My 2020 Pomodoro Project

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My work this year is challenging to organize. I’m trying to do something I’ve never done before, which is to raise money to launch Article 27. The mission is to support everyday science of the kind that takes place in the Quantified Self community. I’ve been working in this area for 11 years, but the funding process of going from project to project/conference to conference has been a big constraint, and I want to see if it’s possible to build proper organizational support that will allow us to think more than a year ahead. The fundraising goal is $5MM. Meanwhile, I’m also trying to maintain ongoing research collaborations and writing, as well as supporting the QS community infrastructure, such as this forum, on minimal resources. (Thankfully, with a lot of volunteer community support.)

It’s hard to stay focused and organized. I’m inspired by Maggie Delano’s Pomodoro project, presented at QS18.

I’m going to imitate Maggie’s workflow as closely as possible, even though I’m much less technically skilled. I hope it works.

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I began with a simple spreadsheet, tracking Pomodoros using my phone timer. However, it immediately became irritating to switch around from whatever I was working on, into my spreadsheet app, and then to fill in the data. Even though it was just three columns (date/time, #, note) I had a sense of disorganization already that I can little afford, given the distraction that already bothers me as I try to focus. Though Maggie’s workflow will require more setup to start, I hope it will be less irritating once begun.

I’ve now completed the setup using Maggie’s customized Strict Workflow browser extension. The instructions are there at the bottom of the page and were very clear. I set my goal started my Beeminder goal, and started first Pomodoro. Look forward to seeing if it logs properly to Beeminder.

I began with a simple spreadsheet, tracking Pomodoros using my phone timer. However, it immediately became irritating to switch around from whatever I was working on, into my spreadsheet app, and then to fill in the data. Even though it was just three columns (date/time, #, note) I had a sense of disorganization already that I can little afford, given the distraction that already bothers me as I try to focus.

I’ve encountered this problem as well. It’s far too much friction to endure atop one’s real work.

My solution was to make the logging part of the work, rather than an interruption to it. The GTD “capture” principle gets things out of one’s head. By recording stray thoughts, one’s mind is enabled to move forward and focus productively.

There’s another element of friction besides the logging interruption: temporal subdivision and categorization. Since consciousness is continuous, the boundaries of one’s time blocks are always arbitrary and false. Categorizing and summarizing them over a lifetime compounds this problem with further falsehoods. Multiple thoughts and activities overlap and enwrap each other, fading in and out of the day’s dance. Worse, they transform over time.

The truest temporal division in the day’s record is therefore the timestamp immediately after one has dumped one’s thoughts to the log, updating it from the last timestamp. It distinguishes present thoughts from prior.

The duration between two updates may defy categorization, but a narrative can be constructed from a series of such updates over a day. The lack of any formal encumbrances such as spreadsheet cells and category tags permits each update to be as complex as the corresponding reality requires. Updates may be intra-minute minutiae or inter-day retrospectives, with no harm to any automated processing system such as the formulas typically embedded in a time-tracking spreadsheet.

This method maximizes the ease of updating and the expressiveness of each update, while leaving each update accessible and legible in a text file, rather than a squinty spreadsheet cell. The result is low-friction work.

Due to the fact that the day’s transformations can’t be predicted, the daily log is append-only. This preserves the integrity of the log against unanticipated need.