Debugging life

A simple idea on how we can log our lives to help us troubleshoot them later

In programming, we use the term debugging to describe the exercise of testing and digging into the code’s details and inner functions to find out the source of an issue. For example, debugging can occur by running the code and reading values in variables as the application runs, review database connections, analyze errors, review requests, and responses to and from an API, etc. Also, you can look at logs with details of application events such as errors to aid the debugging.

How do we use the same idea but instead of debugging software, we debug our lives? I like the idea of it. To try it, I am focusing even more on writing notes about my day, things that come to mind, and ideally whenever there is an event that makes me feel good, sad, angry, peaceful, etc. I want to remember these things, and one way of doing it is by writing them down.

When troubleshooting a software program, you need to reproduce an issue by running through the same steps multiple times to try and catch any information that might help you find the problem. As a software engineer, I can do this because we store information about events such as errors and other information about the application’s state before, during, and after an error occurs. This information is what allows us to debug the software.

In our lives, we cannot replay our day unless we are in the movie Groundhog Day (a great movie, by the way). But if we have information about our day, such as notes, calendar entries, etc. We can use that information to go back and help ourselves remember the events and our feelings on a specific day and time. Having this information might help us remember certain moments better and maybe even find out why we did something or feel a certain way today or in the future. That’s the life debugging part. It will help you replay a day in the past with the help of your notes. These notes might help you remember the why and how of something that happened in the past.

I don’t keep a formal diary or journal, but something that I have been doing for a while is writing notes about things I learn, things I do, and how I feel about them, and I do it in a concise form, just a few words or a sentence. It’s helpful and more effortless than keeping a diary. It’s a logbook. I use a Moleskine daily diary for this. It’s small but includes one page for each day of the year. I find it perfect for logging my day, it’s my logging system, and it works well.

Remembering things is very important, and the older I get, the more I realize that capturing some of the events in your life and how you feel most days is beneficial. Most of us expose ourselves to an incredible amount of distractions, there are many tasks in front of us every day, and unless you try to capture some of them in a permanent form, your mind won’t have the space or capacity to store them. So writing things down helps a lot.

I want to think that at some point, I’ll go back to my logbook and will read it to help me with something in the future. However, this might never happen. But by writing things down in a logbook, I seem to be more in touch with my feelings, and I’m able to recognize the good and bad things that happen many times during a day, every day. It helps me think.

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to upgrade my brain to a version that will include a feature to capture this information reliably without the need to write things down. Maybe it will even have more storage, so it’s easy to save everything in there and without any compression. But in the meantime, writing things down in this logbook is a hack that works for me, and this is how I do my life app work for me. What about you? How do you capture your day and important moments?

Slow down

You ever feel like time is not enough, or that you aren’t doing enough? Guess what? You are, slow down.

We work too much and too hard. We need to slow down to allow ourselves to do our best work.

We also eat too fast. Slow down and enjoy the food and the people around you.

Even when we are entertaining ourselves, we do it too fast or try to do many things. Please slow down, enjoy the moment, the movie, the ride, the music, that book, slow down, and enjoy it.

We are not robots; we do our best when we take the time to do things right.

Slow down.

Here’s one way to cure procrastination

Writing is something I enjoy doing, , but to be very candid, it is hard for me to sit down and start writing. It’s the same feeling I have about working out, for example, love the feeling while exercising and then after when I’m done, but it isn’t easy to start an exercise routine; starting is what’s difficult for me. Does that happen to you? Well, it happens to me, and one word for it is procrastination.

Procrastination is something that happens to everyone, we know we need to do certain things, but we push them to the back-burner until that decision comes to burn us one day. Why do we do this? Why do we procrastinate?

As procrastination builds, it can start to affect us severely. For example, I’ve missed several flights, hotel reservations, tax returns, and a lot of money due to this by procrastinating. Since wasting money is not enjoyable, I had to change my ways so one day I sat down and decided to do something about it – hey, at least I didn’t procrastinate on that!

The Plan

The first step of my plan involved finding and installing popular to-do apps like Todoist, Microsoft To Do, Wunderlist, etc. and while some of these apps are well designed and helpful (I still use Microsoft To Do for simple items), I continued to procrastinate. Then I tried writing these tasks using pen and paper, it didn’t work either, but at least I now own a neat journal and beautiful and inexpensive pens from Muji which I use for other things. I’ll share more about that on another post.

After these two failures, and thinking about it retrospectively, a moment of clarification appeared and a new idea was born. That process alone helped me figure out an important truth, I wasn’t giving these tasks the priority that they deserved. You see, I had it all wrong, I was attempting to create a to-do list but what I really needed was a dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list. What’s the difference you might ask? Keep on reading dear friend, you’ll soon find out.

With this information in mind, I decided to experiment. What if I treated my other tasks with a higher priority and added them to a dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list? The initial idea was to create this list in a spreadsheet and include a column listing the specific consequences of not getting these things done. It’s very innovative, I know.

The dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list included items like the following:

  • Apply for the Nexus program for my kids
  • Replace car’s headlamps with new ones I already bought
  • Other personal items I do not care to list because they are for me and not for you dear reader.

These are a few items that I have been dragging for months, and I know they are important, but can’t get myself to remember them enough to do them. These items were the first ones that I added to my dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list along with the consequences, and it looked like this:

To-doConsequences
Apply for the Nexus program for my kidsBecause if I don’t, the next time we travel to Canada we could end up waiting in line at the border for a long time as we did last time.
Replace car’s headlamps with new ones I already boughtBecause if I don’t, the driving visibility at night will not improve and then I might have to deal with more serious consequences.

Great, now I have a list of things I don’t want to do with a fearful description of what could happen if I don’t do it. Perfect? Not quite.

A better plan

While this was a bit more motivating than just have a simple to-do list, it still wasn’t enough. To keep these items top of mind, I decided to list a few benefits gained if I did these things; I am not driven by fear, so listing the consequences wasn’t enough for me.

To-doConsequencesBenefit
Apply for the Nexus program for my kidsBecause if I don’t, the next time we travel to Canada we could end up waiting in line at the border for a long time as we did last time.Reducing time by using Nexus or Global Entry kiosks when entering the United States. Saves a lot of time.
Replace car’s headlamps with new ones I already boughtBecause if I don’t, the driving visibility at night will not improve and then I might have to deal with more serious consequences.Increased night visibility.
The car looks better.
Increase car’s re-sell value.

Ta-da! At first look I was excited, I really thought I had it, in fact, just writing the benefits and negative consequences motivated me to the point I wanted to take care of these things as I was adding them to this dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list. But after looking at it for a few minutes, I noticed something wrong, something very wrong in fact that I almost ditched the whole idea right away.

In my attempt to prioritize and motivate myself to do these things, I spent a great deal of time writing a lot of words to convince myself that this was a good idea, but it wasn’t. Some of the items in this list could have taken me only 5 minutes to complete, and instead of getting them done, I spent a great deal of time thinking and writing about the consequences and the benefits of getting them done. Fail. Big fail. Huge fail. So what now?

I really liked the list and how it made me feel, but I couldn’t possibly maintain such a to-do list with so much detail describing consequences and benefits because that wasn’t going to scale. If you want to stop procrastinating, you have to lower or remove all barriers between you and what you want to get done.

What can be changed? I asked myself, what if I removed the consequences column, shortened the contents of the benefits column, and added a due date, after all, what’s a to-do list without a due date right? After those changes, the dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list looked like this:

To-doBenefitDue date
Apply for the Nexus program for my kidsSaves a lot of time when entering the country.2/1/2020
Replace car’s headlamps with new ones I already boughtIncreased night visibility and car’s re-sell value.2/1/2020

Finally, a to-do list that is informative and manageable. It requires enough effort that keeps items top of mind by reminding me about the benefits of getting them done. Does it work? Only time will tell. So far I have been using this version of the list for almost a month, and since then many items have been completed, it seems to be working.

Conclusion

When going through the process of creating the dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list list I learned something about myself I didn’t know. I’m driven and motivated by the potential benefits than by fear, knowing about a positive outcome moves me more than knowing the negative consequences of not doing something. I didn’t know this about myself. The process of writing the benefits along with my to-do items takes a little more time, but this extra time is well spent as it helps me understand better the reason I need to do it.

That’s it folks, hope that my experience with my dislike-but-still-need-to-do-it list helps some of you as it helped me to cure the procrastination and get more things done. Cheers.