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Streaming my thoughts as I work

Friday December 9, 2016

Lately I find it helpful to continually stream my thoughts onto paper or into a text editor as I work.

While at work, I always have a text editor open and a tiny notebook that I carry around.

For each new issue or problem at hand, I usually create a new document so I have a blank slate from which to work. As I write, I naturally start to move things around and organize.

Today, I thought it would be fun to title each document “The Case of…” so I have “The Case of the Bing Advertisement Trial Balloon,” “The Case of the Missing Fonts,” etc.

Something about the process of writing helps me work my way right through my problems. Here is an example of a framework that I might use:

  • What is the description of the problem or task?
  • Where and when can I see it? Are there files I need to look at?
    • Where are the files organized?
  • Have I confirmed the problem or do-ability of the task?
  • What can be done?
  • What research do I need to do?
  • How much time will the steps take?
  • What part of this requires courage on my part?
  • Is there any way to mitigate that?

I find it really helpful to work my way through, responding to each line. Then I save these files in an organized way. I have had to re-do the organization several times, but I learned a lot in the process. I usually start the filenames with YYYY-MM-DD-Client-Name.md so they’re easy to identify in a text editor, easy to sort, etc.

I’ve also found that when emails come in, it helps if I can just copy & paste the email contents into a text file. If there are attachments, I save them in a related folder and reference the folder location within the text file.

In this way, my text files and built-in file system become more important for getting work done than my email client.

Which is great, because I have much faster and more efficient access to files and folders than I do to email, especially old emails. And especially through GMail, which feels like working with oven mitts on, in comparison.

Some of my clients use Basecamp and other project management software and I’m happy to use it along with them, but I’m secretly pasting everything into my own text files as I go. If I absolutely have to refer to a web discussion, I put the link inside the text file.

One of my favorite aspects of this is using any text editor I want. Lately I use Geany quite a bit. I like the simple functionality of the snippets feature, where you type a special word and press Tab, upon which text is inserted or a command is run. Right now I have a command that inserts the date, time, and temperature when I type “tmp0” and press Tab. Just a practice run as I get ready to have more fun.

You can see my daily template, in Markdown format, here: 2016-12 Productivity Template This daily template is copied into a text file, formatted YYYY-MM-DD.md, every morning at 3 a.m., and I work on that text file all day, save it, and move onto the next one tomorrow. I review these files on occasion.

After writing this all out, it seems like a lot, but I also think I get a huge amount of work done. And it’s fun to organize.

Working on paper, I don’t do anything fancy but I tend to take extra time to note and write about things that interest me, or that invite further research. Those things really drive my day and make me feel more energetic.

When I do work on paper, I try to be away from the computer, usually sitting on the couch in my office. This helps me get a lot of planning done before I’m tempted to dive in, which is more efficient and usually saves me hours (of either work or procrastination).

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