Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Watching My Heroes Talk About Self-Doubt

Wasn't expecting to make another post quite so soon after the last, but I came across this video of some of my heroes talking about scenarios and situations that had afflicted me all my professional life. I cannot help but share this with very few comments - it is highly inspirational for me, and the sense that they are human like myself helps give me hope that some day I can claw my way out of this rut to do something good and useful with my life.


A very apt and interesting video has coincidentally appeared on Youtube that described many of the scenarios that has affected me as an individual, former graduate student, and academic. Those are the very same scenarios dealing with focus, motivation, stress, and depression that I had been trying to solve with the latest workflow framework that I had put in place (and it has been working pretty well over the last 4 days it has been in play!)

 I have some additional comments about the video though. While I think it is great they hinted that it is unhelpful to view all outward signs of procrastination as "laziness," I also feel that they hadn't covered enough of how unhelpful it is to inflict (self-inflicted or otherwise) the sense of guilt on individuals.

Personally the single most helpful thing for me was to recognize the symptoms, and to find a way to gently nudge myself and also to create a working environment that facilitates my ability and willingness to focus on a task. As I had indicated in the earlier post, I plan on elucidating some of my anecdotal observations of my experiences in a more technical post on another blog.

One of these recent experiences had to do with my preparations for potential job interviews. As part of these preparations, I had to revisit and review my past work. While these all involved work I had enjoyed doing, the circumstances around them and the fact that they reminded me of the paths that led me to my current state also involved painful or traumatic memories. I recognize these sources of pain, and in my workflow I had built ways of planning these painful tasks such that I am able to adjust their scheduling accordingly - making progress until it hurts too much, swapping out alternative tasks, or scheduling painful tasks in flexible non-critical time blocks.

To me understanding that these emotions are real, and cannot be swept under the rug is key. They have to be negotiated, along with the understanding that (as the video indicated) the stress of dealing with them does not go away with the procrastination. They have to be managed with a balance of tangible progress, and emotional self-care in mind. A good workflow goes a long way toward facilitating this - it allows for emotionally difficult tasks to be broken up into bite-sized chunks that aid morale and relieves stress each time a bite-sized chunk gets completed.

In addition to individuals suffering through these scenarios, I wished more bosses understood the nature of what their employees may be going through. The professional world would be a better place for it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Breath of Life

I mean to write a more technical perspective on this on my technical blog, but for now I'd like to note a more personal perspective on what I'm about to describe.

I have recently started a fresh attempt at a much-needed structured life/professional workflow framework. I had tried (and failed at) this several times from years before, but this time around I have taken a step back and worked in a number of mitigation and resiliency mechanisms to help me cope with my weaknesses - a poorer memory, and any depression-related spells. My past attempts had been ambitious, and done without any self-appreciation in mind. In particular, I'd blame myself if I failed. This time I am more prepared to fail, note details on how and why I failed, and try again. This time there will be no conscious self-blame on my part.

Things have started out well. The workflow is structured around regular daily activities supported by checklists, and an alarm system built around the modern and free online tools of our day - Trello ( for Kanban board styled task tracking and management; Google Calendar to schedule events and the workflow structure itself with automated alarms to help drive the workflow; and Google Drive to host documentation files that help me take notes and create slides - pretty much a free online Office for personal use. Under this workflow, blocks of time are allocated, tasks are assigned with time estimates, and I am able to get a good sense and confidence that I am doing the appropriate things at the appropriate blocks of time without constantly feeling like I am missing something at the back of my mind. The latter was unsurprisingly a source of great stress for me and seriously needed to be mitigated, particularly since I have poor memory and high anxiety issues.

The classic analogy to Life is our breathing. This attempt at a regular and well-paced workflow can be seen as bringing rhythm to my breathing and analogously my life. Prior to this I could be metaphorically thought to be hyperventilating. My challenge moving forward is fault or error recovery - it remains to be seen if my workflow as envisioned can help me recover from disruptions, whether it be from the down time of my depression spells, or from the actions of other people. I would say I am prepared to deal with those challenges.

Meanwhile I hope this entry is interesting or has been useful to some of the readers. I do intend to write something more technical on another blog - covering the details of how the workflow is designed, how I expect it to work, what features of tools are used, and how it can be of help to others. Given my own history, that more technical blog post will be targeted at graduate students who struggle as I had managing my time in what is a highly stressful environment with many ad-hoc (and sometimes even arbitrary) events and tasks.