Monthly Archives: January 2016

Week in Review, 2016-W03.

(January 18, 2016 — January 24, 2016)

Travel

  • Blacksburg.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Started a new semester on Tuesday. Teaching a graduate course on information theory. I’ve taught this course three times before, but I’m preparing typed lecture notes this time, which increases the preparation time considerably. Plus, there is always a lot of startup time associated with a new semester.
  • Reviewing graduate applications and talking to graduate student applicants, as you do.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Becky has left for the one-week in-person component of the graduate courses that she is taking this quarter.
  • She reached her destination, despite the huge Mid-Atlantic snowstorm, through some considerable effort. She was supposed to leave on Saturday. We moved her flights to Friday morning, to try to beat the storm, but then the airline canceled those and moved her back to Saturday. So she drove to Charlotte on Thursday night to get to the American hub, get South of the worst of storm, and to do her road travel before the storm. Spent two nights in Charlotte, but yesterday successfully reached her destination. (Since all flights out of ROA canceled yesterday, I’m calling this a solid win.)
  • That means that I’m solo parenting this upcoming week (on day 3 already). So far, so good. My biggest worry, now, is how many days the kids will go to school next week. I have contingency plans for every individual day. But more than two days off this week will destroy whatever productivity I might have managed.
  • I watched more things than usual this week (the movie and two episodes of a new show) because I decided that solo parenting deserved an evening reward. Not sure I’m going to be able to sustain that through the work week, though.

Health and Fitness

  • Only ran twice, on Tuesday and Friday. Planned to run again on Sunday, but shoveled snow on Saturday and Sunday, instead.
  • Weight: 189.0. Good progress from last week.

One Weird Trick

When I’m firing on all cylinders, I review my entire GTD-style task list first thing in the morning. Contrary to canonical GTD recommendations, though, I select a subset of those tasks for the day.1 At the moment, the list lives in OmniFocus, and I mark the tasks for the day with flags.

I’m constitutionally incapable of selecting a reasonable set of tasks, though, usually selecting about twice what I can reasonably accomplish in a day. I could be more disciplined about this, but then I find that my task list is driven completely by urgency. Similarly, if I allow tasks to find their natural order, then “quick wins” and urgent tasks crowd out the “important but not urgent” tasks.2

So, when I have a block of time to work and too many things to do, which is often, I find myself using this one weird trick: I use a random number generator to pick an item off my list for the day, and then I work on the chosen task. Sometimes, I work the task to completion. Sometimes, I work on it for a set amount of time. Occasionally, I decide to unflag the task for the day or delete it altogether and move on.3

Almost without fail, working this way leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and real velocity.


  1. I just can’t hold my list in my head well enough to make good choices in the moment without doing some preselection. It isn’t canonical GTD, but it works for me. 

  2. The four-quadrant importance/urgency matrix, which I learned from Steven Covey books, has stuck with me as a useful way to think about things.4 

  3. I have a custom PCalc function that uses the built-in random number generator to generate a random integer between 1 and N. There was a time, before PCalc had a built-in random number generator, when I used the OS X calculator app to select tasks, like an animal. 

  4. The internet attributes this to President Dwight Eisenhower. But the sourcing seems a bit dubious. I am unsurprised that it predates Covey, however. 

Week in Review, 2016-W02.

(January 11, 2016 — January 17, 2016)

Travel

  • Blacksburg.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Only in the office three days this week due to travel. And it felt like less because of general brain paralysis on Wednesday and an all-day meeting on Friday.
  • Inbox zero. Finally cleared the email backlog from last semester.
  • Reviewing graduate applications, as you do.
  • Had our semi-annual research group faculty meeting.

Reading and Watching

  • Instapaper zero. I added too much to Instapaper last year to try to read it all at the end of the year (plus the first half of my December was busier than usual). Need to do a better job of reading stuff that I throw there as the year goes along. Anyway, several articles from this week’s reading to share.
  • I am extremely suspicious of any news that casts dispersions on youth. I work with college students and, frankly: The kids these days are alright. So, call it confirmation bias, but I really appreciated this story: The Myth of the Fragile College Student.
  • This is now wildly unseasonal, but I found it just hauntingly beautiful. It’s a story about a man’s obsession with his Christmas village. Find the thing you love; do that thing. Playing God.
  • This more-or-less went viral already, but it is so powerful. It’s easy to convince yourself that people never change. But they can and sometimes do. And it’s almost always through engagement with “the other.” Unfollow: How a prized daughter of the Westboro Baptist Church came to question its beliefs.
  • Started reading Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass. This wasn’t even on my list, but it was on my wife’s desk, and it piqued my interest.
  • I had planned to start Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. But the Kindle edition was more expensive than the paperback, and I have a firm policy against that sort of thing. The paperback will arrive tomorrow.
  • Still watching Madam Secretary Season 1 on Netflix. (I don’t watch much TV. So this line of my Week in Review may be even more boring than my weight. Sue me.)

Family and Friends

  • Took (two of our three) adopted college students from church (plus one boyfriend) out to lunch. Always fun, but especially nice this time, as one of our students was away last semester.

Health and Fitness

  • Only ran twice. Once on Monday and once on Saturday. Need a plan or a goal, because I’m not very motivated right now.
  • Weight: 191.0

Week in Review, 2016-W01.

(January 4, 2016 — January 10, 2016)

Travel

  • Las Vegas is so strange. It is unique (at least among cities that I have visited), and yet completely generic, without place. I kindof loathe it, but I’m having a nice trip.
  • Upcoming: Blacksburg.

Professional

  • Close colleague in town from Monday through Thursday. Lots of good discussion, but it disrupted my week more than expected.
  • Presented three papers at a conference this weekend (including one on Monday, Jan 11). Preparing the presentations was more work than I expected.
  • More editing/reviewing and other service work than usual.
  • Working through my email hangover from last semester. Almost there.

Reading and Watching

  • Instapaper is down to about 20 articles. Almost there.
  • Still watching Madam Secretary Season 1 on Netflix. Entertaining.
  • My one Vegas indulgence is Cirque du Soleil. Watched O on Sunday night. It was fantastic. If you are in Vegas, do not miss.

Family and Friends

  • Kids back at school.

Health and Fitness

  • Ran about three miles on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday. It was a little cold. Lots to see. It’s a little inconvenient to have to use all the pedestrian bridges, but it’s something different (stairs!) and at least you don’t have to wait for lights.
  • Weight: 190.8.

Other

  • Didn’t mention it last week, but I got a Synology for Christmas. I’ve already set it up for Time Machine for our laptops, and I’ve been migrating my photo archives over. And more planned.

Week in Review, 2015-W53.

(December 28, 2015 — January 3, 2016)

I posted exactly one time in 2015. This is (obviously) the smallest non-zero number of posts that a year has ever had. In any case, for a while now I’ve been thinking about doing a “Week in Review” post. The idea was inspired by Audrey Watters’s similar feature (most recent example, at the time of this posting), but I’m going to try to incorporate some aspects of the now page movement, too.

Although they are not commonly used in the US, week numbers are fairly commonly used in other parts of the world, and there is, of course, an ISO standard for them. Those rules dictate that week 1 of a new year always contains the year’s first Thursday. As the first Thursday of 2016 is not until January 7, this dictates that last week was a somewhat curious “leap week” in the ISO week date system. Since I hope to make posts weekly, labeling them with the week number seems sensible enough.

ISO weeks also start on Monday1. While I’m generally averse to weeks starting on Monday, I hope to usually make these posts on Sunday, which makes a Monday through Sunday review period perfectly sensible.

Will this cause me to blog more often? Maybe.

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Las Vegas (On my short list of American cities that I don’t care to visit. But, hey, any recommendations on food or shows?)

Research

  • Finished commenting a couple of paper drafts, despite not working very much.

Teaching

  • Started thinking a bit about my course for next semester, a graduate course on Information Theory.

Reading and Watching

  • Working through my annual Instapaper-zero project, which I have traditionally finished by the end of the year. Still about 50 articles to go, but if I can keep up the pace I should be done in a couple of weeks.
  • The feverish pace at which I’m plowing through my Instapaper queue makes it all sortof run together, but this was delightful: Haruki Murakami: The Moment I Became a Novelist2
  • Becky and I have been watching Madam Secretary Season 1 on Netflix. Entertaining.

Family and Friends

  • M and N each spent some nights with their maternal grandparents in Maryland. (C went before Christmas.)
  • While N was away, I took M and C to a basketball doubleheader at VT on Wednesday. The men were slaughtered by West Virginia—it was ugly; the women beat Furman handily.
  • And on Sunday, my mom and I took all three of the kids to see the VT women face Boston College in their conference opener. Big win, 58-33.

Health and Fitness

  • Completed the Runner’s World Run Streak on Friday, having run at least one mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, inclusive. Will probably take a week off running, now.
  • Weight: 191.6, which is almost as high as it was last year before I lost 12 pounds.

Other

  • Made some progress on two woodworking projects: building a new headboard for our bedroom and building a beer tote.3
  • Made unscheduled improvements to the backyard fence, to keep Houdini dog inside.
  • Made the Croatian Poppy Seed Pound Cake from Dr. Drang’s blog, which is quite delicious, but baked to well done in only 1:05.

  1. This is, in fact, the source of the Thursday rule mentioned earlier. If a week runs Monday through Sunday, then the week containing the first Thursday of the year is the first (Monday–Sunday) week in which a majority of days belong to the new year. 

  2. I haven’t read any of Haruki Murakami’s novels. But I read a book he wrote about running, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which was quite beautiful. Maybe I should read one of his novels. 

  3. I am hard pressed to come up with anything that I need less than this beer tote. But it looked easy and fun. If it comes out well, I have a couple of friends that might enjoy receiving one.