May 4, 2011

Logs is Logs

Filed under: 20-minute,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 1:00 pm
Tags: , ,

B3K5149 pshop

Sometimes the simplest suggestions become the most powerful. Back in my first job, my VP of Engineering (Jeff Barr, now über-evangelist at Amazon) told me that he kept a simple text file of what he did over the course of a day. It’s just a quick activity log, without a lot of extra hooplah and gadgetry. I gave a try, and sure enough it’s proven to be a hugely powerful tool.

I have a file called “borklog.txt” that’s always open in my emacs session. This is the same emacs session I do all of my code editing and AMOSXP DocBook editing in, so it’s very quick to bop over to my log and jot down what I’m doing (C-X b bo-TAB RET). Keep adding little notes every day and you will build a detailed account of what you’ve done with your life. “Gee, December was a productivity nightmare” “oh that’s because I was doing an emergency backport for this programming book, and I played 37 concerts.”

The format is very simple. At the top of the file, I have any random must-do TO-DOs because I know I look at this file every day, and then there’s the daily logs. The date, a line separator, and unstructured notes about what I did.  Sometimes there’s asides when something was surprisingly hard or easy.

friday march 18, 2011
landed profile stuff.
tried to do auido routing stuff, but looks like the 
MPMusicPlayerController is too high level

update play/pause button in media breakout box at updateUI time, 
so it catches pausing by unplugging headphones.

AMSOXP : move shark to a supplement. Start Instruments research.
lldb crew says it's too soon to write about. bummer

thursday march 17, 2011
Got the profile layout looking good.

wednesday march 16, 2011
get the 15-second ease-in/out for zones. this is surprisingly hard
added Xs on profile to show where the cues actually are. can 
tap on the profile to toggle between ease-in or not.
Input gino's "Stand and Deliver" class into the ipad

These are some Actual Notes from my Actual Work Log. If I wanted to see where I was looking at lldb for AMOSXP, I use the emacs incremental search to look for ‘lldb’ or ‘AMOSXP’. I have what I’ve done when I construct my weekly progress reports. Back at Google when I did my quarterly OKR writeups, or my annual Perf Review, I frequently discovered stuff I had forgotten I had actually done. That let me pad my review (er, be more accurate). After four and a half years, my google-log.txt was over a megabyte of info. I could easily find when pushed a new release of a product to production, or when I was working on specific features for another team.

I usually transcribe meeting notes into my log. That way I can see what day a meeting happened and what was said. I can type fast enough I can usually label who said what. This is very handy for conference calls, especially after the fact. “Uh, I remember you saying that we were not going to be doing the snoozlebarf feature now, instead that’ll be folded into the next version of Google Desktop.”

When I was a contractor and billing hourly, I’d add the start and stop times for work I did. At the end of the day I’d compute my hours-per-billable-bucket, and at the end of the week, I’d accumulate those values. Kind of manual, but it never took more than five minutes if I kept on top of it.

So why not buy or write a fancy notes taking app? What I have works for me, is always available since I’m always inside of emacs, or just a window and a couple of keystrokes away. Text files are easy to back up. I can put my notes file up on my Slice and keep an emacs running in screen there, making it easy to get to from any machine. No need to worry about safely syncing a proprietary file format for an app. It’s easy to sync text.

So if you’re longing for a quick and dirty, yet effective method for keeping tabs on your life, I recommend the simple tools: a text file and your favorite decent editor.



1 Comment »

  1. Hi Mark, thanks for the shout-out. My oldest continuously running log file is now 33,806 lines long!

    Comment by Jeff Barr — May 12, 2011 @ 8:42 pm | Reply

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