There's no end, only more middle

Yesterday was a disaster of my own making. In the past I would have probably blamed it, partly, on somebody else.

It's actually much better to think about what was under my control and how to improve. In her instructive book, 13 Things mentally strong people don't do, Amy Morin describes the bad habit of blaming external influences for things that happen to you.

Blaming others means you're giving away control of your life to somebody else, while at the same time putting yourself in the comfortable yet ultimately self-defeating position of being a passive victim. You are much less likely to examine your own actions and try to improve. I mean why should I fix my behaviour if it was somebody else's fault? As with many of these pernicious habits, it is self-perpetuating. By not examining your own actions it's likely you will commit mistakes again that lead you to getting further into "the hole".

It is important to realize that your frustration and exhaustion are temporary but important markers of issues to work on. In this case, taking on too much work without realizing.

Taking too much on and not managing expectations in a calm and honest way, is discussed extensively in Richard Martin's excellent book The Clean Coder. The text is clearly written with programmers in mind, but a lot of the scenarios and advice he discusses are applicable to any field where the requirements of your work change from one moment to the next.

In my case, I should have realized that a new requirement had been introduced. This should have lead to a five minute thinking session followed by the conclusion that it was going to take more time than I had.

That's it for now. Until next time.

-- Jacob Blanco

On Managing Expectations - The human Ping Pong

Today was a perfect example of what happens when you try to do too much with not enough time.

You know that feeling of having multiple things through-out your day thrash you around? Just when you think you've found your balance you make a stupid mistake, and life whacks you over the head again. Well today was one of those days.

So on my docket today were: completing some visualisation and a small report, go into town and pick up a receipt from a B&B I had stayed in, sort out getting our router redelivered, sign up for internet banking, call the immigration office to confirm the details of an appointment, and if I have time try to test out some new software for the meeting tomorrow AND if my expense account is set up submit the expense claim for the B&B. Looking at that list now I realise that today was always going to be a disaster.

The morning went well enough; I got a start on Dresden File #2, replied to a couple of emails before 8:30, completed the visualisation with plenty of time, and I managed to successfully set-up my internet banking account. I was quite pleased since I've been trying to set-up internet banking for three weeks now.

I showed my supervisor the document I'd produced, he seemed pleased. Then he asked if I could produce an additional plot based on a different dataset. I'd have to write and test the code to generate the new dataset. I agreed to get it done by the end of the day so I added this to OmniFocus and went to get coffee. Did you notice the mistake? The initial requirement was to add some visual information to an already existing plot on an already existing dataset. This took me a about two days to complete. Now a new requirement came up that meant I would have to create a decent chunk of code to generate some data we did not have to produce this new plot.

WHY IN THE HELL DID I SAY THAT I WOULD HAVE IT DONE BY THE END OF DAY?! DUMBASS!! The correct response would have been:

Since I have to extend the data simulation system, and I want to do this properly, I won't be done before Wednesday. I can send you what I have now and update you later, or just send the whole thing on Wednesday, what would you prefer?

I'm convinced my brain realized I'd fucked up and decided to punish me. Before the day was over I would:

  • Forget the PIN code to my ATM card right before lunch,
  • Rush lunch to try and figure out the PIN,
  • Forget to specify where I was going when buying my ticket on the bus to town, subsequently I overpaid for my ticket without realizing,
  • Lose track of time and not update my supervisor on the situation,
  • Attempt to rush through submitting my expenses (because guess what? My account was setup 15 minutes before my bus left),
  • Pee in a hurry and not wash, running out of the building with my belt half on and zipper open,
  • and finally, fail to complete this blog post on the bus

Today's lesson: Your time is valuable and limited. Do not let things consume your time without a some consideration. Do not simply say yes to things that will disrupt the your day. Breathe, give yourself a few minutes to think, look at what's on your place, consider how long it will take and then and only then reply.

Rule: You are not allowed to say yes to any new tasks in the same conversation it was suggested.