One thing I forgot in my media pruning post: I set my RSS client to “mark as read on scroll.” If I don’t stop and read something or save it to Pocket, it’s marked as read as soon as I go past it.
I’ve written about having ADHD before. I recently tried to link back to an Ask Metafilter I wrote a while back, but an URL shortener killed the anchor link and that was sort of a drag, so I’m expanding that and making it a blog post.
At the time I first wrote all this down, I’d been working from home for close to 10 years, and I’d taken the time to get an ADHD diagnosis and medication. Having had to move back to working from home to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve found myself thinking back to strategies that have helped in the past, and figuring out ways to adapt them to the kind of technology and tools I have now.
This may also be useful for neurotypical people who are struggling to focus on work in an environment they’re not used to “being at work” in, while keeping up with everything going on out there.
As I’ve noted in the past, I’m one of the “primarily inattentive” types, so I don’t have much insight into what it’s like for people with the more physical symptoms: You won’t see me jiggling my legs (but I may be rolling a pen, wrench socket, or something else between my fingers). I’m not so much at risk for doing something counterproductive as I am to get distracted, or fall into a state of deep focus on the wrong thing.
Journals have been very helpful for me when it comes to keeping focus:
Morning entries are for the day’s game plan: I write a rough todo list that helps me get a sense of what it was important to accomplish above all else, and include notes about things that represent bad attentional triggers and how I plan to deal with them. For instance:
I used to edit web publications, so one of my triggers proved to be Ruby hacking. I’d come across some odd piece of idiosyncratic HTML from one of my authors, or I’d stumble upon some task that would benefit from automation, and I’d get lost in hacking up something to make it all better. Three hours later, the morning was gone and I knew a ton more about some HTML scraping library or how to code up a quick Twitter bot, but nothing actually got done. So I’d note in my journal that no matter how badly something cried out for a bit of scripting, I’d aim to not succumb to the temptation to do that until a given point in the day. I came to look forward to hack time, and it eventually blossomed into an actual programming competency.
Lately, I’ve made a page template that includes a list of things I like to get done first thing over a cup of tea:
- Check the inbox and flag things that need a response
- Review my Things Inbox and Today list
- Review the day’s calendar to make sure I can fit everything
- Fire off any early emails or Slacks and make calendar adjustments
- Record my top three priorities
And I’ve got an expanded journal template I’ve borrowed from a few approaches:
- What are you most happy about?
- What are you most nervous about?
- What is today’s biggest challenge?
In the past, my morning journals also documented any attentional aids I was trying out–egg timers and assorted digital variations on them, for instance–and how I planned to use them. From that period, I learned that the Pomodoro technique is pretty helpful for people who are living in a maker’s schedule. You can adapt it for managers, too, but I’ve found that the 30-minute slices tend to be gaps between meetings, which mainly means you’re sort of living inside a giant pomodoro.
With the morning journal done, I start working, checking things off the list as I go. I like to check in on myself at noon. Years ago, when I rated an EA, a friendly one permabooked my lunches for me. Sometimes I work through them, but having them booked reminds me to pause and reset and take some time to recharge mid-day.
My checklist pages include some end-of-day activities, too:
- Check Concur to clear invoices, purchase requests, etc.
- Tidy my inbox: If I jotted actions down in written notes, make them digital in Things.
- Review the calendar for the next day.
- Do my daily retrospective: A section of my daily journal that includes:
- What went well?
- What can you improve tomorrow?
It has helped me to keep everything in that journal form, including todo capture. The thing I noticed most during the time I was using medication to control my ADHD was that reminding myself of the condition went a long way to letting the medication help. Having the journal entry open for consultation during the day helps keep me aware of the context that makes the journal necessary.
I’ve got some more thoughts on why the journal/list format has helped:
First, it offers very little to fiddle with. I’ve set up some custom templates but they’re strictly optional and there’s enough friction involved that it’s not something I care to play around with a lot. I’ll get to those templates below.
Second, it has helped give me an insight into how I perceive time.
The journal represents an investment in a future self I’d never really considered very carefully before I started writing him notes each morning and night. The journal has helped me think about that future self. That was something of a breakthrough, when I first landed on it years ago, because as much as I’d learned over the years to control my more severe flights of impulsivity–the kinds of things where consequences arrive in the span of minutes or hours, a month at the most–I’d never really figured out why I couldn’t handle the stuff that involved consequences that arrived in a year, or five years.
The journal also connects me to a past self. I write to myself in the second person, so going back and re-reading entries has a very personal edge to it, as if to say “this is you from last night, really hoping you don’t screw this up” instead of my usual dealings with a “me” that never really managed to escape a continuously unfolding present of failure and frustration.
Had I spent my time documenting my progress in a more checklist-y way, I don’t know if I would have managed to connect something I once thought of as a problem with short-term behavior to something with much more life-altering ramifications.
Templating and Tools
I alluded to templates for my journals and lists. I’ve used a couple of approaches:
First, I like writing notes down. I think it may be a way to do something physical that looks “normal” and “productive” to the neurotypicals in the room, but I also buy the idea that writing things down helps commit them to memory. It also keeps me out of my laptop or other things that are potential distractions.
Currently, I have a Remarkable e-ink tablet, which allows (but doesn’t really support) custom templates. I made a set in Affinity Publisher (which is pretty nice for $25) and exported them to PNGs for upload into the Remarkable. I experimented with importing PDF versions into Notability on an iPad and they worked well enough. You can find the PNGs and Affinity files here.
For item capture, I seem to have settled on Things. It has a few limitations, but I love the way it flexes all the way down to “here’s an inbox you can sync across devices” and all the way up to “here’s a simple project tracker.” I appreciate the calendar integration, since it provides a way to reconcile my ambition for the day with my preexisting meeting load, and I like the quick-capture window I can invoke from any app:
ctrl-space and I’ve got a window to capture a todo into.
It has been tempting to try out org-mode right now, because I have one machine to manage it on instead of trying to sync between a work laptop and a home system plus whatever mobile app is available for it. The way org-mode switches between task capture and prose is really compelling, and a little work with snippets or some other capture template would make for a pretty effective daily tool. I just hate my options for sync of org files: Dropbox/iCloud, with whatever they’re doing if there’s a conflict; or consistent git usage, which doesn’t fit the way I live my days.
It doesn’t really matter what you use, though. The most powerful part of all of it is to figure out what works well enough and make a habit of it, even if it’s not perfect.
Today I worked from home, and will be for the next while, same as all my Puppet teammates. Al ordered some groceries and had them arrive just after lunch. Not a full-on prepper load-out: Just some staples that we could have held off on grabbing for a week given current supply levels.
I’m still very happy about the pantry I made out of a dismal space under the stairs in the kitchen, so when I opened the pantry door and the automatic light came on I was pretty happy to have some shelf space to put the extra stuff: Some cans of beans, a jar of peanut butter, a couple of bags of rice.
Then I thought about how I’ve never really thought in “pantry for overflow” terms before. Just hasn’t been in my thinking. Stuff I had a purpose for just went in the cabinet, maybe I’d buy the big package of paper towels or toilet paper, but I never really put away even modest amounts of extra whatever. That has slowly changed with the addition of the pantry.
So I stepped back and just stared at the shelves in there. Lots of canned goods and baking supplies. Cartons of oatmeal. Pasta. Dried beans in nice storage containers. Rice.
One of the shelves is the liquor shelf, and I briefly considered the bottles of Jefferson Reserve and Woodford Reserve as material for a joke about stocking up on the staples. They were gifts from friends at work, one for helping out with a dicey retrospective and one for literally just being me. I can remember a time since Ben was born when the cost of a big bottle of Woodford would have stopped me cold, and there it was, given to me just because someone knew I liked it and wanted me to know I was loved.
So I had a moment where I had this profound sense of safety and contentment.
I’d just done my one deep read of the NYT for the day over lunch, so that sense of safety had to dislodge a feeling of unease and disquiet. One of the folks on my team has a one-month-old baby and had to deal with runs on the supermarkets up in Seattle, and the frightening experience of traffic and lines and crowding being so bad that a 10-minute trip took her over an hour. I had skimmed a crowdsourced Google spreadsheet of tech workers sharing office closure information. I had been thinking all morning about how businesses and local governments have been left to figure this out, and how there’s this palpable sense that the litany of “an abundance of caution for the foreseeable future” is just inviting us all to consider the shapeless, open-endedness of the situation, compounded by the ruinous incompetence of this terrible president and his enablers. I thought about how we’re not sure it’s a great idea to close the schools because a lot of meals and social services flow through them to kids who desperately need them. I thought about working parents who are going to be in a really bad way.
That feeling of contentment had to dislodge all that, and it couldn’t. And good. It shouldn’t. How much luck can a human have? I feel like I’m constantly testing that.
So for a moment I stood there in the pantry staring at the shelves holding both sets of feelings and thoughts in my head. So I sat down on the floor and had a cry about all of it. Relief from feeling safe and content and seeing reminders that I’m cared about and matter to people. Worry and care for people this is going to be incredibly hard on. A building full of well-off tech workers can just disperse to their home offices and ride it out, and maybe this is all just sort of an adventure. But it’s not going to be a fun adventure for a lot of people as we go into a defensive crouch in the face of so much uncertainty and fear. My kid’s set: Solid Wi-Fi in all parts of the house, a Switch with a complete library, and there’s enough flour, sugar, butter, and milk to keep him in pancakes. Other kids will be at home with stressed-out parents who won’t be sure if they can make ends meet. Senate Republicans called guaranteed sick leave a political ploy, accused the Democrats of stuffing their bills with unrelated goodies, then said they’d only approve relief packages if they included stuff about no Federal money for abortions. I wanted to grow wings, fly into the air, and breathe fire down on Washington.
Someone recently told me I was a rock for them: A calming presence who makes it all seem doable. I told a coworker today it is part of my job to be unflappable and unflapped, and so I was. She took a moment to say, “yeah, but how ARE you?” so I described the 😐 mood I have recently added to my mood tracking app that is below “good” and above “meh.” It means “I know what I need to do, am doing it, and do not feel significantly tasked doing so, even if some of what I am doing is stupid or distasteful but needful.”
Anyhow, on the first day of bunkering in the home office, explaining how stock markets and panics work to Ben, laying in an extra jar of peanut butter, and looking at a page of Italian webcams all showing empty or near-empty streets and plazas, that’s me.
I hope you’re all doing as okay as can be. It’ll be fine, but goddamn do we make this all hard on ourselves.
Yesterday a coworker pointed out to me that the cart on the right in this picture isn’t actually a cart: You can’t walk up and order food at the window. Rather, it’s a mobile kitchen with multiple storefronts on UberEats.
Sorta torn. I don’t feel completely put off because it’s just sort of interesting to see the ways the Internet keeps changing stuff, and these people seem to be deftly maneuvering through a set of conditions that make it easier for them to make a small business out of a patchwork of regulatory concessions to micro-businesses (food courts) and “free” infrastructure (gig economy delivery services).
I’m having a bad reaction to this because I feel like anything that further deepens the pattern of “sit around in your house and have cars bring stuff to you” isn’t the right way forward. ESPECIALLY operating right out of the middle of our downtown. There are ride share stats that indicate Uber and Lyft (not food delivery, just car “share”) contribute to upwards of 13 percent of the traffic in San Francisco’s urban core (Chicago, 3.3; LA, 2.6; DC, 6.9). Then layer on “food carts” that are getting a break from a city that is trying its hardest to support small entrepreneurs and all the traffic in and out of downtown.
Anecdotally, these are also some of the most erratic, difficult drivers. My informal scoring system as a motorcyclist included +10 feet of clearance for each Uber/Lyft/whatever sticker: They’re frequently heads down in their GPS, suddenly darting across three lanes to get their turn or get to the bridge they need, so they’re not only adding congestion, they’re contributing to the stop-start dynamic by making everyone else react.
And I feel resistant because I feel resistant to the gig economy generally. What a failure—or at least a tragic misuse—of our collective imagination.
Army anecdote: When I was enlisted, the PX had a similar thing going: You’d go to a food court with five or six “restaurants,” including a pizza place, a Chinese place, a sandwich place, etc. Each had its own branding and menu, but the kitchen backing them all was the same kitchen, same employees, same napkins/cups/tray mats, etc. It was just there to create a simulacrum of what people were used to in the real world. Sometimes it was even funny in an uncanny valley kind of way. All the branding looked almost but not quite like some real-world analog, like if WestWorld wanted to make a shopping mall but couldn’t secure the licensing for Panda Garden, Sbarro, or Subway.
I sold my Fujifilm X100F to a friend-of-a-friend. I took one last picture on my way home from work before packing it up at the UPS store and sending it on its way.
It was always a second camera to my X-T2 (and briefly my X-Pro3), so it didn’t get a lot of use. Fewer than 4,000 exposures over the time I had it. Still, it was a lovely camera. The X100 series woke me back up to photography, and the X100F was a great iteration.
Here’s a gallery of a few of my favorite photos from it:
Al had a physical therapy appointment in Eugene, so we made an overnight trip of it. The Graduate is a former Hilton, now stripped to the studs and university-themed.
I think our experience may have been colored by the timber industry trade show that was in town: Lots of loud, drunk people stumbling in and out of the elevators and shouting across the lounge at each other, but the baseline ambience isn’t super hard to disrupt: The lounge has high ceilings, concrete pillars and wall treatments, and hard floors. The sound ricochets around, with the fluorescent lighting adding a terrible sense of institutional sterility. I accidentally rested my elbow on a bit of un-wiped-up sterile table cleaner and it itched for a few hours.
In case you forget you are in a university-themed hotel, the coffee shop sacrifices some shelf space behind the counter for decorative books (an encyclopedia, a few complete works of romantic poets). They help it click into place that there’s supposed to be a university library thing going on, if university libraries had their acoustic issues frequently surfaced by drunken, shouting lumberjacks.
Our room was decorated with what is supposed to be dorm room eclecticism: Paint-by-numbers-quality paintings, a fraternity paddle that was permanently screwed into the wall, and a waffle iron lamp meant, I believe, to be a callback to Nike’s waffle treads.
When we tried to check out through the tv room system, we got a message that the checkout system was temporarily unavailable. When I mentioned that to the desk clerks, they said, “we don’t have a checkout system.” So, apparently some bugs being worked out in the transition from Hilton to member of the Graduate collective.
Anyhow, it was a place to crash near Al’s appointment, and will surely be a fine place to crash for people in town for the game, whatever game it may be that weekend. A quick peek into the room hosting the timber industry trade show’s “Ladies Dessert Against Trafficking” seemed to indicate everyone was having a fine time.
This shot made me pretty happy. I usually just squirt up the small versions but liked this one enough to share a full-sized JPEG from the RAW. The “Fujicrons” are amazingly good lenses, and the X-Pro3 gets everything out of them. So, click through for a full-sized version.
The days are getting noticeably longer, so there’s more daylight to work with if I can get out of the office early enough to walk around; or get downtown early enough to dawdle on the way to work.
This week was packed and long in a way I haven’t had to deal with in a while. One day started at 7a and went to 10p, schedule filled the entire time. Another went from 8a to 11p, with a 20 minute break that went to someone else’s problem. Yesterday was a mere “start at 8:00, go to 5:30” day, but the cumulative sleep loss and churn of the week made it a day to be gotten through, not won, punctuated by doubling back on things that should have been handled but simply had not been.
I have been trying to re-cultivate the habit of having a camera with me and looking for opportunities to take pictures, but when I finally got to take a look at the haul from the past three days I could see the slow leak of energy and remembered how I was settling on things to shoot because the few minutes I could scrape together to do that didn’t involve giving myself the time to sink into the shooting groove.
So it was sort of hard to sit there last night with the iPad and swipe through the pictures I did get, taking a stab at making something out of them and realizing there just wasn’t anything there. Ideas I sort of knew were not a great idea were glaringly not great ideas. Fatigue and being hurried meant I hadn’t paid attention to the technical merits, so no amount of cropping or reconsidering could make images I was happy with.
At the same time, I had that recent experience of going back and counting how many pictures I’ve taken since my interest in photography was rekindled several years back–37,000 images give or take in about three years. And then I look at the places where I keep the pictures I like and see a few hundred and consider all their siblings: The almost-but-not-quites, the ones I thought were the good ones that turned out not to be, the bad ideas, the good ideas poorly executed. Then I see the other pattern: The places I go back to over and over, either because something didn’t work the first time but I knew there had to be something in there, or because something finally worked after not working and I wanted to go back and figure out what. Every place has a combination of time and perspective that elevate it. If I were great at taking pictures, maybe I’d be able to see those things without being in the right place at the right time, but as it is I have just taken to following the advice “be the person who goes back.”
Anyhow, 37,000 images, most of which I don’t like at all. Just me trying to figure things out, either as a matter of technical skill, mastering the device that’s taking the picture;or vision, being in the right place at the right time and seeing the right things; or craft, taking something that wasn’t very well thought out and drawing a good image out of it. It’s all just practice.
Sometimes the practice is capturing the right thing at the right time. Sometimes the practice is finding the right thing out of the wrong thing. Sometimes the practice is just making myself sit with the things that can’t ever be the right thing and letting them teach me as much as they can before I set them aside.
[caption id=“” title=“DSCF1397.jpg” alt=“Pine Street Market” width=“3864” height=“5796” border=“0”]Pine Street Market, Downtown Portland [/caption]
There was something I was supposed to be doing, and then there was the ugly reality that after I moved everything back over to WordPress, some of the images were lolling out of the margins of the primary column and a bunch of posts were categorized as “Uncategorized.”
At first I was content to just plod along with a canned BBEdit search/replace. Then it was tedious to click on the search box. Then it was irritating that there was something wrong with the way MarsEdit and BBEdit were talking.
The really lovely part of it all, though, when I got completely snagged on trying to turn what BBEdit calls “grep search” into AppleScript, was remembering that BBEdit is a really, really well behaved AppleScript citizen. I just had to click the record button in Script Editor, perform the actions I wanted to script, then click the stop button, and there was an AppleScript I only had to tweak a little. Then I saved it in BBEdit’s Scripts folder, gave it a keyboard shortcut, and all is well.