Pursuing increased productivity

If you are like me, then all help is welcome to increase your productivity and focus. For me, it always has been a problem. While working on a dull task, I get distracted by everything around me. Checking emails, watching a youtube video, tinkering with software settings and configurations… Everything seems more fun than the task at hand. Only when I’m working on something that passionates me or rather annoys me, I can focus 100%. Often I can focus extraordinary well on small cli “project”. The latest example is the automated conversion of pdf files (single or double column) for reading on my e-reader. It really bothered me that it wasn’t working, so I spend a huge amount of on it until it worked.

The attempt

To try and increase my productivity, I started making notes in Vivaldi. I was already using Vivaldi as my everyday browser, so it made sense to use it and not opt for a new, more specialized application. A big part of my work happens in the browser, having my notes in a panel seemed perfect. Other advantages are that the Notes can be synced between different computers and that markdown is supported. I like markdown, as it is easy, quick, supported by a lot of services and I don’t have to use a mouse to go through a bunch of menus! The notes in Vivaldi are saved in the ~/.config/vivaldi/Default/Notes file as a json. Which means I can read it using any tool I want. Initially, my idea was to process the data using python, but I never got around doing this for various reasons on which I will elaborate later.

Every day I make a note with the data (for example 20180805). This format guarantees a logic chronological sequence when sorted alphabetically. Vivaldi Notes can’t sort the notes like this, but I was thinking about the postprocessing. The time is formatted as a header 1 (#). Underneath “tags” are set using a block quote (> /work/project1). Text formatted as a header 2 specifies the detailed topic. The remaining text is a list all the things I did, found, concluded… An example is included below:

# 0940
> /ebook/var
## systemctl
PathChanged to PathExistsGlob

“`ini
[Unit]
Description=double column pdf to kobo friendly

[Path]
PathExistsGlob=~/Documents/pdf2convert/dc/*.pdf

[Install]
WantedBy=multi-user.target
“`

bash to
“`bash
#!/bin/bash

path=~/Documents/pdf2convert/dc
converted=~/Documents/pdf2convert/converted
original=~/Documents/pdf2convert/original/
suffix1=_kobo_dc
suffix2=_original

cd $path

for f in *.pdf; do
~/Downloads/k2pdfopt ./$f -ui- -o ../converted/${f%.pdf}${suffix1}.pdf -w 1050 -h 1365 -dpi 265 -fc- -n -cgr 0.05 -m 1.cm -x -f2p -1
mv $f $original${f%.pdf}_original.pdf
chown tw:tw ../converted/${f%.pdf}${suffix1}.pdf
done
“`

Drawbacks

Before starting making the notes, the idea was to use python to post-process my time management. A json can be easily read and then I could look for header 1 and calculate how long I spend on a project using the “tags”. With this data, it is fairly easy to generate nice graphs, illustrating how much or little I can focus. Essential in this process is the standardized formatting of the notes. Here lies the problem: I’m not sure if my formatting now is the best approach. Starting on post-processing code would be a huge waste of time (and that is exactly what I should try to avoid.)

Using the Notes, has another big disadvantage: the search function is not very good. You can find back in which note a certain string was used, but it is not highlighted in the text. Especially when the note is very lengthy, this can become frustrating.

The result

Initially, my productivity increased substantially. After a couple of days, I got a bit tired of documenting all the times I changed doing something or went for a coffee. Now, after a month and a half, my productivity is still slightly higher, taken into account the 35°C in the office as a result of the heatwave. The biggest advantage of my notes is not the increase in output, but having a full documentation of my day. I can now easily find back the one command I used to change some setting, or how I got the result I got. On the long run, this will probably have a bigger effect on my productivity.

I noticed that it aren’t only the tedious tasks that I postpone, but also the critical ones. The tasks with a high impact on the rest of my life, work, … Finding out if a model I worked on works or not, is a task which outcome dictates if the hours, days, months or even years I spend working on it were worth it or not. When I’m not convinced I can deliver good work, is another case when I can’t get started doing something. Naturally, this only escalates the problem. Not a single productivity tool in the world could possibly change this. But hey, all little steps help.

 

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