A 24 hour burst of productivity

Without question the last 24 hours have included a burst of productivity. A lot of that was set up by building out quality drafts in revision and review mixed with following a good process and workflow. Within my Substack posting creation process I work on 5 weeks of posts in planning and review. That allows me to intellectually jump around from one piece of content to another. Having that little bit of writing freedom to focus on one thing and then another is the key element of increasing productivity. If for some reason my writing output slows down on one topic, then I can quickly shift gears to something that is better aligned with my mood or interests at that moment. Learning to shift gears and not try to overly focus on any one thing is a key element of increasing writing productivity. 

Previously, anybody who has been around the weblog over the years will know that I often just engage in the act of pure stream of consciousness writing. I sit down with no agenda and simply write to fill up the blank page. That as a process is an effort that can be repeated forever as every blank page provides an opportunity to write. The Substack or academic writing is a very different type of thing. That is writing to a schedule based on a defined backlog of content that needs to be created. In my case, I literally had a word processing document with 104 items that needed to be created to sprint toward my two year writing goal. My 2022 writing goal was written like this: “Finish writing a collected series of ML/AI essays on Substack and combine them into a manuscript, ‘The Lindahl Letter: On Machine Learning Year Two.’ This manuscript should include both years one and two.” As of right now after that 24 burst of productivity, I’m currently at 101 items complete on a plan of 104 for the year. 

Even right now I have drafts completed for the content that will be included in posts 102, 103, and 104. It would be possible to record those drafts and call it a day for the year, but that would be problematic as the content could be so much better with a bit more tinkering, review, and editing to take it to the next level. My big plans for 2023 include a lot more docs on producing academic papers and focusing my Substack and other writing efforts to chronicling that journey. At some point in the next couple of weeks, I need to sit down and revise my 5 year writing plan as well given that it is currently only spanned out 4 years into the future. A year of writing has passed and it is now time to reconsider the path forward.

Oh those pesky routines

Shifting back into a routine of writing some daily observations down took just a bit of effort. Giving up writing in Google Docs and switching to mostly writing in the Microsoft Word application involved changing up my routine. This very document can be opened online or I can continue working out of this Microsoft Word application on my main desktop computer. Given that right now the main stretch of productivity that I have as a writer is at the start of the day this setup works out well enough. Right now for some reason it is the first couple of hours of the day where I’m able to produce solid prose and push things along. In the evening, I’m not able to compel myself to spend time writing. Sometimes that is problematic if I’m not able to be fully productive during that early morning writing session. No capacity for catch up really exists.

Yesterday it had seemed like a good idea to use a large book to raise up both of my computer monitors by a few inches. I’m going to give this new elevated viewing solution a few days to see if I got the height correct or if it needs adjustment. My Dell monitors simply don’t have that much height adjustment on them and I wanted a better ergonomic setup where my eyeline was looking just about the middle of the screen from my current chair configuration. I’m still rocking the Scandinavian Designs WAU desk chair in blue. Overall the chair has worked out well enough, but it has always been a place holder while I try to convince myself to buy a Herman Miller chair for my home office. That will probably happen at some point in the not to so distant future.

All of those pesky routines are the ones that drive my productivity forward on a daily basis. Waking up before everybody else gets up and starting to write is the key part of that routine. A lot of other things get pulled into that pattern. Sometimes it is cleaning up my workspace or something else that pulls my attention, but that is all about using a distraction to procrastinate. The main mission from the desired routine is to produce words. Today that attention got focused on this weblog post which oddly enough was about the very routine that produced it.

Worrying about productivity and LaTeX editing

Yeah, I sort of thought it would be possible to just jump in and use Overleaf to edit a LaTeX template. I’m going to end up going back and looking at a few tutorials on YouTube to understand the finer points of what is happening within the document. It was easy enough to save and load the template. Making a copy was pretty routine and renaming the original was highly intuitive. I was able to edit the title, author information, and a few of the elements in the source file did not really make sense to me. That is why I’m going to watch a couple of tutorial videos to really get a better understanding of what is going on within the document. At this point, I’m pretty sure this will be something that I can manage to help produce papers on a more regular basis from my work. That is where things are at right now. 

My current backlog of produced podcasts stands at 2 recorded and loaded episodes. One is ready to go out on July 15 and the other is ready for July 22. That leaves us with the draft of week 79 that is generally complete, but not very compelling. I had moved on and written a pretty decent missive for week 80 that is much longer. The outline for week 81 is clear enough, but it needs more work to bring it up to the standard necessary for recording. I knew that the content from week 81 to week 87 was going to be difficult to generate. Writing out an 8 part syllabus for how I would introduce machine learning is an interesting intellectual challenge. My goal of course is to allow anybody reading the material to come up to speed with a general understanding. The respondent would really have to read the materials and dig into them deeply to walk away with next level skills. That is really the hard part of putting this content together. It needs to be approachable to help provide the breath necessary to introduce machine learning. At the same time, the content contained in the syllabus has to provide enough depth for those respondents who are consuming it to gain knowledge beyond a basic introduction. 

I may very well for fun take the 8 part introduction to machine learning syllabus and convert it into a LaTeX document in Overleaf at the end of the process. That would take something that I know is going to be completed and give me an opportunity to really mess around with the typesetting. It might even give me a chance to help figure out the integration between Overleaf and Github which seems to exist, but I have not had the opportunity to explore. That will probably be a good use of my time. The other way to go about getting some practice with Overleaf and LaTeX would be to take a few of my talks over the last few years and convert them over to paper format. Most of those talks have a transcript and a PowerPoint which could be easily converted over to a LaTeX document. Honestly, that content was probably a better fit for dissemination by recorded video and the follow up transcripts. Most of the content people consume is just text in a browser from a webpage, news source, or some type of application. A much smaller percentage of the population in general consumes all their content from PDFs containing academic papers. 

I absolutely read a ton of articles and jump in and out of consuming content generally available and content packaged up as academic articles or research notes. Those of you who have read my work for a longer period of time will know that I enjoy a bit of research trajectory mixed into my papers. Knowing the bigger picture and where things are going is an important part of how I consume knowledge. I want to know where it fits into the broader spectrum of the academy and how the author intended it to either move things forward or cement something that needed to be shored up with additional research. That is an important part of the equation that is missing from a lot of machine learning papers that I end up reading. The authors get very focused on the mechanism of the mouse trap and how it functions. They don’t really share the importance of the mouse trap in the broader context of the research within the field. It’s possible that maybe a few papers on the research trajectory of machine learning are necessary. My thesis that has been advanced is that overcrowding is causing a problematic scenario where more content than can possibly be consumed is being created and the noise outpaces the signal by an order of magnitude.

Productivity is strange

Productivity is strange. You can sit down with the best of intentions. Your writing plan can be top notch and the things you need to move forward are all lined up. Productivity might just end up being at a deficit and things can quickly fall apart within that writing plan. I ended up working on all sorts of things beyond my writing efforts for the last week. That happens from time to time that my attention will get pulled from one effort to another one. Managing to pull that attention back to the task at hand and saving productivity from failure is a useful skill. That really is an understatement. It is a very useful skill that this last week has eluded me on a daily basis. Part of it is just making the effort to sit down in front of the keyboard with a word processing document up and ready for input. After that it’s a strange mix of process, creativity, and certainly that illusive productivity that generate the words on the screen. 

Right now is a good example of that my words and thoughts have really focused on the moment and the process of writing. I’m not locked into the right headspace where I’m focused on what’s next and generating future focused prose. At the moment, I’m really locked in on looking at the process of writing at this moment and I’m certainly present in that effort. Getting my focus to switch to something more deeply philosophical will probably be a bit of a challenge. Certainly the two shots of espresso from my Nespresso Expert machine are kicking in and I should be ready to go for an hour or so of magical highly focused efforts. We are nearing the golden hours of my daily productivity. That is a good thing, but it’s very rarely spent on the grand effort of writing and producing high quality prose. My writing window is generally the first hour or so of the day when things come into focus and my thoughts are sharpening around the start of the day. Knowing that is how my process works is a good start to being able to master the time and be highly productive. 

Right now behind me on my credenza is an Lpbin Bin-e LP storage container that is supposed to hold about 75 vinyl records. It took me a made in America vinyl record container that could fit on top of the credenza. I wanted to move my record collection from the book shelf to a rack right next to the record player. This effort corresponded with a choice to move from episodic ordering to alphabetical and a culling of anything that did not make the space. From here on out it’s going to be a one in one out method of record collecting. In practice the storage container is currently holding 52 vinyl records. Based on the number of double records the space did not allow the storage of 75 vinyl records. That means I’m functionally limiting myself to about 50 records which should be plenty of space for a best of the best collection. I don’t need a complete anthology of every album that crosses my path. The collection really needs to be focused on albums that I play on a regular rotation and enjoy.

Right now the weblog posting process involves a few different elements:

  1. The content has to be cut and pasted from the word processing document to the weblog post page.
  2. A customized message has to be curated for a post on Twitter.
  3. Within the post settings a category for the post to be archived into has to be set. The list at this point of categories is pretty long. 
  4. Under the tags section 3 different tags have to be entered to help feed my tag cloud widget. I’m not sure this effort is mission critical, but I do enjoy it.

More productivity housekeeping

Yesterday was a good day in terms of productivity across a variety of projects. A new song got recorded out of nowhere. It was just a moment of inspiration that happened to get caught during a session where Pro Tools was recording in the background. During the album generation process I have taken to just recording some of my playing sessions and editing it all after the fact to find the gold from playing in the moment. One of the tactics I have found works best for that is that between pieces I turn the volume down on the guitar to make it visually easy to see in Pro Tools where the different segments of effort stop and start. I’m also trying to work on compositions that are shorter than 10 minutes. Most of the time it seems to be the case that a song falls in that window. It’s possible maybe later on that my jam sessions could end up being 30 minutes of glory, but at the moment that is simply not the case. 

My whiteboard has a few ideas for academic papers on it and at least two of them are promising enough to warrant some future work. My current process for getting writing and academic work done is that my Fitbit Sense smartwatch has a daily alarm setup to vibrate and wake me up around 0520 hours every day. Most of the time I wake up a few minutes before it would vibrate and start my day before anybody else in the house is up and around. This brief window of an hour to an hour and half gives me the time to really focus and get going on some work. 

Obviously, every Saturday morning is dedicated to writing the next addition of The Lindahl Letter newsletter for Substack publication each Friday. It has been a long time since I have been able to work more than a week ahead on that effort. Each week I’m also looking out for topics to add to the running list of planned work on that front. I have actually wondered if next year I should just take the list of 52 topics and start over and rewrite, rework, and refine the previous content to really work toward something special. That might very well be a viable strategy to recursively work on the content making it more ready for publication into a manuscript instead of a weekly missive. 

Using the “Print My Blog” plugin I did a couple of quick prints today to archive off some content in a different way and realized that it was only printing 46 posts now instead of the full content. It was during this process that I noticed that the plugin now has an upgrade option for a set of “Pro Print” features. Online a lot of things have an opportunity to find an audience, but I did not expect that this particular plugin would have a very wide adoption of users that might need professional printing features, but apparently my assumptions on this front were not accurate. 

It’s about time to go through the entire catalog of websites I support online and take captures of them as a tertiary backup plan. Sometimes it makes me feel better to know that multiple types of backup plans are in place in the event of catastrophic failure. That could very well be something that happens later today. I like to take backups that are stored outside of the cloud for some reason and have them in case of a real emergency.

Moving the taskbar around

Normally I keep the Windows taskbar at the bottom of the screen. Yesterday, I switched it up and put the taskbar at the top of the screen on all my devices. This change may or may not have had some type of innate benefit to my productivity and joy. Earlier today I was listening to Mark Cuban talk about how we arbitrage our time. It was one of those interesting debates where the intersection of how we buy away boredom and the value of our time were both discussed.

A lot of daily routines involves working and then watching something (television or streaming) and then going to sleep. In those instances it seemed like the argument was being made that we buy away our boredom to feel like we used that time or at least we eased the passage of time. Within the same conversation the inherent value of time was discussed. It really made me think about the ultimate question that I ask myself every day when I wake up based on an axiom from the life and times of Steve Jobs.

Every day I ask myself about how I’m going to go about making a dent in the universe or more to the point what I’m going to do with the time I have today to strive forward toward the edge of what is possible. That might seem like an outrageous objective for a daily mantra, but it really is the necessary first step in figuring out meaningful paths to fill the day. Deriving the nature and definition of a meaningful path might take the rest of the day and may very well be a good use of my time today, but that is probably not going to happen.