires a bit more focus, but there’s a relatively smooth curve to it. I can already feel myself settling down. In my next set of notes, I’ll report on how things went!