Tracking Work

I’ve mentioned earlier a plan to sharpen my development skills by learning the c# programming language. (That’s pronounced c-sharp, just in case you missed my pun).

In the past I’ve created a command-line tool to parse my stories, and a tool to generate some who-has-perspective graphics. I’m currently working on creating a tool I will use to keep track of my actual-day-job tasks. The project will aptly be called MyWorkTracker. Creative, I know.

Some important caveats:

  • It’s an incremental project. I’m going to add functionality in steps, and do my best not to forecast future work. This means that there’ll be times when it will look lacking; not so much half-baked as almost-raw. I want to avoid adding a lot of empty ‘hooks’ for later work. Instead of completing a single component to 100% polish, I might add two components at 50% polish.
  • I’m only just beginning to learn. I guarantee I will do things wrong and need to fix them in subsequent releases. Kind-hearted individuals may look over the implementation and provide feedback if they wish (after considering the first dot point).

The first portion of work, v0.1.0 will include the ability to create and edit Work Items. These have a title, a description, a due date, a status and a progress (0 to 100%).

At the top of the window is a graphical display of the Work Items, and below, details.


A Strategy for Productivity

Years ago I did some management studies. It was a massive amount of work (when coupled with actually working at the same time), but also very enjoyable. I appreciated the brain-expansion and exposure to new knowledge.

One of the articles I read was ‘Getting things done: The science behind stress-free productivity’ by Francis Heylighten and Clement Vidal. My guess is, almost everyone wishes they were more productive, so I thought I’d share some of the article insights.

“GTD” is a simple and practical method for knowledge workers to manage busy days and ensure maximum personal productivity.


The flowchart defines how work should be processed. In summary, if it’s a 2 minute task it should be done immediately, otherwise it should be allocated time in the future, with prompt-actions created.

The article contains reasoning on how the brain works (and therefore why the system works).  For example, the long-term memory has good recognition but poor recall; the short-term memory holds 7 items in active memory, and the energy required to actively remember something in the short-term is high.

Here were the points in the article I highlighted:

  • As much as possible, offload your mind by storing information/thoughts in a trusted external memory (paper, computer), in a structured format that is easily retrievable.
  • Record this information in an “actionable” form (so it reminds you what needs to be done).  Hopefully to stop you leaving a vague message that becomes cryptic after 5 minutes.
  • Be efficient with your actions.  (i.e. if you’re in close proximity to a task, do them now). When you’re doing a task make sure that you’re in an environment, with the proper tools, to perform that task with maximum effectiveness. “strike while the iron is hot.”
  • Switching to different tasks (mentally and physically) costs time and energy, so minimize job transitions (avoid disruptions).
  • When an ‘opportunity’ arises, but cannot be taken (due to current priorities) file it away in a ‘someday/maybe’ file, so the opportunity is not entirely forgotten.
  • GTD manages from the bottom (concrete issues you have to deal with) rather than from the top (high-level goals and values). It points out that if you try planning downwards you will simply be overwhelmed by the number of possibilities you have to take into account.
  • Each time you have performed one of these tasks, mark it off and write the next action.  In this way all of your project(s) are moving forward.

None of these suggestions are ground-breaking, but if applied consistently I believe it would increase my productivity. As a writer, I have two immediate take-aways: clean my workspace up and avoid “broswing” on the Internet.

Right: blog post written (or read) *check*.

Move onto your next task, and good luck.

Thanks Microsoft!

So I finally bit the bullet and upgraded to Windows 10; somewhat apprehensively. I was very happy with Windows 7, and so other than no more service packs there was little to entice me.

After discovering the reason why my screen was truncated (AMD Catalyst Controller graphics software) I was relatively happy. I must say it is faster, though I don’t like losing control of when and what it upgrades.

Then I went to use my handy little Microsoft Word tool which automatically date stamps and archives my writing, only to find that it no longer worked.

After a little looking around I discovered that Microsoft had decided I really needed US English to be installed and reset to my default language as part of the upgrade to Windows 10. The Americans, God bless their cotton socks do weird things like Month-Day-Year and this was the cause of the problem.

Partway through planning my angry rant I then realised that this exposed a flaw in my code. So after a little tinkering and some humble pie I have now fixed the code so that it works better, no matter what your date settings are (hopefully).

I find the tool invaluable.

Now, back to actually doing the writing…


Email Sidekick I’m still looking for some intrepid fellow authors to work with… Become an Email Sidekick

Quick-Saving Documents

After recently formatting my computer I tried to re-install the visual basic macro that I use to save my documents. This macro automatically saves the file with today’s date in the filename and moves the old file to a backup location.

I came to my website to copy the code off, only to discover that the PDF I had uploaded did not play nice at all when copy+pasting. So here is a word document that will copy+paste much easier: Auto-Save VB code

See the original post for how to install it.

Writing-Life Balance

It has been my intention to write a long post about writing-life balance, but I have decided against that. Something as complex and variable as “life” can hardly be discussed in a single post. Instead, let me address the issue of priorities and efficiency.

How much of a Priority is Writing?

Writing is a priority for me, but it is not my highest priority.

As a Christian the expression and growth of my faith must take pole position. As a married man I must take proper care of my wife (which is a joy), by earning a wage and contributing to the home-work. Wanting healthy relationships, and personal sanity, also means giving time to family and friends not just spending my life putting words on a page.

Writing must be maintained as a priority however if it is to become more than a side-hobby or not be lost among other pursuits. To this end, I am trying to avoid the other recreational activities that I know will suck the hours out of my day.

I remember hearing a (highly successful) man I respect say,

Work-life balance isn’t about always having balance; but about having balance on-the-whole.

You might have periods when the writing fever takes you, hot and sweating into the cave of isolation. But that period will only last so long. You don’t have whole-of-life balance during that period, but when the fever lifts you regain balance by investing heavily in your other priorities.

In the same way, if your other responsibilities are being “taken care of” a short period of neglect is not disastrous. As a simplistic example: If I mow my lawns, a weekend or two of writing isn’t going to result in an overgrown yard. Be generous with your other priorities, and they in turn will be flexible when you need them to be.

As the good book says,

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Be diligent in both making hay while the sun shines and taking care of the other things when the sun doesn’t shine.

Writing Effectively

Time is precious so it’s important that you are efficient with what you have. If I want an effective day of writing I must follow the pattern I know works. It starts with:

  1. Getting up at a reasonable hour (0830 at the latest),
  2. Shaving,
  3. Showering,
  4. Eating a mid-sized breakfast, and finally
  5. Spending some time in personal devotions.

Reading that list, you might think I’m wasting a whole swag of time. If I’m not intending on going out on the day, why shower? Why shave? That’s time better spent writing, you might think but you’d be wrong. After 13 years of work my brain is hardwired that being dressed and shaved means “work time”. I find I can focus more when I have acquired the worker bee mindset.

I also know what not-to-do in the morning. I can’t watch TV, read the newspaper or browse through my “regular” blogs. If I watch TV my brain is dulled to a state where I just want to be spoon-fed entertainment all-day. If I start browsing, I find that time will evaporate and I’ll be wanting to go back for a “fix” or “update”. As a bit of a news junkie this can be a weakness for me – However, if I don’t know the day’s news I can’t be interested in it.

It also helps to know in advance what I am going to work on. If I can I will do some “recon” and decide what comes next at the end of my previous writing session, Doing so lets my brain think about that in the background and gives me clear goals for the day.

Make the most of the time you have. If I have only an hour there’s no point in trying to work on my novel. I can however proof-read it, work on a short story or blog post. I can puzzle away about plot problems / issues and try to solve them.

A day is wasted as a collection of wasted minutes. (me)

Make every minute count!

Document Organisation

“To love rightly is to love what is orderly and beautiful in an educated and disciplined way.” Plato

It’s fair to say that in the past my document organisation has been a little… lacking. Everything virtually just got shoved into a Writing folder. Some documents had their own folder based on whim or related-file count, some had their own folder based on genre. It was all a bit higgledy-piggledy.

If I am going to be writing copiously, as is my intention, then I really need to organise myself better.

I have done it with a deep folder-structure inside the Writing folder.

  • Level 1 of the folder structure is based on the status of the writing piece: Incomplete, Completed and Published (an aspirational folder!)
  • Level 2 is based on the genre. In each of the 3 folders I have a folder for all of the genres I have (or intend to) write in, based on my summation of genres.
  • Level 3 is based on the length of the writing piece, based on these rough Wikipedia values.
    genre length
  • Finally, the level 4 folder will be the title of the writing piece.