Wednesday, January 11, 2012

How do I do this now? Planning like a programmer...


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FAIR WARNING
What follows is not exciting.  It's not engaging.  It's not dramatic.  It's the mental note-taking I've been doing as I figure out how to add a writing habit to my life.  Don't expect to be entertained and don't complain when you're not.  Thank you.
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So, now that I have committed to writing more so that I can satisfy my creative nature, how do I actually go about doing this?  I don't want to just work at it a few times and drop it.  That would be easy but regrettable.  I've got to figure out how to adjust my life to accommodate this new creative activity and make it a permanent addition to my existence.

Thinking...  Thinking...  Thinking...

Where to start?  Planning usually answers the questions:  who, what, when, where, why, and how.  I already know who will do it (me), why it'll be done (to satisfy my creative bent), and what will be done (write in my blogs).  So, that leaves me When and How...  For example:

  • When will it be done?
  • How long will it take?
  • Does it (need to) recur?  If so, how often?
  • What resources are needed?
  • Are there dependencies?  If so, what are they?

Ok.  I have a fairly normal, busy life for a professional, family-oriented man with one child in college and one child in high school.  That is to say, I'm busy (like everyone else).  The question I'm tackling is:
"How do I create, manage, and ultimately sustain a new activity in my daily life without significantly disturbing my already large, time-consuming, important daily activities too dramatically."

To answer that question, I will work through the following process (this is the engineer, programmer, manager, and military man coming out of me now):

  • Step 1:  Daily Activity Inventory
  1. Determine exactly what takes up my time on a daily basis.
  2. For each activity, estimate how much time the activity takes (including the new daily writing activity).
  3. Determine if there is room to add the new activity without altering my daily schedule.
  • Step 2:  Prioritize Daily Activity Inventory
  1. Determine / list my personal priorities / principles
  2. Evaluate each activity against the list of priorities / principles
  • Step 3:  Negotiate Daily Activity Change(s)
  1. Determine which activities can either be scaled back or removed altogether (including the new daily writing activity).
  2. Make schedule changes until new daily schedule "feels" workable.
  3. Validate my new daily schedule with family and co-workers (as appropriate).
  • Step 4:  Implement NEW Daily Writing Activity
  1. Decide on the topic(s) to write about daily for the next 2 weeks.
  2. Mark off time on my daily calendar to ear-mark the time spot for writing only.
  3. Write and publish daily.
  • Step 5:  Follow up
  1. Review results(s) of the NEW daily writing activity.
  2. Identify successes and reinforce the behavior.
  3. Identify areas of improvement and plan & implement appropriate change(s) (Steps 3 & 4 above)

What am I missing from my plan / process?

I like the old adage:  "Failing to plan is planning to fail."  But I also acknowledge and believe plans are meant to change.  I believe that God did not intend mankind to see the future -  our foresight is radically impaired.  We are future-blind.  So, I also believe that besides having the discipline to plan, we must also learn to be flexible with our plans, reviewing them in some form of ongoing fashion, and adjust as necessary / warranted, using the guidance and discernment God provides.

My next blog will be an attempt to document my use of the above plan and what happens along the way.

Thanks for reading and post any comments you would like.
BB

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I need to write some more...

It's been too long since last I wrote for this blog. Many things have happened since that time, and I have found that I did not develop a strong enough discipline for habitually writing to fulfill my commitment to the practice of writing.

Truth be told, I used the monthly writing regimen required by my former employer and our marketing efforts to drive my writing. So, when the writing requirement for that company ended (and I eventually left the company), my writing discipline ended too.

It's time to start again. This blog post is an attempt to explain one of my reasons...

Today, I wrote this as my Facebook status:

Trying to stay motivated at work today... Just not feeling it...
This is one of those artsy, touchy feely, right-brained kind of days...
The creative mind just wants it's own way today and will not yield
control. It's the human emotional equivalent of trying to turn a
spinning gyroscope sideways!

Basically, part of my personality is highly creative and there are times I need to (MUST) be creative - my being just needs to be creative. I'm not sure what really happens to me, but I've experienced this since I was young.

I used to have days / times when I would simply sit down and start to sketch, and a couple minutes (maybe even hours) later, voila, my creative nature was satisfied. I could have sketched a half dozen sketches in that time with subjects ranging from the family dog to the coffee table in the family room. And the sketches were pretty good - I seemed to be able to translate what I was seeing into form on paper without much difficulty. The odd thing about that is the fact that when I wasn't feeling creative, I could not sketch as well. And whatever I did sketch or attempted to sketch was just plain off. Something (at least one thing, many times lots of things) would be wrong with the sketch, and I'd simply crumple it up and throw it away.

I stopped sketching by the time I got to college. I got frustrated with "trying to draw" (especially in my non-creative moods), and I decided I was not meant to be a sketch artist after all. But my creative moods did not stop coming. They were less frequent, but they still happened. I was just less aware of them. Looking back, it seems clear to me what was happening, though at the time I did not understand.

When I got to college, I had already found that I loved music. I loved the sound of music (no pun intended), and I loved the feeling I had when I let myself be taken by the music. I found I could more deeply feel emotions with music and I followed that passion. My love of music started from my mom I think. I remember many times when I was a kid when she would simply sit down to the piano and begin playing and singing music. I loved it. I even asked her once to show me how to read piano sheet music, and how to translate notes on paper to keys on the piano. I ultimately learned to memorize the notes on the treble clef scale, middle C on the piano, and how to pluck out a tune's melody by reading the sheet music or by playing by ear.

So, when I went to college at Baylor (which has a great music department - David Crowder of the David Crowder Band earned his degree there) I occassionally treated myself to making my own music - this was my "creative" outlet. Whenever I had that creative feeling (I didn't realize this connection to my sketching until much later), I would walk to Pat Neff Hall on Baylor's campus. I don't remember how I found it, but when I attended Baylor, in the basement of Pat Neff Hall there were a series of sound-proof rooms available for student use. Each of them had an upright piano in it. So, I would just find an empty room, close the door, start banging on the piano, and sing until I was done. Sometimes I'd go there empty handed and play/sing music from memory... Sometimes I'd take a book of piano sheet music for Barry Manilow or the Carpenters tunes I had bought and try to read/play/sing that music. And sometimes, I'd take my Sony walkman, tune into a local radio station and try to play top 40 music (melody only) by ear.

I played the most music during my freshman year. As I progressed in my studies (and the work got HARDER - I was studying electrical engineering), I played less and less. By the time I was a senior at Baylor, I was taking 18 semester hours of engineering courses, I was in Air Force ROTC & the corps commander, I was married, and my wife ultimately was diagnozed with a rare debilitating disease called Myasthenia Gravis (a condition that eventually required major surgery - that's another story altogether). I don't remember going to play music at all my senior year - I was just too busy.

Once I graduated college and "started my life" (so to speak), I didn't have access to a piano but, in retrospect, I still had the creative need occassionally. This time, it manifested in an interesting, almost unbelievable way. As a professional, I trained as an electrical engineer but ended up rarely doing true electrical engineering work. Instead, I began my career as a consultant in a small architectural and engineering firm that specialized in energy engineering consulting. Basically that meant our company was hired to help engineer ways to better use energy, particularly owners of large buildings Houston Texas - where summers are scorching and electrical bills for large buildings can run to $500,000 per month or more.

One of our clients was the University of Houston. We were engaged to help figure out why some of the buildings on campus would not cool well in the summer, and to also figure out how to make building air conditioning better. In the course of that project, I had the opportunity to write my first "commercial" computer software program. It was a simple program that attempted to simulate how UH air conditioning worked in the campus buildings. This was my new creative outlet, but I didn't realize it until several years later.

In a nutshell, writing software, though it might seem mechanical or numerical or logical, ends up being an extremely creative endeavor. It's the electronic equivalent of taking a blank sheet of paper and creating a piece of artwork on that paper. A programmer, within the constraints of the software language and the computer system that runs the software, has total control of how his/her software is built - how it is organized, how it processes, how it literally looks, how it interacts, etc... I FELL IN LOVE WITH PROGRAMMING, but didn't understand why. I just knew I loved it. And I knew I loved it because when I would sit down to program I would lose all track of time. It was nothing for me "to program" for 4, 6, or 8 hours without stopping. Or, I might work all day and program literally all night.

Several years later, after I realized how much I enjoyed writing software (programming), I went back to school to pursue a masters degree in software engineering. I was unable to complete that coursework, but studying the discipline solidified my interest in software. I realized at that point I was fulfilling my creative need through a new medium, software.

I changed careers at that point and became a consultant writing software to solve business problems. I've been doing that kind of work since that time... It was 1993 when I changed career fields for good, but it was 1987 when I first connected software programming with my creative bent (without knowing it).

I don't program software nearly as much as I did 10-15 years ago. Now, I lead, teach, and mentor others on programming and building solutions. And that brings me back to the reason for this blog entry... I still have that creative need, and I believe that was what has been bothering me today. So, I have decided to begin writing in an effort to scratch that creative itch in a new, different way. We'll see if it works. I will try to write both personally and professionally.

This blog will continue as my PERSONAL writing. Look for me to write about family, friends, faith, and... um... I can't think of another good word that starts with "f"... So much for alliteration...

And I have created a new blog for my PROFESSIONAL writing (Software Sifu). Here, I will cover the art and science of software, and I will track some of the projects I'm doing at work.

Come by. Check either/both of them out. Comment on them, and keep me honest.

Thanks for reading my thoughts!

Ciao,
Bill