Victus Spiritus


Life's Default Rituals or Jeez my workdays are boring

21 Dec 2010

This post revisits workday habits and rituals and highlights an aversion to decision making. From these human defaults, there are lessons to be learned in interface design. One quick takeaway for application design, I shall endeavor to limit required decision making to only what flows naturally. Reaction speed and time saved while supporting regular activities are the most important metrics. The quality of defaults will determine the success of a product, and once set they should just work.

My eyes open at the same time each morning around 4:30 am, forty five minutes before our wake up alarm. I take the automatic action and grab my phone charging on the floor near our bed, tuning down the brightness to bare minimum as not to wake my wife. I should update my default and slide down the brightness before bed. 

After checking the default services of email and twitter I'll send an appropriate, nearly automated response to anything that could possibly benefit from my immediate feedback. Following that I'll spend time reading my default preferences of tech, startups and informed opinions on trends in those areas.

At 5:15 the harp alarm goes off, our default wake up time during the week. I'll mention the automatic "morning", and spend a few moments helping my wife slip out of slumber with our regular morning banter. Biological needs regularly push me out of bed, maybe I should break the habit of taking a good swig of artificially sweetened fruit punch or banana strawberry juice before bed (neither taste like fruit). At around this time we can hear Victus' yelping in the background.

The next preprogrammed activity is letting the dogs out, saying "Good Morning" to them, and cleaning up any overnight gifts they've left by default. Here is a wonderful time to be surprised by unexpected behavior ;). Michelle takes the cleaner mantle on days when I can't drag myself out of bed immediately.

My wife automatically moves to the kitchen to make our lunches. My default is honey maple turkey with swiss on flatbread packaged with a banana, apple/orange and a snack bar. Her default is salami although we periodically switch, she swaps to roast beef and I swap to ham.

I shower first by default since I'm in and out faster. With little variation it's the same flossing, brushing, shampoo, drying off and old spice deodorant ritual. If I need to shave I do so. If I run out of Head and Shoulders (dry scalp) I'll use whatever's on the shelf. Every default has a contingency. After I get out of the shower I'll automatically give a shout to Michelle, "I'm done, it's all yours". Then I'll head to the bedroom and get dressed. My standard uniform is a dry fit tee shirt, boxer briefs, shorts, and a couple of long sleeve shirts (one lighter exercise long sleeve in the warmer months). I bring a pair of pants with me to put on if it's excruciatingly cold, but by default I just tote them around for the day.

After getting ready I'll hop on my iMac in the back room, check mail, browse more, or hop on World of Warcraft if the servers aren't doing their scheduled default downtime (memory leaks?, once per week with regular morning restarts)^.

Michelle will ask if I want breakfast, and I usually pass, preferring something on my way to the mall where I walk and blog each morning. I'm in the process of shifting my dietary habit to eating more in the morning and lighter dinners*, so far so good. We'll hug before heading our separate ways for the day.

On the way to mall I'll stop in 7-11 by default to grab two giant diet pepsis with a little fruit Gatorade splash on top. On Monday's I stock up on relatively cheap energy drinks at a Hess station.

At the mall I'll mix together my alchemical energy brew and begin writing a post. The topics are driven by the ideas that rattle around in my head (oh yes, they rattle). The automatic plus symbol walk (mall layout) begins a little before 7 and goes till 9:15am. During the walk I'll write and edit a post, then catch up on a few of my favorite blogs and check twitter for interesting urls to bookmark for my days off (bulk reading).

After a brief drive to work, I'll dig into wherever I left off last. Unfortunately a habit formed in the past year is doing any required bureaucratic admin (reviews are helpful) or training which our parent company's legal department deems necessary (ethics, diversity, IT security, empty rationale for HR funding, :( ). These required training sessions are a few times a month and terribly distracting. My friend Jim will stop in to catch up on what we're both working on (training!) and exchange ideas on internal and external projects. A short period of work is interrupted by lunch or meetings.

For lunch most coworkers bring back from the local deli, Vunderbar, and we gather in the conference room and chat while eating. The afternoon is the best time to focus on work or collaborate with coworkers. My work days tend to end by 6:30-7:30pm depending on what I'm doing. Peak productivity is after 4:30-5 when most folks have gone home. My former coworker Paul got me in the habit of working together on stuff during that time without distractions. 

Ideally that's how I'll design my startup work environment: optimized for productivity with minimum distractions, meetings and bureaucracy are the enemy. If my startup plans don't pan out, my contingency is to drive a limo for Paul (he left for a quant career). So far he hasn't taken the deal, but I'm a relentless salesmen ;).

After I get home I'll give Michelle a hug and catch up briefly on our days usually while she's cooking. After dinner I'll hop online to catch up on projects or more recently log some time on World of Warcraft. Michelle will hop online, browse with the iPad, or work on her thesis. In lieu of computer time we'll watch Netflix together on the couch before getting ready to pass out early (9:30pm).

A crack in the default armor

On weekdays off (one at the moment, usually two) the default schedule breaks up and I have more unscheduled time for reading, learning from tech tutorials, and side projects (and games). My brother Ron visits Friday night for a dinner out and movie night. On weekends my wife and I get breakfast together and go for a walk in the mall or at a pretty park, but it's become too cold this week to enjoy the outdoors till early March. We're due a trip into Manhattan to visit the MET after Xmas.


^= Update I quit in January after 3 months of active playing. Don't have the time to play and learn with my current schedule. On World of Warcraft I'll hit up a quest or two with one of several characters I enjoy playing. By default it's one of five with one of them being an auction house mule. The most enjoyable feature of WoW for me is the rhythm of ability activations, intermixed with unexpected events and appropriate reactions. The faster the rhythm the more enjoyable the character. It's like playing the same song mixed with improv at different venues. The sound cues are integral to the experience. As a corollary raids are like choreography with improvisational elements, although I don't expect to be able to commit to them anytime soon. My weekend nights are reserved for other forms of socializing.

*= This past week McDonalds became my breakfast stop with oatmeal and two egg mcmuffins taking the role of my enhanced breakfast (900 kcals). I'll swap to a deli egg sandwich when I'm not in the mood for Mickey Dees. I used to skip breakfast and eat a large dinner, but the uber morning meal has resulted in a lean dinner of soup, a small portion frozen dinner, and sometimes a salad. I'm trying to make this my new default most of the week and Michelle is helping out by not making delicious and huge dinners.