Noisy Deadlines

journal

I’m going to Montreal today for a small literary conference called “Scintillation”. I took a Lyft to go the train station and the Lyft driver was super friendly, we started chatting, and I mentioned I liked sci-fi and fantasy. I talked about my favorite books of all time, classics like “Lord of the Rings” and “Foundation”, and then he mentioned the Apple WWDC 2024. As I haven’t watched it, he said it was amazing, and that everything will change in 10 years. Our phones will be unrecognizable in 10 years because of Artificial Intelligence. We will all live in a different world.

I made some comments about how scary that future looks, with constant surveillance and being always online. But he was super excited about it, he was not scared at all. I then made a comment about Microsoft’s Copilot, which will be included in all their applications, and that my workplace is testing it out. And then I asked him if he remembered Microsoft’s failed office assistant called “Clippy”, and he didn’t have a clue!

He didn’t know that Word and Excel existed (I was shocked😱) and then I realized how old I am! I mean, “Clippy” was discontinued in the early 2000’s but this guy started using computers in 2009 or so. Oh, I felt like a dinosaur! 🦕

He also didn't know that “Dune” was a series of books written in the 60’s by Frank Herbert. He loved the new movies, which I agree. I still want to watch the last one, though.

Anyway, it was a fun conversation, continuing my trip now.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

So, when I started Rethinking My To Do list this week, I was feeling disconnected. I was craving for something different. I’m not sure why, but I was bored. And I didn’t want to look at my to-do list. So, avoiding it only intensified my disconnection. I thought I needed a new to-do list.

I wanted to get a better app and test other things. And I did test a few! Only to realize that the tool itself wasn’t the problem. I was just feeding the distraction dragon, searching for novelty.

But I wanted to see it for myself, stubborn that I am.

So, I looked at TickTick. It is an amazing to-do list! It has lots of features, calendar, pomodoro timer, timeline views, routine tracker, cross-platform, etc. It’s highly customizable: I saw I could set it up however I wanted to fit my needs. And then came the realization that I would have to spend several hours tweaking it. Creating lists, and folders and custom filters. And moving everything I have in Nirvana to TickTick. Moreover, I was not able to install the desktop app on my work computer, so that was a clear hint that my employer doesn’t approve of this software. Another detail I didn’t like: I couldn’t find a way to set up a shortcut key to add tasks to the Inbox. The “add task” shortcut will add the task to whatever folder/list is open in the app.

Then I looked back at Todoist. I’ve used it for a couple of years. Very flexible, cross-platform, super easy and fast at collecting and organizing things. But the new interface now has “hashtags” symbols to represent folders/projects instead of the old circles, which I think makes it more visually polluted. And then I remembered the entire process of creating the folder’s structure and the custom filters to use it with GTD the way I like it. I didn’t want to go into that rabbit hole again.

Lastly, I revisited Microsoft To Do. It’s a cute app, fast and simple and integrates well with my work system. But… there is something that always gets me out of it: projects management. I like linking projects to next actions, and things get very messy in MS To Do if I want to do that with hashtags, while using lists as my GTD contexts. I told myself I would use it for 90 days to see how it goes. But I changed my mind. Last time I used it for 60 days and abandoned it to get back to Nirvana. I remembered things that I don’t like about it: the Inbox situation (which is a list called “Tasks”), there is no direct “email to inbox” feature (I must send an email to Outlook, and then flag it: too many steps for capturing), I prefer Nirvana’s way of dealing with recurring tasks and organizing projects.

So basically, everything I wrote in January when I was Testing Microsoft To Do and saying goodbye still holds true. I will let it go this time. For real, let it go!

In the end the effectiveness of my GTD system depends on my commitment to maintaining and working my lists in an app that I’m familiar with. I still can use Nirvana at work (I can even install the desktop app on my work laptop) It synchronises on all my devices, it’s fast and reliable.

The issue wasn’t the tool itself but rather my quest for novelty. I can see clearly now.

I’ve decided to stick with Nirvana, which strikes the right balance between meeting my needs and minimizing frustrations.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I've abandoned the book “Apollo Murders” by Chris Hadfield. I wanted to like it, but it's not growing on me, really. I stopped at 20% which is a fair amount to realize a book isn't resonating with me.

Every time I stop reading a book, I feel guilty. I can't stop but wonder “But what if things get more interesting at 30%?”, “What if I'm missing out on this fantastic plot twist?”. It’s as if I am leaving behind a potential adventure, a secret world that might have unfolded if only I’d persevered a little longer. It is a type of FOMO.

Deciding to abandon a book is always a reflection prompt for me. Maybe my reading taste is changing, it's not the right moment for that genre or I'm craving for a different experience.

Anyway, my reading taste is shifting to lighter reads and more character focused. I've been noticing that I really enjoy a first-person point of view. And I want to be able to understand what that character is feeling, what is her thought process, how is she dealing with her inner struggles.

So right now, I'm not into Cold War thrillers.

Recognizing that a book isn’t resonating with me is an act of self-awareness and self-care. I'm acknowledging that my reading preferences are evolving, and that’s perfectly okay.

I'll keep on focusing on more cozy and light-hearted reads. I'm craving for comfort reads at the moment. After all, reading should always be a delightful journey, not a chore. 📚✨

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Journaling is a habit I started in 2013. I talk more about my initial experience here.

For some time, I was doing shorter entries, like “The 5 Minute Journal” style, where I would have a template to write daily on Evernote. That was 2017.

It was also the year I moved to Canada and lots of things changed in my life. I stopped using Evernote and moved to other tools. And when I moved away from that initial template, I wanted to write more freely. So, I started writing longer entries, “Morning Pages” style.

Since then, journaling is a part of my daily routine. During the worst of the COVID pandemic I struggled to keep it regular, but I did my best. I tried some journaling services like Journey and 750 Words. I tried using a private blog in Write.as to journal. Now I journal using Standard Notes, which I love!

I never liked the idea of using a public blog to journal private thoughts, but that's just me. My inner critic is still strong, and I must constantly tell him (yeah, I don't know why, my inner critic is a guy) to go away and just let it be. When I'm journaling, I want to be as free as possible, that's why I journal privately. I really like how the website 750 Words describes journaling:

I don't need to title my entries, or tag them, or enable comments, or any of that other stuff. This is writing, and it's online, but it's not blogging, or Twittering, or Facebook status updating. This is between you and you. — 750 Words

It's been a couple of years since I've been focusing on consolidating journaling as a daily activity for me.

I'm off to a good start in 2024 🤘:

My process:

  • I protect time in the morning, before I leave to work (it could be anytime, but that's what works for me). I plan my morning routine so that I will have 10 to 30 minutes to write. Sometimes less, sometimes more. All that matters is having this pocket of time protected.
  • I do it always at the same place: on my laptop at my home office, using the app Standard Notes. I use the Standard Notes “Daily Notebook” feature with a customized note title format. It's easy to open my notebook and go right to the note of the day.
  • I set up a timer to start writing and stop when it's over. Simple as that.

Since I started writing daily, I feel lighter. I feel like I'm living more intentionally. Days are not passing by so quickly.

Because writing is an exercise in being grateful. In remembering the good things. In learning with my errors. In forgiving myself. Daily journaling has helped me go through grief and process my emotions. It's a good mini therapy session!

Sometimes I will journal when I'm feeling overwhelmed and stressed at work. Sometimes I just need to do a quick mind sweep in the middle of the day to regroup and move on. So, I open the note I started in the morning and just write some more (I can access Standard Notes via web at work).

And the space I have for journaling is all private. It's a space where I can write whatever, it's not to be censored or edited. It's an exercise to clear my mind, a true brain dump. I usually get ideas to write on my blog from these journaling sessions. Sometimes I start a draft in my journal, which will then be transformed into a blog entry.

My plan is to journal every day, a little or a lot, it doesn't matter. I don't force myself for it to be 750 words or 3 pages long or whatever. I just write how much I feel like that day. Sometimes it's a note saying how I'm feeling now. And that's enough.

I think journaling has now become more than a habit, it's a daily practice to nurture my mental health and creativity.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

After switching all my systems/apps/blog to Dark Mode, now I'm looking at some font types. I've been journaling daily in Standard Notes using a Monospace Font and I noticed how much I like it!

So, I’ve updated the blog with the ‘ubuntu-mono’ font type. It makes text easier to read on all screen sizes and it’s better for my eyes as well, especially after I started wearing multifocal lenses.

With Monospace fonts all the characters take up the same amount of horizontal space, which makes the letters easier to recognize. It also has that old Typewriter look giving me some good nostalgia feelings when I used to play with my mom’s Olivetti (and where I started learning touch typing).

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

With my week experiencing Covid-19 I became extremely sensitive to bright screens. I already use a dark theme on my computer OS, email, and calendar. But I was not bothered by white backgrounds for other stuff. But this week ANY white background became unbearable to my eyes. I noticed it would trigger and worsen the headaches related to Covid. I stayed away from screens most of my week because of these headaches.

I’m feeling slightly better today, and I opened my blog and was I blinded by this bright white screen! So, I wondered why have I not changed my blog to a dark theme yet?

So, here it is!

Finally, a dark theme for my blog! 😎

And I’m changing everything I use to a dark theme, even Nirvana which I’ve always found nicer to use in light mode. But I’ve changed my mind, give me dark backgrounds everywhere!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I tested positive for Covid-19 this morning 😐. My partner got it first, 2 days later I started having symptoms. This is my second time; first time I got it was in December 2022.

I’m glad I took all the vaccines: now I don’t have any serious symptoms just the usual: sore throat, headache, some sneezing and running nose. The headache seems worse this time, tho! It’s like a bad migraine, stronger than I thought.

We are isolating ourselves at home. I called in sick at work today, and I will only get back at the office after 2 days of testing negative and having no symptoms.

It’s annoying, my head hurts, but I’m taking this time to rest as much as I can. I took a nap today, which something that I NEVER do during the day (unless I’m sick).

I will probably be working from home this whole week and I kinda missed it!? My company did not embrace the whole “work from home” movement or flexible schedule. But it’s nice to be in a quieter work environment for a change. I will be able to stop for 10 minutes and sit down on my yoga mat to meditate or stretch. I can pause and read a few pages of a book without feeling guilty. I will enjoy less interruptions from colleagues.

Reflecting a bit, I wish the work environment were more flexible in all industries. Only by working from home for a few days I realize how noisy and distracting my office environment is. I still have an office where I can close the door if needed (on a conference call, for example) but my manager is an advocate of the “open door policy” for collaboration. I wish I could keep my door closed for longer periods of time when I’m focusing on deep work, for example. Sometimes I do. But even my manager will knock and open my door to ask something if I’m in the middle of a conference call.

I never feel fully able to truly focus when I’m at the office, because people will interrupt me if they need something. The “open door policy” is strong at my work environment. The whole office will be renovated soon, and they will turn all the offices in cubicles because it’s better for “collaboration”. I don’t like the idea, I’ve worked in open office spaces before, and it was incredibly stressful to me. On the other hand, the office renovation will include a “wellness” room. We’ll see…

Anyway, I guess I’m ranting a lot today. Must be this Covid headache! 😷

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Ok, so my experiment yesterday went pretty well. It was great not to have the email window open at all times and I did 1-hour sessions of deep work to focus on a specific project I have to get done by the end of the week.

I noticed I would catch myself pausing during the 1-hour session and having this twitch to peek at my email, but I every time I avoided opening it, because I knew I had planned a specific block to deal with emails.

Today I did the same thing, I have the reminders on my digital Calendar and my actual executing plan in my Time Block Planner (which I will tweak as I go):

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

The past 2 days at work I felt I was in total reactive mode answering emails and worrying about them 😐.

Monday was as terrible as Monday can be, and I regretted my decision to book an 8am dentist appointment to start the week. Note to self: don’t book appointments at 8am on Mondays. I was a complete mess, I couldn’t plan my week or my day, I had 3 meetings back-to-back, so it wasn’t going to be a very productive day anyway (again, Mondays are the worst).

Yesterday I was still feeling out of my game, I was tired, I had a headache and some low back pain. There was a lot of communication activities with my coworkers, answering questions, answering emails and phone calls. After I did my shutdown routine in the afternoon, I felt 10% better and I left work 15 minutes early. I went to the gym afterwards and my low back pain and headache disappeared, and I felt much better.

🎯 So today I decided to test out a fixed schedule to check emails, instead of having my emails tab always open.

My plan is to have half an hour blocks where I will open my email and process the inbox. After time is up I will close it and continue working on my tasks for the day. This is the gameplan:

✉ Check emails 4 times:

  • 8:30am => A block right after I do my morning Daily Review slot
  • 10:30am => Mid-morning check
  • 1:00pm => Post lunch check
  • 3:00pm => Mid-afternoon check

In my Shutdown Routine block at 4:30pm I will check it again to process any outstanding tasks I need to capture for the next day.

I set the emails blocks in my digital calendar so that I get a notification when they start:

I’ll see how that goes today!

Later!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I came up with some questions yesterday about my GTD system when I was bored. I will jot down some notes about the first one:

What do I wish my system to do to support me?

That's a good question because a productivity system should be there to support me. It's how I got into GTD in the first place: I was searching for a way to be more organized and less stressed. I needed a framework on how to deal with all my life inputs and dreams.

So, how exactly can it help me?

Here are some of the elements that I wish my system should do to support me:

  1. Ease of use: I want it to be simple to use. I don't want to spend too much time or energy on managing my system, but rather on doing the things that matter. A good thought experiment is imagining a day when I'm sick: will I be able to use my system then? Will it be easy enough to use it when I'm not feeling 100%? A simple system is more resilient and adaptable to different situations and moods.

  2. Digital and multi-platform: It should be digital, multi platform and sync between my devices (mainly laptop and mobile). I want to be able to access my system from anywhere and anytime, without worrying about losing or forgetting anything.

  3. Reminder system: It should be able to remind me of things. On days when I'm most distracted having a reminder pop-up on my devices really help me not forget important things. Sometimes I need a gentle nudge to get started on a task or to follow up on something. Reminders also help me keep track of deadlines, appointments, events, etc. that I don't want to miss.

  4. Punch list: It should be easy to narrow down next actions into a “punch list” so that I can plan which tasks I will work on each day. One of the key concepts of GTD is breaking down projects into actionable steps that can be done in one sitting. This helps me avoid procrastination and overwhelm by focusing on the next thing I can do. Having a punch list of these next actions also helps me prioritize and schedule my day according to my energy, context and goals

  5. Aesthetically pleasing: It should be fun to use and visually appealing. I think having a system that I enjoy using makes a big difference in my motivation and mood. I like to customize my system with colors and emojis and also it is rewarding to hear a sound when an action is completed. These little things make me happy and keep me engaged with my system.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but after reflecting on this question, I'm rethinking some of the tools I use. I knew that the visual appeal was important to me, and I feel that lately it has become even more important.

Here is a quick diagnostic of the tools I currently use:

  • Calendar/Email => Outlook: I see no issues here. It's easy to use. I use the web version of Outlook in both my work and personal accounts. I like how it looks, it sends me reminders, it's available on all my devices. I can sync my personal and work calendars to see whole picture.
  • Task Manager => NirvanaHQ: It's relatively easy to add things to the Inbox. If compared to other tools, processing stuff is not that easy because there are drop downs menus and selections to go through each time. Aesthetically speaking it is not my favorite. Adding emojis to it make it less boring. I like it for its neat organizational buckets and multi platform sync. I can make a punch list using the Star feature.
  • Reference system => OneDrive/Standard Notes/One Note: I enjoy using all these tools. They are multiplatform and accessible in all my devices. I enjoy their user interface; I see no issues. I don't need reminders in these tools.

🧐 So, I am looking at you, NirvanaHQ! I will give it some thought. More later.

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.