Sri's GHDR 2023 System Summary
Welcome to my 2023 Groundhog Day Resolutions (GHDR) kickoff! This my annual "goal setting ritual" in which I try to achieve self-sustaining creative independence, which I have been doing for an embarrassingly long time. That said, it does seems like I get a little better at it every year as I gather insights about myself and the true nature of my desires.
Previously on "Groundhog Day Resolutions"...
Last season's GHDR was a continuation of my experiment in reducing the number of "active project concerns" to just two. This went well until August when I experienced extreme depression due to spectacularly shocking insights about my feelings of disconnection and unrelateability to many social groups. Together, these two events give me the seeds for this year's Groundhog Day Resolutions experiment!
Here's a brief outline of what happened:
I had lowered the number of "active project concerns" simply because I have poor working memory and can not efficiently handle more than a primary and secondary focusSee trope entry singular focus on top of all of life's reactioinary randomness. I refer to this as the two-slot+aux model, but veteran productivistas will recognize simularities with monotasking and "deep work"I think the critical distinction is that two-slot+aux starts with a specific theory of how my brain actually works instead of the tropes drawn from "how brains work most optimally" based on generalized research findings"..
I saw a mental health nurse practitioner to resume my Adderall prescription to treat diagnosed ADHD, as I was finding that it was extremely effective but inconsistent. I had also been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1 (what formerly was called Asperbergers Syndrome in the DSM IV) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The personal discussions I had with the nurse practitioner made me realized just how weird I am in my outlook and approach to life because she didn't understand what I was talking about despite her genuine good intentions to help.
To get out of the deep depression that followed, I cataloged and analyzed everything I knew about myself and engaged more deeply with ADHD and Autism topics to create my own model of understandingThe model is outlined, rather darkly, in GHDR Note: Cold Hard Sri-nalysis.
Tackling Productivity for 2023
My mental image of "being productive in meeting my goals" is largely this formula:
Make regular and methodical progress on projects by breaking them down into smaller tasks in the context of a strategic plan, reviewing progress and adapting accordingly until any desirable end goal is achieved!
This all sounds very sane, and I have tried variations of this every year until a few years ago, when I suspected that I was creating tracking overhead that no longer did me any good. The hard things were still hard even if I broke tasks down into steps and made glorious strategic plans. I've been doing this for sixteen years and while I'm a little bit better at a lot of things, my two main obstacles remain:
- Starting solo projects extremely difficult
- Once started, motivation is difficult to maintain when working in isolation
This year's experimental solution is that I should firmly embrace my neurodivergent brain and toss out a lot of the productivity wisdom I've accumulated. Why? It's because the only way those systems work for me is if plentiful external energy from other people is available, and I lack a supply of it. This is why I have been so interested in team and community over the years, because I know I work better when I am working with side-by-side with people engaged in continuous conversation about what we are doing.
There's been a lot of great work in the ADHD and ASD communities about tackling productivity from this angle, and my approach is similarly inspired to do so because neurotypical reasoning is just not how I see the world.
As a foundation, I have created a model of self-understanding based on notes I've been taking on executive function (drawing from ADHD literature) and my atypical personality tropes and traits and rejiggered the idea of "strategic goals" into a set of concepts that I think may suit me better.
What the System Should Do
First, let me note that my "yearly goals" since 2007 have all been variations of this:
I strive to achieve creative independence and find people to create with me.
Now, these are not really "goals" in the popular S.M.A.R.T.SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related sense, but are more like desirable states of existence where I am happy and comfortable. That is an emotional goal more than a strategic goal in how I am expressing it. But instead of challenging my approach, let me extend and work with it.
The "desirable state of existence" is shorthand for being in a productive state with my expectation that it empowers me to pursue truths and create noteworthy wonderful excellent things without concern for not having enough money to live. Secondly, I want to do these things in the context of "people in my tribe" such that they can empower themselves in some way that delights me. Over time, I want to form meaningful relationships with people of the tribe so we can make stuff together.
This is my end game, and I want my productivity system to be the process that keeps me focused on progress despite my various weird personality quirks, compulsions, and shortcomings.
There is some good news, though. Last year I realized that I'd already achieved part of my end game through the DS|CAFE coworking discord, which has become a community that attracts like-minded people. That's a strong base to work on!
The remaining challenge is financial self-sufficiency through creative independence. Currently, I am still dependent on (and grateful for) freelance work in a field that pays fairly well, but the true end game goal is to spend all of my time working on this vision of a creatively inter-dependent group of self-sustaining colleagues.
Foundational System Concepts
So let's get into the big picture concepts first. There are five of them behind the system design:
Instead of strategic goals and operational goals with clear and measurable steps, I'm deploying something I'm calling Strategic Horizons. They are like stars to steer by, a direction to explore, a speculative destination that has a greater-than-zero chance of fulfilling my End Game Needs.
Instead of forcing my divergent brain to accept mainstream approaches to productivity, I want to remain odd in existing approaches to work but use trade of finished goods as the way of interacting with others who don't get how I see things. Using "trade between cultures" helps to convert my anxiety of "not fitting in" and "doing things wrong" by emphasizing negotiation, as this kind of trade is driven by articulating needs in a mutually-agreeable exchange of goods. This is how I want to achieve financial self-sufficiency, and I believe there are other benefits as well.
While I can relate to both ADHD and ASD traits, my own "lived experience" is the combination that expresses itself differently from the checklists for either ADHD or ASD aloneI don't have a concise reference at the time of this writing, but I'll likely post my working notes to diagnosis-sri (I'll have to go and clean those notes up, as they are a mess). In my case, some ASD traits (e.g. the compulsion for correct and logical thinking) modifies the way I mitigate ADHD traits (e.g. executive dysfunction, poor working memory). I don't have notes on this yet, but I'll eventually put them here.
I have a need for excitement to even have the energy to start and maintain momentum on a project. I just don't care about projects that no one else seems to care about; I have to put a face on every project I hope to spend time on to even start, so I can imagine their reaction. There is a strong desire for storytelling, novelty, and adventure in everything I do.
I still need to get things done, and there are a lot of little things that can distract, stress, and irritate me into non-productivity. I can now refine past productivity hacks with the ADHD, ASD, and other personality quirks insights. Roughly, I think of my major functional impairments as:
- starting uncertain/unrewarding tasks even if I want to do them
- prerequisite feeling of connection and sensibility in any task over the long haul
- requiring meaningful+continuous conversation in an environment to maintain the sense of clarity that comes from externalized continuity that have faces.
The system design resembles a game where you are building a town in a vast desert of uncertainty that contains resources and riches. The goal of this game is to build a Colony to attract like-minded people that that want to live where their cultural, aspirational, and financial endeavors are supported in a heartfelt way.
Here's an old visual (from 2009!) to help set the stage for the following ideas:
I am starting the colony where all those piles of knowledge, skills, and resources are. My reasoning is as follows:
To grow the colony, I need to build Public Works that expand the town for use by visitors, and this requires Resources/Knowledge to be collected from the Desert of Uncertain and Unknown Reward.
As a denizen of this town, I also need resources so I can Barter with other people, and establish my own presence in the Public Square where everyone gathers to trade stories and goods.
The way I am thinking of resource acquisition is by starting Expeditions that use exploration and experimentation as the key metrics rather than task completion. This is a better match for creative synthesis.
As the administrator of this town, I also need to act as a Expedition Coordinator and Facilities Manager initially, but I am not going to worry about that yet.
The important insight is that the Colony is my true end game, not finishing projects or even achieving "creative independence". To improve my chances, every element I've described above is there because it provides one or more mitigations to ADHD+ASD impairments like executive dysfunction, time blindness, low dopamine levels, the need for clarity intent, externalized motivation, meaningful work, and so on. Hopefully this addresses the critical impairments and relating with people issues that have dampened my productivityHot take: I think more than half of productivity is how you feel about your work. Some productivity systems get this; Getting Things Done says so right in the introduction but it gets forgotten. in years past.
The Strategic Horizons
The starting set of Strategic Horizons seem to be comprised of two main groups with their own subprojects. With that in mind, let's go through them.
1. The Colony
I can think of three contexts:
The Bazaar - We've discussed the idea of kickstarting projects on DS|CAFE by implementing a barter system for small items trade. The idea is to maintain a very low level of commitment to encourage helpful "microtransactions" of knowledge and skill. This keeps it personal and connected one-to-one.
The Expedition Hall - To my ears, preparing for a group adventure feels a lot less stupid than to running into the freezing unknown by yourself. This is the act of starting that is so difficult for my combination ADHD+ASD to overcome. Expeditions are something I already do for myself in real life. Furthermore, the Expedition format injects novelty, curiosity, anticipation, and positive emotional connection with your body doubles into the project. Every one of those things is also a huge dopamine booster which is exactly what my ADHD-patterned brain craves.
The Colony also requires some kind of governance to help set the tone and culture of our space; creating vision, charter, and roadmap materials is something to figure out. The DS|CAFE is the latest incarnation of it, and I'd like to package these into a living set of governing tools and grounding concepts.
2. Sri's Articulation of Herself
What's new in 2023 is how to connect these activities to The Colony, Expeditions, The Bazaar, and the mantra "Never Work Alone, Ever"summarized in the December 12 2022 report I identified last year. I'm wondering what to make and bring to the table to share too.
I will address this later once I get this kickoff launched.
3. The Overarching Doctrine
There is one enormous directive I'm adding this year to push myself:
All new diagrams and forms must be generated using my own custom software
This is a BIG change. There are several reasons why I'm doing this now:
Reduce my reliance on creeky tools like Microsoft Excel, Adobe Illustrator, and InDesign for generating data-heavy forms like The Word Counting Calendar, The Compact Calendar, and the massive The ETP Journal. These are tedious to update, and better tooling would make it possible to expand products for sale through my local printing service.
There are long-dead tools like the Emergent Task Timer Online that no longer run because their software is obsoleteThere are implementations inspired by my design, some of which are open about it, but I really want to make my own versions..
Making great visualization tools for realtime interaction is part of my professional job description, and not many designers can code and design and write the way I can. Having some real examples of this online would be great for business.
There are so many possibilities and I have quite a lot of experience in this area that has never coalesced into something cool. I can think of at least one humble Expedition (scanning a text file for 'Sri Data Markup') to start with.
As I mentioned above, I find mainstream productivity approaches to be ineffective for a neurodivergent person like myself. I suspect it's for these reasons:
- they require rote memorization
- they require working time awareness
- they require an unexamined belief in someone else's nonsensical (to me) reality
- they are mechanical solutions that are more label than methodology steeped in explainable principle.
- they rely on deferred award
- they rely on self-managing external cues
None of this works for someone with an ADHD+ASD structured mind. What works better for me:
- tasks that can be justified within a strategic context
- tasks that are founded in clear conceptual models and precisely defined systems
- good conversations with people I'm working with because emotional connection is always immediately rewarding
I've addressed a lot of these concerns in the last sections:
Guidance: Affirming Principles
This is a list of the core productive well-being takeaways from 2022 that I am rather compulsive about. I'm telling myself that it's OK to be me; if people have a problem with it, I expect them to be able to articulate and negotiate their position with respect to mine.
Guidance: Tested Process
This is a list of the productivity tricks and rules of thumb I found useful in 2022. I've talked about them elsewhere; this is largely a checklist for me to remember that these are options when my mental clarity is extremely low due to executive dysfunction, etc.
Guidance: Updated ELBS Loop
Long-time readers may remember Explore-Learn-Build-Share (ELBS) from 2008, the way I approach problem solving. I'm still using it, but I've updated the 2023 version with the ADHD+ASD contexts that I believe make it work.
For a zoom-able view, check out the source on Whimsical. You should be able to leave comments too!
Example: Expedition Loop
As Expeditions are driven by exploration/experimentation goals, ELBS should work fine when I'm an Expedition Leader. and experimental I should be able to apply my ELBS Working Loop in the context of running Expeditions as an Expedition Leader. ELBS is an approach that requires less pre-definition of steps (BORING) and more on alertness and adaptability in the field (EXCITING)A related approach is gathering-style productivity, an opportunistic "let's see what we have" which I contrasted with the steady-and-methodical factory style of production that I find really tedious..
This diagram tries to outline the idea of how an Expedition might run alongside other ones (here is the zoomable version on Whimsical).
It's hard to be experimental and adaptable if you haven't trained yourself to do it. But maybe it isn't as hard as I think...I'm reminded of when I was 7 looking for wild strawberries with my sister in the woods of rural New Jersey. Usually we didn't find strawberries, but we saw spiders living in flowers and catepillar nests. Sometimes frogs, fireflies, honeysuckle, and the occasional rabbit. Expeditions, I hope, can aspire to have a similar feel.
Example: Starting Critical Paths
Every Expedition has to start with a first step. I am thinking of these as Critical Path Steps that get the journey started with a clear sense of mission. This replaces the idea of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to avoid the temptation of planning out too much and overwhelming myself with the details, but I'll know more once I'm able to form my first Expedition with at least one other person.
In the meantime, I have a list of Strategic Horizons, Goals, and Projects that has many possible projects related to stuff I think would be cool. Each of these has some kind of context within The Colony or my professional goals.
- Cultural Ambassador Guide for The Colony
- Critical Path: Write text block processor for data capture
- DS|CAFE Community Building Manual
- Updated personal mission statement
- Solo podcast built around topics of shared interest with people I don't know well
- Physical product fulfillment to replace Amazon Marketplace
- High-quality vector graphics generation in HTML5
- Simple portable UI framework with HTML/JS implementation
- Server-side vector graphic PDF generation
- Improved typography-first baseline grid system for magazine-style layouts on the web
- Server-side Compact Calendar and ETP Journal generation
- V3 Learning Sciences web application communication framework
While it's tempting to think more about the end product, that's way too far into the future for my ADHD-patterned brain to work with. I need to keep things immediate, short, and suite, and trust that the Strategic Horizons will keep me pointed in the right direction. With my Expedition Comrades providing shared interest, I think I will have a better chance of getting more of these done.
To summarize: I have a lot of ideas about how to make my pursuit of Groundhog Day Resolutions work by addressing the ADHD+ASD traits that tend to trip me up. It's also an opportunity to think again like a game designer and world builder, something I am really out of practice with and miss.
- define a text block processor expedition!
- put out the call to join the expedition!
- figure out how to manage and report expedition process!
- share the results on dsriseah.com