Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Goals

Welcome to Sabbatical Report #3; for explanations, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

This week I concentrated on nailing down what I want to accomplish on my sabbatical.  Of course, I want to spend some extra time with my family, and do a few touristy things, as I mentioned in the original sabbatical report (see above).  But I also want to work on some personal projects, and I thought it wise to give myself some concrete goals.  Otherwise I’ll sit on my ass for 6 weeks and accomplish nothing except watching a lot of TV and eating a lot of holiday candy, and I’ll feel stupid and lazy (and fat) when my sabbatical is finally over.  So I decided to give myself goals.  And I’ve been fiddling with them, trying to get them to a point where they’re achievable, but not too easy.  I think I’m there finally.

First thing I did was give myself a little padding at either end.  My sabbatical is six weeks long in the sense that it’s 42 days, but it’s not actually six calendar weeks, because it started on a Wednesday.  So it’s really like half a week, then 5 weeks, then another half a week.  I decided that my goals would be applied during the 5 week stint.  The half weeks on either side would just be used to ease into it, and then to ease back out of it.

So, during the 5 weeks (of which this week was the first), I’ve decided to accomplish 3 broad goals.  I’ll explain them, from simplest to most complicated.

First, I’ve decided to finally clear out my (personal) inbox.  I got my Gmail account about 8 years ago, mainly as a backup account.  I still had my own business back then.  But, as time went on, and my company’s servers gradually stopped working, my Gmail “backup” became my main email account.  By the time I realized this, though, my inbox was already a mess, and it hasn’t gotten any better since then.  Oh, I read my emails (well, most of them), but I never seem to actually do anything with them.  I need to file them, or delete them, or maybe even reply to them every now and again.  When I looked at my inbox at the beginning of my sabbatical, there were nearly 500 emails in my inbox.  Fine: 500 emails, 5 weeks—all I need to do is clear out 100 emails a week and I’ll start back to work with a clean inbox.  I’m happy to say I’m currently on track (ahead of schedule, even) with this goal: my inbox right now stands at 352.

Secondly, I have a todo list.  There are two sorts of items on this todo list: things that need to be done once and then can be deleted permanently, and recurring tasks.  My recurring tasks, of course, never actually leave the todo list.  They float to the top sometimes, I do them, then I punt them back to the bottom until it’s time to do them again.  These are things like doing my laundry, fishtank maintenance, grocery shopping, etc.  But the one-time tasks are the more interesting ones.  I do the recurring ones—every week, or every month, or whatever—but I do them.  They never get passed over.  But those one-time tasks ... they just sit there a lot of the time.  Over time, they accumulate.  Before you know it, you’ve got stuff on your todo list you’ve been meaning to accomplish for a year and never touched.  It makes you feel sort of lame.  So I decided I would take advantage of sabbatical time to prune that list a little.  I figured, I’ll do 1 task every day.  Then I decided to make it 1 task every weekday—save the weekends for the recurring tasks, and maybe some chilling out time.  5 weeks, that’s 25 tasks, which must all be one-time tasks, and they must all have been on the list when sabbatical started—no cheating by adding new one-time tasks and then doing them, because that doesn’t actually help achieve the goal of shrinking the overall list.  So this week I should have accomplished 5 tasks, but so far I’ve only got 3.  Maybe I’ll sneak in 2 more before tomorrow.

Finally, the big stuff.  Over a month ago, I started making a list of bigger projects I wanted to accomplish during sabbatical.  Some were short, well-defined tasks, like pulling out my old mountain bike and taking it to a bike shop (which necessitates actually locating a bike shop, of course) and either having it fixed, or having it pronounced dead and buying a new one.  I might actually exercise if I had a working bike.  (I probably won’t, but we’ll never know unless we try, no?)  Others were more nebulous, like working on my book, which could go on for quite a while and never see completion.  So the trick here was to figure out how to turn these larger projects, with all sorts of different lengths and levels of achievability, into concrete goals.

My original thought was to just try to polish off X projects a week.  There were several problems with this plan.  First off, some of them didn’t have definitive endings, as I mentioned.  But, worse: I had so many that I would need to polish off one every day to get them all, and that wasn’t even remotely practical.  Plus I’d need to start one, work on it frantically, and take it all the way to completion before I could mark it off and move on to the next task.  That’s too much like work, which is what I taking the sabbatical to get away from.  I need to be able to hop around from task to task, doing whatever mood strikes me, but still working towards concrete goals.  On top of everything, the fact that some tasks would take only a few hours, while others might go on for days, meant that I would have no idea how to make sure I was on track for hitting my targets.

So I hit on the idea of counting my hours.  When I work on work stuff, I track my hours.  (This comes from many years of being a consultant who gets paid by the hour.)  I know that, in a 40-hour work week, I generally achieve about 30 hours of real, solid work.  I briefly considered trying to do 30 hours per week on sabbatical.  I promptly discarded this idea.  What’s the point of being on sabbatical if you can’t slack off a little?  But not too much ... I’m currently trying to achieve 20 hours per week instead.  Of course, so far I’ve only got twelve, so that’s a poor start.  But, hey, I’ve actually achieved a few cool things.

First off, I just released a new version of one of my CPAN modules, Method::Signatures.  This involved fixing a few niggling bugs and just getting things organized and properly put out on the Internet.  I really love making progress on this particular module, because it’s probably the most high-profile thing I’m known for (even though I didn’t write the original version), and I hope to expand on it even more as time goes on.  I don’t know if I’ll ever actually have a Perl legacy, but, if I ever do, this will probably be the cornerstone of it.  If you’re into Perl, you can read more about this latest release on my other blog.

Secondly, I figured out how to make a “lab” (i.e. a personal page for my custom creations) on my favorite Pathfinder site,  So far it’s just an empty page, but you’d be surprised how much effort it took to get even that far.  Google Sites may be an awesome thing (not saying it is yet, only that it may be), but intuitive it ain’t.

Finally, I started working on the project of identifying all local file modifications to my laptop.  This is necessary for upgrading to a newer laptop, which is another project on the list.  So far, I’ve got a list of directories, sorted in order by the modification date of the most recently modified file, with the obvious stuff (like the /tmp directory, or my Dropbox directory, which is already on the cloud and thus doesn’t need to be backed up) removed.

So I’m 8 hours short, but I’m not feeling lame.  Yet.  I may have to revise my weekly goals to 15 hours though.  We’ll see.

Anyway, I have to wrap this up now, as we’re out to pick up yet yet another furry child.  Should keep the holidays interesting ...

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