the perils of the Daily Practice

Warning: This is sort of rambling.

I have no doubt that automating a bunch of my goals on The Daily Practice has helped me keep up with doing them. As I keep working to stay on top of my goals, though, I’m finding that the effects of TDP on my activity are more complex and subtle than I had anticipated.

The goals that are getting the most activity are:

  • automated
  • already started
  • achievable with a small amount of work performed frequently

My best streak, for example, is “review p5p commits.” All I have to do, each day, is not have any unread commit notifications more than a week old. Every day, we have under two dozen notices, generally, so I can just read the ones that come in each day and I’m okay. If I miss a day, I’m still good for a while. After that comes “catch up with p5p,” which is the same.

The next goals are in the form “do work on things which you will then record by making commits in git.” For example, I try to keep more on top of bug reports lately. So far, so good. These goals are still going strong, and have been going strong for as long as my other automated goals. The score is lower, though, because they don’t show up as done each day, but only on days I do the work. Despite that, the structure of the goals is the same: make sure the work is done before each safe period is over. This suggets an improvement to TDP: I’d like my goals’ scores to be their streak lengths, in days, rather than the number of times I’ve performed something. This seems obvious to me, in retrospect.

The goal that trails all of these is “spend an hour on technical reading.” I didn’t get started on that immediately. Once I did, though, I’ve been motivated to keep the chain going. My strong suspicion, though, is that I only felt motivated because I had already established streaks with my easier to perform, automaticaly-measured goals. Still, my intuition here is that it’s much easier to get going once at least a single instance is on the big board. Unless there’s a streak at all, there’s no streak to break. This suggests another improvement, though a more minor one. Right now, scores are only displayed for streaks with more than one completion. You don’t see a score until you’ve done something twice. I think it would be better to keep the streaks looking visually similar, to give them all equal value. After all, the value isn’t that I did something 100 times in a row, but that for 100 days, it was getting done.

Then come the goals that I haven’t started at all. These goals are just sitting there, waiting for me to start a streak. Once I do start, I think I’ll probably stick to it, but I have to overcome my initial inertia. Once I get it started, I get my nice solid line, and then I have a reason to keep it going. On the other hand, if I have no streak, there is no incentive to get started. I think this is a place to make improvements: just like I’d rather see scoring mean “every day in the streak is worth one point,” I’d like to see “every day that a goal is not safe counts as a cumulative negative point.” Now I can’t just put in goals that I might start eventually. Leaving a goal undone for a long time costs me. I think there’s something more to be found here, around the idea that something done irregularly, even if not meeting the goal, is better than something utterly ignored. Right now, that isn’t reflected. Maybe that’s for the best, though.

These aren’t the real “dangers” to my productivity that I’ve seen in using TDP. There are two main things that I’ve worried about.

First, TDP sometimes squashes the value in doing more than one’s goal. For example, my bug-fixing task says I have to do an hour of work every three days. On a certain day, I might feel motivated to do more than one hour of work. I may feel like I’m on a roll. I will not be rewarded for doing so. In theory, I could get two points for the day instead of one, but it won’t actually extend my streak, which is what really counts. That is: if my streak is extended, I’m earning a day off from the task, so I have more time to do other work. This is what should happen if I do extra work today. It isn’t what happens, though, which makes it a strange economy.

A related phenomenon is that if I were to write two journal entries today, I would benefit from saving one to publish later, because then the streak would extend from that day. It feels like a disincentive to actually do the extra work today, although this may be a problem with me that I need to work out on my own. In fact, there is a flip-side to this problem: if I do extra work now to extend my streak beyond its usual lenght, I’m breaking the regularity of my schedule, which might not fit in with the idea of getting into a schedule.

I don’t really buy that, though.

The other problem is that once you buy into the idea that you must keep your streaks going — which is a pretty motivating idea — you’re prioritizing things for which goals have been created over things for which they have not. Possibly you’re heavily prioritizing them. It’s important to remain aware of this fact, because there’s a danger that any other work will be neglected only because you haven’t thought to put it on the big board.

There are categories of tasks, too, that I’ve been struggling not to unconsciously deprioritize because they can’t be usefully made into long-term goals. I’m trying to learn new Decktet games, to make plans to see friends more often, to work on spare time code projects, and so on. These are more “to do” items, and TDP is not a todo list. I think I’m going to end up having to write automation to connect it to a todo list manager, much as I did for my code review todo. Otherwise, I’ll chug along with my current routine, but will stagnate by never doing new things.

These are good problems to have. They’re the problems I get to have once I’m making reliable progress at keeping up with clear responsibilities or promises. Nonetheless, they are problems, and I need to recognize them, keep them in mind, and figure out how to overcome them.

Written on August 10, 2013
🌀 productivity