It was lacking something

Sometime in the middle of the day yesterday I realized that the presentation I prepared for next week was lacking something. Each of the slides has a main topic and I sat down with a blank sheet of paper to write out 10 must know things for each slide. That seemed to be the right way to start adding something to the presentation. For the most part I will be done delivering this presentation next week. That means today and tomorrow are the entire window for figuring out what needs to change within the content. Overall I’m looking for the entire presentation to have a very distinct perspective and tell one strongly backed up story that is interesting, insightful, and makes the audience want to learn more and take action to explore machine learning use cases. That is where my thoughts ended up burning cycles of creativity yesterday. It was an all in sort of focused moment on what needed to change. It was one of those moments where the problem was obvious, but the solution stood just out of reach. I’m going to keep working on it here in the next few minutes. Right now I just finished my two shots of espresso and I have a solid hour before anybody wakes up.

Interrupted. Presentation work.

It took a few minutes to fill out the blank page containing space for 10 things per slide topic. Most of the slides ended up having between 6 or 8 solid comments. I’m going to have to circle back to complete a run at 10 things per slide. The next phase in this process is going to be to sit down and try to deliver the presentation again with some of these elements being incorporated to see if it improves the overall quality of the messaging. Initially all of this effort to expand the presentation content was focused on a blank sheet of paper with the slide numbers at the top and list of things below them. At the end of the exercise that hand written content pretty much filled up the page. I’m about to transfer the bullet points onto the slide notes section for each slide in Microsoft PowerPoint. That transfer process of typing up my notes and trying to read my handwriting took about 10 minutes and it has almost inspired me to rewrite a couple of the slides. At some point the entire presentation is going to need to get revisited slide by slide to build out something better, but that is not where my focus needs to be right now. At this moment in time, my focus needs to be directed toward delivering the best possible talk next week.

Those committed routines

Yesterday I started thinking about all the titles of books that I would like to read, but have not been authored by anybody at this time. Yeah, I was pretty much just inventing book titles. I’m not exactly sure how that topic bubbled to the forefront of my thoughts. It is an interesting thought exercise to try to figure out what types of things should be written. It also gives me the opportunity to go out and look for specific books that just might exist, but I had no idea had been written. It is entirely possible that things were written and I have no idea they were published. That goes for both books and academic journal articles. So much content has been produced that it is relatively hard to keep up with the highlights. It is next to impossible to keep up with the totality of publishing. One person simply cannot keep up anymore. Fragmentation has also made it hard to even get a solid line of sight into all the content. On the academic journal front you have to have access to the right digital libraries to see the bulk of it and it is almost all hidden behind subscriptions. 

After next week I’m trying to figure out how to allocate my time. Some of that time could very well be spent on a few different things. I’m curious about potentially finishing up some fiction efforts or maybe really digging into writing that real-time economic indicator piece of software. It is entirely possible I’ll have time for both of those efforts. The big piece of the puzzle is just staying focused and getting things done. Today started with a cup of coffee. It was one of those days without shots of espresso. I’m still pretty committed to waking up and writing at the start of my day. That is the routine I’m committed to fulfilling. Drinking some type of coffee and writing are the routines that have my commitment at the start of the day. That is a good way to think about making sure both of those things happen every day. 

Today I need to practice delivering that presentation a few times and really focus in on refining the important points being communicated. It should be pretty easy to work that out and use the Google Recorder application to make it possible to listen back to the effort. Taking the time to review the practice recordings is the important part of refining the presentation.  

More notes should have been taken

Waking up happened all of a sudden today in a flash of awareness. That did occur a few minutes after my two shots of espresso. The spelling and grammar editor built into Google Docs has definitely been improving over the years. Throughout the last 80 days of writing I have really been able to watch it make suggestions in real time and they have gotten better. Some people are using these new plugins to help edit content as they go, but I have not dug into that type of effort. I’m waiting for that functionality to get built into Microsoft Word or Google Docs before really giving it a test drive. The other piece of that equation is that I’m really making an effort this year to edit and look at my own words. That means that the quality of my prose should be improving as things move along this daily writing journey. 

More notes should have been taken yesterday. That is what I’m thinking right now. A lot of reacting to things and understanding the world around you involves navigating the day. Some people aim solely to get passed the day without having an overall philosophy to guide them as they move forward. That allows decision making to occur on a situational basis without a lot of foundation built on a distinct philosophy. I’m not advocating any specific philosophy at the moment just contemplating the difference between having an intellectual foundation built on philosophy and just reacting to things as they come up. That is a pretty complex thing to contemplate this early in the morning. I might need a lot more espresso to really think deeply about that inherent conflict in decision making. Assuming that things will just keep moving along and that the world is full of constantly changing decidable moments that makes the question even more challenging. 

Whoa… I lost focus for a few minutes and started browsing the internet. Right in the middle of that writing session all hope for finishing out this daily writing journey was put on hold and my focus went elsewhere. Every day I scroll through my subscriptions on YouTube to see what those creators have put forward. That pretty much helps me decide what I’m going to watch after finishing up the start of the day writing exercise. During the course of writing I try to only listen to music and engage in the act of writing. That seems to be the best method for focusing in and writing for a few minutes continuously. Watching videos on YouTube for some reason does not facilitate the writing experience at all. It actually has a chilling effect on my productivity as measured by the production of the written word. It is all about managing my focus and attention to ensure the right amount of attention remains on the task at hand and things get done. For example, right now I’m listening to Tom Petty play the song Wildflowers on my Warren Zevon Pandora internet streaming radio station. That song works fine to play in the background and it does not interfere with my writing process at all.

The important part of knowing

Today got off to a pretty decent start. I’m ready to get things done. It is one of those days. Let’s get right into the topic at hand and not waste a moment more on introductions…

Generally pretending that all of my online posts do not exist is how I got about things from day to day. It is a lot of online content to just ignore, but I really do just ignore it. Honestly, it is not like I spend a lot of time going back and reading my things that were previously written and posted online. It is much easier to sit down and focus on what will be than it is to sit around and review my notes and observations about passed events. Perhaps that is why I’m always much more interested in what is next than what I’m doing in the moment. That framework can be problematic and being a reflective practitioner is an important part of knowing how to move forward while improving and growing. Knowing that does not generally change my strategy of just pretending all my online posts are never really read or shared. 

The very thing that made me think about that last night was the act of sharing some conference content on my social media channels. Posting that type of personal advertisement seems to make things real for me and I’m always just striving to do my very best instead of trying to be the loudest voice in the room. One of the principal reasons that I am willing to engage in public speaking at conferences is the opportunity to engage with people who I would not normally talk to on a daily basis. Mixing it up and talking to a diverse group of people with new opinions and thoughts on things is a hugely beneficial element of attending conferences. 

Having short very focused conversations on topics that were just discussed can be very rewarding. It is like the stage is set with a shared perspective on things that allows people to get to the point of very deep and meaningful conversation very quickly. This topic was another note that I wrote down in my Google Keep application to spend some time thinking about yesterday at the end of the day. That strategy of keeping a fresh topic list does appear to be working out pretty well. Later this evening I’m going to need to run through my virtual presentation a couple of times using the Google Recorder to capture the audio. That will allow me to listen to a few variations of the talk back to back. I’m hoping that exercise will help refine the content presentation a little more in some of the sections that need to be a little more dynamic. 

The important part of knowing the value of working with others is understanding how the engagement continues on in the future. A conversation can echo on in the form for my conversation or even a little bit of sparked imagination. Ideas that continue on grow and spread in unexpected ways. Sharing things with others that have the potential to grow and continue to spread is a rewarding part of it. You can tell that the last few thoughts are divergent from my general philosophy of pretending that my online post and presentations don’t really exist. Intellectually I know those two positions are not consistent, but at the same time that does not stop me from muddling through on a daily basis simply working on what is next instead of curating a basket of previous thoughts. Once it is said like that I don’t really see any other way of saying it in a meaningful way.

A return to focus

My efforts to take a few notes in the Google Keep application have improved in the last few days. I’m trying to capture a few ideas of things throughout the day that could deserve some consideration during the start of the day writing session. Mostly I’m trying to capture some ideas that could drive a paragraph or two of coverage. I’m trying to get that spark of creativity going a little faster at the start of the day. That seemed like a better strategy than trying to build into it a paragraph at a time. One of the notes that got captured was about the reason my slides for this virtual presentation took so long to complete this time around. Generally when I’m traveling two different windows of isolated effort occur. First, at airports I generally put on my noise cancelling headphones and work on things in a very concentrated way. Those are times of extreme focus where something receives my undivided attention. Second, during the actual flight I typically have some of my best high quality focus time to really get things done. In this time of pandemic all the traveling is on hold and my focus has been less than stellar. It took about several weeks before I was even really to return to writing at my normal frequency of output. It was like a giant procrastination monster showed up and created indecision and made the simple things hard. 

One of the things I have been trying to do is capture the time at the start of the day by getting up at 05:00 hours and writing to focus my thoughts. That effort has been in place for 80 straight days of weblog posts to this functional journal. The other time of the day that I can control is the time right before bed. Between those two windows of time I have tried to have a return to focus. During the entire month of March this year I only posted 10 pieces of content. It was not until June that my productivity returned to full strength. Really for the most part the thing that shook me out of my downward spiral into letting the blank page win was the reflective moments that surfaced during my 40th birthday. During that window I was able to really sit down and think about how I was using my time and refocus my effort to ensure that time was being well spent on things that helped make a dent in the universe. Obviously, not everything is going to be that impactful to the continuing arch of history, but by working every day to push things forward to a perfect possible future it is more likely a lasting contribution will occur. 

Today so far I have been really thinking deeply about that return to focus and what it means. Not only have I been thinking about that return to focus, but also I have been trying to figure out how to recreate that focus time from an airplane flight or from the airport. Maybe it is about putting on the noise canceling headphones and breaking all contact off to focus. That is probably the key piece of the recipe that has been missing. Much like an uncontrollable river flowing without any gaps or pauses things are happening in the world. Dropping my focus from that river and staying purely engaged in the thing that deserves all of my focus and energy is just harder than it should be to achieve. In terms of my journey toward finishing up the slides for that virtual presentation I have fully moved into the mode of practicing my delivery. That is where my energy is focused at the moment. I’m trying to make sure the content being delivered is both informative and engaging for the audience. Not being able to see the crowd and react to the energy in the room I’m going to have to stick to my training tempo and remain upbeat and do my best to be generally engaging enough to keep the interest of the audience.