Managing work abstraction layers

2019-08-23 @Lifestyle

I prefer settings maximally bare, short of essential objects I engage daily. That’s not to say things don’t linger over questionable periods. Linger an invasive accessory a day too many, and watch distraction sabotage creativity, tranquility succumbed to unsettling discomfort.

I sense something similar at having exhausted a visit to an antiquity exposition or a craft store. Settings like this are best enjoyed in controlled doses.

That addresses the physical. In regards to the workflow, I prefer to abstract tasks over stages.

The intent? To maximally leverage the simpler, and typically the technology-invariant resources. That attained, only then do I proceed towards further complexity, if need remains.

This abstraction paradigm applies irrespective of the environment or type of work.

I generally progress along the following hierarchy, ordered roughly in increasing complexity of resources. I identify the tools at the top as the simplest and most pervasive (for me in any case), and those towards the bottom as more dependent and constrained.

Of course, the avoidance of the bottom resources, while pleasing, is a byproduct. Ultimately, I attain more productivity in this mode of operation.

  1. Mental brainstorming. Mental models. Dreams.
  2. Paper, pen.
  3. Digital, but offline:
    • VIM, the console, man pages, plain text, CLI tools.
    • Offline calendar, contacts, email (details below). All eventually synced.
    • Offline servers.
  4. Offline: locally cached web pages for research, typically in ultra-light W3M.
  5. Resource intensive tasks (ie CPU or Network)
    • Enqueue for parallel workload locally, by means of an actual queuing system or a simple background process)
    • Outsource to a Virtual Private Server online, especially the CPU-intensive tasks.
  6. Online:
    • Resources critical for the task, unavailable offline.
    • Synchronize with repositories, external servers, backup (open source, CLI tools).
    • Manually engage an online (network-bound) task.
  7. Non-CLI - graphical tools, still open-source, offline.
  8. Closed-source tools (offline) (ie office suites). I can’t think of CLI closed-source tools. Almost all present a more complex interface. Almost always avoidable in favor of the above alternatives.
  9. SaaS tools (online), usually closed-source. Special emphasis to avoid.
    • Ex: Google tools, Slack, CMS, mobile apps, Whatsapp, Dropbox, Cpanel, Pandora, Spotify, Evernotes, Wordpress, etc.

*CLI = command-line interface.

This scheme requires proper work abstraction and heavy time-boxing. Consequently, I conduct tasks largely offline, on small screen real-estate (ie tablet) from 95% CLI tool usage, leveraging non-intensive resources that easily facilitate older, less-powerful hardware.

Some types of work don’t lend well to the above paradigm, requiring the simultaneous engaging of too many facilities (offline, online, graphical tools, too many browser tabs, etc). This can either resemble busy work that hasn’t been automated, or a poorly designed/abstracted work process. I try to avoid such tasks.

That’s my heuristic. Don’t work on anything I can’t easily abstract to some geospatial or computational capacity. And it has typically served.

With the discipline for sufficient paper brainstorming, for instance, I’ve almost always avoided substantial techno-frenzy time.

Frequent resources:

  1. Pen, paper, index cards.
  2. Music (offline): MP3s, including YouTube audio downloads. CLI tools of course. FM radio, caught by air. Or analog, if anyone nearby happens to spin a vinyl.
  3. Email: offline, locally stored via IMAP sync and mutt (VIM for composing).
  4. Web page production: static site generated, all local. Locally served for testing. Online only to sync with the world.
  5. Pomodoro timer. I do try to take 5 minute breaks for every 25 minutes of focused work. The internet refers to this as the “Pomodoro method”. A simple digital wristwatch timer is what I use. And yet I encounter entire pieces of tangible software to manage these timings. I guess…
  6. Water.

Questions, comments? Connect.