RC 2: Organizing Your Ideas

November 20, 2016

Note: The title was renamed to RC:2 from Week1 to better reflect these entries as a series but not by week

Settling In

Each week I hope to go deeper and highlight something I’m working on at Recurse. Coming into Recurse I aimed to get into a routine and continue it throughout the twelve weeks. I read the community wikipedia and all the accounts I could find online about how I could make the most out of my time at the center.

I was committed to being reflective and setting up mechanisms to keep myself on track. I joined 33 other Recursers from diverse backgrounds but we all shared the goal of becoming better programmers.

In this entry, I wanted to share a few of the strategies I found useful to make myself more accountable during my time at Recurse. To find more about the first day, I wrote a separate post detailing my Day One experience.

Getting Organized

Along with becoming a better programmer, I also made it a goal to become more organized with my ideas. We all have a finite amount of time and effort, and one of the hardest things is which ideas to pursue.

Putting my ideas down

For organizing ideas Trello made it easy to organize my ideas setting a column for each stage of an idea:

  • Kelvin: Ideas I no longer have interest in pursuing.
  • Ice Box: Ideas saved to be revisted later.
  • Ideas: Starting point.
  • In Progress: Currently working on it!
  • Done: Got to a satisfactory point.

    Each idea starts as a card under the column Ideas. Every time I have a new idea, I try to write down a description of what inspired the idea and some bullet points to execute it. If I feel like I’m not going to work on it in the immediate future I shift it to Ice Box. If I fall out of love with the idea or have zero interest it is move to Kelvin.

When I start on one of the ideas, I shift it over to In Progress. While working on the idea, I put down more resources and blockers. What data sets were helpful during this project? What problems did I run into that will block the execution of the idea? Eventually, the ideas progress to Done but sometimes they move back to Ice Box to be revisited.

Trelloboard What the list started as, many ideas are in Kelvin now</span

Taking Notes

In the past, I used a private team Slack to take meticulous notes. Slack’s support for markdown and channels made it easy to separate different topics and make use of search and code formatting. However being on multiple other Slack Teams, it made it too easy to become distracted. To improve my focus I decided to switch off to using Google Docs instead.

Google Docs with the outline feature allowed me to keep a running day to day collection of all of my notes. It also made it just as seamless to jot down notes on my laptop as well as my phone. In the notes, I tended to jot down any insights and problems I ran into as they came up. A large reason how I’m able to write blog entries posts fact is by reviewing notes from that week.

Aside from a Running Notes doc, I keep a specialized Journal doc to keep a short summary of what I did each day.

Slack was useful for organizing and annotating links. Changing from Slack for note keeping, I had to look for a better solution to maintaining interesting links. Google Keep was a perfect stand-in, having it tied to your Google account made it cross platform and with useful App and Chrome Extension, it is frictionless.

Google Keep Link Mood Board</span

Google Keep makes it easy to put together an idea board for saving and reflecting on cool links that other Recursers shared. It also helps declutter the bookmark toolbar and the need for syncing bookmarks across browsers and devices.

Managing Time

Every day I strive to arrive early at the space and leave late. At the end of the day, I want to be able to reflect on what I spent my time on and more effectively tackle it the next day. I use a time tracking tool called Harvest to manage my time into various categories.

- Events: Event’s held in the RC space.
- Food: We all have to eat sometimes. Tracking long and short lunches.
- Programming: Time I spend executing an idea.
- Learning: Time I put that I’m reading documentation or understanding a concept or field.
- Meetings: Umbrella category for 1:1s, check-ins or impromptu meetings.
- "Project Management": A general category I put time to whether its Zulip or checking Email or reading Hacker News
- Fun: Examples are wandering Central Park or attending a Conference or Meetup.

In addition to tracking time in Harvest, I keep myself on track by trying to timebox tasks using Pomodoro sessions. It’s hard to do meaningful code based work using 255 sessions so I changed to 555 upon a good recommendation. Although at the aim of the sprints are to finish the task endeavored upon, interruptions happen

Harvest Week Two at the Recurse Center


Many of these practices evolved during my first week. I abandoned Slack after I easily found myself distracted by different channels when I went to take notes or save links. After I noticed a disparate amount of time I spent sussing out the right idea, I picked ideas from the board and attempted to spend more time Programming.

I’m always curious to know what techniques and process help people work on ideas that matter to them most effectively. Share below if any of this works for you or if theres a specific process that helps you.