Introduction

Something I try to do every year is examine how I approach work and productivity and what changes I need to make to be more effective into the future. This process doesn’t normally coincide with the calendar year, as I am still a full-time student, however this year I’m breaking from my norm, as I am definitely in need of change.

This sort of annual re-examination takes two shapes, one being workflow and the other mindset. In my opinion, it takes both of these to make any useful change. We require systems and the motivation to implement those same systems to deviate from our current path.

In general, 2021 has been a good year for me, early on I took up a new position as a Programming Tutor for an EdTech startup here in Ireland and found something I enjoy doing which isn’t programming itself, I also had the opportunity to meet the friends I had picked up through the Student’s Union and College in general which made the college experience all too real for me.

I spent the summer working essentially full-time, and on the side, I was wrapping up my work on a Minecraft project before leaving the post in late August to focus on work and college. I made huge strides in my continued professional development, learning Vue, Flutter and, much later, Golang. Not only that, but I have plans in motion to develop and release my first ever fully-fledged side project in the form of a mobile application for Android (and potentially, iOS) which has been a mental and technical challenge for sure.

In my second year of university, I finally had the opportunity to meet my classmates and have classes in person, which was great for me psychologically but certainly threw away any form of system out the window, as I had planned for another year essentially online, this is largely why I need to take this opportunity, being in the break between the first and second semester, to examine and figure out how best to develop systems for me to be the most effective person I can be.

The main points I need to consider are as follows:

  • Work/Life Balance

I didn’t attribute a lot of importance to a work-life balance last semester.

When I wasn’t working, I was working on assignments, and when I had none of those, I was trying to catch up on my various side projects. That’s why I rushed out an article on my departure from Minecraft development as a way to claim back some time. However, somehow I’ve stepped back into it – spite does strange things for motivation.

  • Time Tracking

For me to be effective, I need to hold myself accountable. There are many ways to approach this. For me, simply pointing out how I was using my time was more than sufficient.

For each hour I was working on something, whether teaching a class, in class, or working on college assignments, I logged that down in Clockify. This only managed to last about 2-3 months before I fell off it completely. My aim with this break is to get back into using Clockify and Todoist again, so I have some form of data to expend my limited effort better.

  • Journaling

I’m planning on giving journaling a try into the new year.

This should help in holding me accountable for cheat days. It also forces me to acknowledge and enumerate anything I managed to get done on a given day.

It also serves a dual purpose of helping keep track of thoughts, ideas and, other things which pop into my head throughout a given week.

An important thing for me to remember is that it’s alright to have a cheat day, to not do anything at all, and just be present. This includes taking a break from my servitude to the To-Do app and going outside, to the pub, whatever opportunities are made for me. It’s something I’ve enjoyed now we’re in the twilight hours of the pandemic, and it’s something I want to make sure I’m doing on a somewhat regular basis.

These are the things I would want to reflect on in a journal. I’m still undecided on the structure of it, however. It’s most likely going to take the form of a sub-vault within my existing obsidian system.

The only form of journaling I have done to date has been ad hoc. Essentially, it boils down to a discord channel which I titled “dumping ground” in which I can quickly put down any ideas I may have had, collate sources for a paper I’m writing, topics for blog posts, and things of that nature. I also regularly use it to simply copy files across devices, like from my phone to my laptop, so it isn’t exactly the best place to be keeping a proper journal.

One thing I have considered is writing a small Discord bot. This bot would private message me every evening with a series of questions to which I will respond, honestly.

While that’s a neat idea, I think I’m going to attempt a pure-obsidian approach, for now, to take as much work from Discord as possible.

  • Physical Health

I have gained an unhealthy amount of weight over the past two years. I have full intentions of breaking that process and ultimately reversing it. I’m back at the gym as over 2 months ago, and I feel stronger and healthier than I have done at any other point during the pandemic.

Going to the gym isn’t going to solve anything, and a large part of any physical health campaign should include some form of diet. This isn’t something I plan to do to any extreme degree, such as counting calories or going keto.

I intend on being more conscious of what it is I’m eating. This includes acknowledging when I am not being as healthy as I should be, something that’s definitely in my mind coming out of Christmas.

I’m also attempting to put a little more routine into my diet by eating regularly rather than the “just when I’m hungry” approach I’ve been doing throughout the pandemic.

I’ve decided to take up a Huel subscription, which I will be using as a breakfast. This will provide some form of nutritional constant, with its vitamin supplements and such.

I’m interested to see if I will keep using it and whether it will become something that I keep in my life.

Themes

There’s a podcast I listen to hosted by Myke Hurley and C.G.P Grey1 which discusses all things’ productivity, their approach to their relatively unique careers and their new product brand they have established together.

They have a tradition every year of taking stock of what they have done and what they want to do, much like I am doing here. Their process centers around a central ‘yearly theme’ which rather than being a specific, measurable goal like a traditional New Year’s resolution is merely a simple idea which should guide and inspire any decisions which may be made in the following 12 months.

This is something I have attempted in the past, but the simple fact that I can’t remember the supposed theme I chose for this year will probably tell you enough about how that went, that I don’t need to go into any further detail.

Themes should be simple and ideological, rather than any one specific goal. When establishing a yearly theme it is perfectly appropriate to list things one wants to accomplish under the banner of the yearly theme, but it’s equally important not to attribute any self-worth to achieving those goals, as by doing so you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. Themes are often single-words, or short phrases which incite some form of feeling. Examples of such could be the “Year of Health” rather than “loosing 15 pounds,” as any step towards forwarding your own health can be considered a success, and if you only lose 14.5 pounds you’ve still succeeded in your overall theme of health.

This year, I have decided to go by “The Year of Routine,” which I alluded to in the title of this blog post. The goals I outlined above really resonate with me under this theme, and I hope I manage to establish some form of routine rather than the ad hoc approach I’ve taken to life over the past 12 weeks.

Further things I’m trying to establish include - A regular sleep schedule - A regular water intake → I have a tendency to sit for hours at my computer without taking a drink at all - A set period of time in which I can work on my own projects, such as my upcoming app and open source contributions - A set period, roughly quarterly, where I re-examine my own processes rather than having to wait for January or September to roll around.

I’ll probably come back and edit this list as ideas come up, but that’s all I really have at the tips of my fingers at the time of writing.

Workflow and Systems

This is the real kicker for me if I want to make any real progress towards establishing a routine. I need my various devices to work for me rather than against me, and in order to that, I need to lay them out in such a way that I’m not being distracted by that Snapchat notification or new Hacker News article when I’m trying to go about my day. For this, I am establishing the following:

  • Notification Rules

Certain apps will only be allowed to pester me after certain hours, in most cases after 9pm for social media. This doesn’t mean I won’t use them at all inside those hours, but if I do, I must make a conscious effort to check them, rather than just clicking on a notification.

  • Email

Email can definitely be attributed as being one of the worst communication mediums for me over the past 12-16 weeks, as I have received a lot and there’s been a few times when an important email has gone uresponded to. This isn’t acceptable, and I attribute this to me using one inbox for all of my email, with filter rules and such, I think I need to create a structured approach for email, revise my rules and revert to everything having its own inbox. I don’t love the fact I am forwarding all email to my private email server regardless.

  • Slack

Given the nature of the Slacks I’m in, these get first-class citizen status – If there’s a new Slack message I usually want to see it quickly, the problem I have is I click into a message, see an actionable or something I need to respond with but then forget about it entirely until It’s brought up again or resolved by someone else. This is something I want to do better at in 2022 by instantly and easily adding actionables to my to-do system.

  • Todoist

Todoist has been a lifesaver over the past year or so that I’ve been using it, It has fallen out of disuse just like Clockify over the past say 10 weeks, however I plan on setting it up again and getting the most out of it, primarily through the addition of new automations including a way for me to add tasks via email and by discord message. I also plan on looking into the various Todoist extensions, like those for email.

  • The Knowledge base

I left the best until last, as this is quite central to where I need to improve moving forward. Currently, I have several completely disjoint obsidian vaults, over the next few weeks I intend to bring them together and have them be automatically backed up online, most likely via git like I am already doing for several of the vaults. I have them currently organized by purpose, I have one for college, one for work, one to manage my server/infrastructure, etc. I want to collate these into one singular vault, but still keep my individual vault configurations for each as I have each setup with a different theme, set of plugins, things like that. By default, obsidian keeps this information in a .obsidian directory in the root of the vault, and fortunately it ignores any .obsidian directories in subfolders, so I can continue to do as I have been by simply moving all of my vaults together and reorganizing them in such a way that they work together.

vault/
├─ projects/
├─ work/
├─ college/
│  ├─ 1. First Year/
│  ├─ 2. Second Year/
│  ├─ 3. Third Year/
├─ notes/
│  ├─ systems/
│  │  ├─ infrastructure
│  │  ├─ timekeeping
│  │  ├─ todoist

This is the sort of structure I have settled on, although I appreciate the primary vault will become unwieldy as I begin to add more and more things, so I really want to force myself into using the search and quick switcher tools to get around rather than navigating the file tree.

In terms of note-taking I’m not doing all that much, a bit of front matter to indicate some relations to other files, tags, etc. in the event that I stop using obsidian, as well as to provide some additional context, with a loose base on Zettelkasten which obsidian is superb at representing.

My digital devices

In any good discussion on workflow, I should present how I use the devices I own, as well as account for the devices I own.

My phone

With the new year I decided to switch phones, from my Xiaomi Mi 9 which has served me well until now to a OnePlus 9. This with it brought a new opportunity to set up my phone from scratch as I would like to see it used.

For now, the new phone only has a barebones’ setup, using the default OnePlus launcher and Lines icon pack to create an aesthetically pleasing and cohesive look.

2

I plan on making some changes to said home screen once I figure out clockify and todoist again, as they will definitely need to be on the home screen if I want any chance of actually using them effectively again, and once i’m shifting out of Holiday mode which I’m in now, I’ll be taking away and locking down multimedia apps, this might be as simple as removing them from the home screen to remove the temptation to use them, that has worked for me in the past, particularly when I wanted to cut down my Reddit use last year.

It’s worth noting that your phone is your digital extension to yourself, and it is whatever you make of it, in my case I want to make it work for me and not against me when it comes to productivity tasks, I’m also looking into developing some discrete apps for myself to do this, which are domain-specific to what I want my phone to do. The benefits of android, being able to sideload entirely custom applications which only exist for me.

During the pandemic, my phone has been my main multimedia device, particularly for browsing Hackernews or watching YouTube. This next year, I want to spend less time on that, and more time doing the things I need to be doing.

My Android tablet

I own a Galaxy Tab A 10.1” which I have used embarrassingly little over the past year, and it still works perfectly fine, I plan on bringing it into my life as a dedicated multimedia and writing device, which I do long-form writing on like this blog post disconnected from the internet, and then use it for YouTube and Netflix so I’m not inclined to on my phone, it’s what such a device is intended for

My Kindle Paper white

My kindle is also something I have used embarrassingly little in 2021, I enjoy reading although while at home I have found it hard to dedicate and set aside time purely for reading, as there’s always something else I could be doing or YouTube is just so much easier if I want entertainment. I have a list of books I want to tackle this year and I have already preloaded them onto my Kindle, as I plan to make heavy use of it in my commute to college every day, provided we go back to in-person teaching at all.

My laptop

My laptop is a Zephyrus G143 with a 14” 1440p display, Ryzen 5 4900HS, 16gb of RAM and Nvidia RTX 2060 max-q. I think it’s needless to say this is a reasonably powerful machine, especially as a mobile workstation.

When I was looking for a new main computer I recognized that I would be leaving for Erasmus towards the end of 2022, and the market for tower computers is frankly insane right now, so I decided to go with a laptop to suit my college needs as a Computer Science-ish student, and for whatever other purposes I may need it for (primarily being able to cope with 150 Firefox tabs, Android Studio, Discord and VSCode being open simultaneously, which it does like a champ!)

At home, I leave the laptop plugged into two monitors, a 32” Curved display4 which I use as my main productivity display, and a secondary cheap 27” BenQ 1080p display which only ever has documentation and maybe Discord/Spotify open. My laptop I tend to use as my true second display, as it is left open to the left of my main monitor

I have the laptop setup with 2 partitions, one running Pop_Os! 21.10 and the other running Windows 10. The former is my daily driver operating system, however I somehow broke it in the run-up to exams, getting a login loop which I still haven’t bothered to sit down and fix, so I have been “daily-driving” my windows partition since mid-December. Usually I don’t do any form of work on Windows, besides when I’m teaching classes (Zoom on Linux is very temperamental, especially when it comes to screen sharing when you have multiple monitors)

It is the larger of the two partitions purely because modern games are insanely large, and I keep a shared NTFS partition which I can access from both Windows and Linux which contains my workspace (all of my code) and my obsidian vaults that way I can access them from both Windows and Linux with ease. This partition is only about 20gb, as it’s mostly plaintext that I ever need access to across devices.

My Server

I could be considered one of those geeky Linux-pushing geeks, and along that vein I also rent out a “home lab” from the internet, essentially a physical machine which runs Linux and is online 247. I use this for general compute tasks as well as to run a bunch of services for myself. It has also hosted many a Minecraft server and the likes, so I can hang out with friends online. It’s a Hetzner AX41-NVMe which is located in Germany, as I am based in Ireland the ping to the machine usually hovers around 30 milliseconds.

It’s quite common in the “self-hosting” community to try and host your own services whenever possible, and wherever open-source alternatives exist I try to make use of them. Currently, it’s running a variety of services in docker, including: - A Matrix Home server - A discord-irc bridge - Baserow, an Airtable alternative - Portainer, so I can manage the docker services - Several websites via nGinx - Several discord bots - A Twitter bot - and some other things not worth noting

I plan to make use of this more as I switch from Dashlane to Vaultwarden, a self-hosted and open-source implementation of Bitwarden, as well as getting a WireGuard VPN Server up, Plex and some other things to make my life easier and better. As it stands I’m nowhere close to using this server to the full extent, and I especially want to use it to get a better grounding in networking, so I’m considering switching out the Debian host for Proxmox and doing some virtual machines, that’s something that’s going to have to wait for me to have OH-SHIT-EVERYTHING-BROKE-TIME-TO-FIX-IT time, which I don’t have at the moment.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading up until this point, unless you scrolled down in hopes for a TL;DR, sorry I don’t have one for you. This has been a space for me to hash out my own ideas, workflows and I have a whole pile of things to do, which I only realized I needed to do from writing all of this out.

I have many things to be excited about this year, including my plans to take up my first formal Software Engineering Internship, and the first time I will live alone for a prolonged period of time as I begin Erasmus in France in the next academic year.

The future is definitely brighter than the dark ages, happy March 672nd, everyone!



  1. The Cortex Podcast is hosted by Myke Hurley and C.G.P Grey (The YouTuber, not the late lady penguin.) It details their approach to running their own business and their joint venture, “cortexbrand.” Frequent topics include “To Do” apps, time-tracking and management of Email, as mundane as this might sound it’s actually very interesting to hear their take from opposite ends of the creative media space. [return]
  2. No, I don’t need a lecture about writing blog posts at 3am 🙂 Apps from left to right, top to bottom are as follows Sleepytime, Pocket casts, Materialist, Fastmail, YouTube Vanced, Revolut, Spotify, Reddit, Netflix, Authy, Discord, Firefox, Camera [return]
  3. The Zephyrus G14 I use has a Ryzen 9 4900HS, Nvidia RTX 2060 max-q, 1TB SK hynix NVMe SSD and 16 GB of RAM. It’s powerful enough for my purposes, as I don’t game that heavily or that often. [return]
  4. DELL S3220DGF for those interested in the specific model.
    [return]