a blog about stuff.

  • As I work to get my sabbatical in order, I’ve been contemplating various strategies.

    The first thing I had done was to make a long list of things I wanted to accomplish. At the risk of undermining that effort, I do think the list is almost impossibly long. It’s as much aspirational as achievable, but it does give me a tremendously well-framed starting point for how to spend my days. If ever I am sitting thinking “hmm, I’m bored today, what should I do?” then I have no excuse but to turn to the list. Or, I can proactively tackle things on the list. Either way. Strategically planning ahead.

    A second strategy I’ve been thinking about is timeboxing. Having just come back from a vacation and then having spent a few weeks filling my time with post-vacation, summer-parenting actions, I haven’t been able to effectively build a solid plan into my days. But as the weeks of August start to melt into a proper fall push of what will effectively be the core four months of my career break, I think I really need to use a solid strategy like timeboxing to shape my days.

    For example, on any day that doesn’t have a big, full day plan my first attempt at a timebox for the next while will be:

    early until 8amcoffee, breakfast, social media, dog walk, news
    8am – 9ammorning chores, clean up, laundry
    9am – 10amcreative session one
    10am – 11amoutdoor activity
    11am – 12pmreading, media, gaming
    12pm – 1pmlunch, dog walk, casual free time
    1pm – 2pmafternoon chores, yard work
    2pm – 3:30pmcreative session two (or) cooking, baking, etc
    3:30pm – 4:30pmreading, media, gaming
    4:30pm – 5:30pmdinner chores, meal prep
    5:30pm – 6:30pm dinner, clean up, dog walk
    6:30pm – 8pmoutdoor activity, running (or) family time
    8pm – 9pmcreative session three
    9pm until lateunwind, reading, mindfulness, etc

    The caveat to all this, is that if I happen to have some other structured plan, a coffee meetup, a lunch, or something scheduled in my day… well, it just crosses out that slot and the thing I NEED to do replaces the thing I BOXED to do.

    Now, to some people this might look uncomfortably structured, and to them I would say that I really kind of need to find some structure in my days or else I’m going to lose track of this opportunity faster than I can blink.

    To some other people, this might look far too vague and random and a little too full of “fun time,” and to them I would suggest that I don’t see the need to over-structure, like to box myself into fifteen minute increments nor do I think it is the goal of my career break to work myself silly for sixteen hours a day just to feel like I’m making good use of the time. It is a “break” after all.

    And so it goes.

    I write this now not only because mentally I think I’m ready to put this kind of structure around things, but logistically tomorrow, August 15, is “on paper” my last day of drawing a salary from my old job. At the end of the day tomorrow there is one last transition into joblessness and that is the final day of my “using up my banked vacation” and into the free, clear, and yonder. As of tomorrow at 4pm the final tether back to that old life is officially cut. Time to take control of things.

    And so it goes. And so it goes.

    Wish me luck.

  • I’ve created my share of niche CMS software in the past.

    Content Management Systems are just tools that manage the input of things like text, links, images, and other files for an author (like me) to create content and then post it in a readable, consumable format for a user (like you) to enjoy.

    It is something of my go-to coding project.

    Want to create a website for simple news stories for kids (which I built about 10 years ago) then write a CMS to do that.

    Want to create an Instagram-like photo sharing tool (which I built about 18 months ago) then write a CMS to do that.

    Want to write a novel but you’re working across three different computers and occasionally on a phone so an online system would be perfect, then write a CMS to do that. I’m building something like that now, and as they say, piecing together the plane while flying to my destination.

    I’ve used writing software in the past, but figured the added challenge of swapping between writing code and writing words would be an interesting career break distraction.

    The MVP is a basic online text block management tool that lets me write, save, organize, snapshot, and append notes, characters, and other details to a story project.

    My goal is to refine through need: in other words, I write story and then say to myself “hey, it would be handy/useful/vital for the software to do such-and-such” so I take a break from writing and make the software do such-and-such… then I go back and write some more.

    Rinse. Repeat.

    And and the end I might have both a finished story, and a groovy piece of software that is effectively a novel-writing CMS.

  • It occurs to me that one of the biggest struggles I’ve been having with everything, from my art to my writing to my efforts to tackle various projects, is that I’m stuck in a rut of trying to see the big picture first.

    This is likely linked somehow to a dozen years of government work with titles like “strategist” or “architect” or “project manager” where having a huge overview of a highly detailed system is important to communicating about that work so that one can (a) stop the scope from shrinking because people focus on the details and forget the plan and also to (b) explain the big picture to the people with the money whose attention spans are incredibly short.

    But in life, words, and art while the big picture is important, actually doing the “work” means focusing on one thing at a time: like writing a really good sentence, or drawing a single tree, window, or person. A good novel might be thousands of really good sentences strung together into a story. A great piece of art might be five hundred tiny pieces of art cobbled into one image.

    I, on the other hand, have been stuck in the rut of the “big picture” … and I need to change that.

    I have been trying to understand the story I’m writing in the fullness of everything, trying to tell it all in a handful of sentences …rather than say, writing even just five awesome sentences per day that add to that big picture.

    I have been trying to define the pictures I’ve been drawing and painting with the perfect single pen stroke or sweep of a brush, and forgetting that I could fill a single square centimeter with detail a few times per day and then over the course of multiple days or weeks build up dozens or hundreds of square centimeters with an amazingly detailed image that would blow the minds of people who looked at it.

    I forget these things and rush to communicate a big picture first. And this is backwards for all the stuff I want to accomplish.

  • I’ve managed to fill my days.

    Part of my worry for this sabbatical-thing I’m doing was that I would find it a little too easy to park on the couch and burn through hours of Netflix or video games or whatever.

    I’ll be the first to admit that the big adventure-type stuff I’d keyed into in my early planning has been a little slower to manifest. Part of that is general fatigue. Part of that is parenting obligations. Part of that is getting my mind around money and spending.

    But the little stuff is coming together great. Going for long walks. Keeping up with the yardwork. Doing more reading, and a bit of writing, meeting up with friends, and putting in volunteer hours. Those things have been finding a groove in the day-to-day.

    The gap I need to address (but mostly just for my own self) is around writing. I have this notion in my head that if my list of daily accomplishments included more than a step count or keeping the dirty dishes from piling up, that if that list included putting words on paper that somehow I’d be fulfilling a core promise of this career break.

    That is to say, part of me sees becoming a Creative Guy as core to the change I’m trying to manifest through this opportunity. We can talk about the reality of that at length, shuffle along the trail of logistics and other bits that need to align for me to become a published author or a creative independent of some kind. But that reality will not manifest through yard work. That reality only has a shot with practice, effort, and daily accomplishment of tangential goals. In other words, I need to start a practice of daily writing. Soon.

    Deep breath.

  • Now that I’ve been off work for a few weeks and back from vacation for nearly as long as we were out of the country in the first place, I’m mentally scrambling to try and settle my mind into some kind of productive routine.

    It’s all well and good to make up lists of the goals and tasks you are hoping to accomplish with an abundance of free time. It’s another thing completely to dive in and start tackling those goals and tasks with any sort of structure.

    That’s the tricky part, right?

    Actually doing the “stuff” that you set out to do.

    Part of the motivation in rekindling this old website (into a brand new website with brand new posts) was to attempt to recreate some of those self-motivational moments. In other words, if I find myself writing about the stuff I’m doing, I might be motivated to do more stuff.

    The hardest part, after all, is just putting on your shoes and stepping out the front door. If I start making plans a few days in advance by thinking about and then writing about them, well, it seems like that just might be the kick in the ass that I need to start whittling away that list a little more actively.

    Or maybe I’ll just start staring at my keyboard instead of the backyard.

iteratively improving
stay tuned