Joseph Hallenbeck

Anno Domini 2019

July 14, 2019

Deep Work in Action

Filed under: Software Development

Now that I’ve gone through my notes on Deep Work it’s time to form a plan on how to put them into action.

A Deep Work Routine & Ritual

My work day starts with a stand up at nine o’clock every day. My goal is a fixed rhythmic routine of deep work every day of the week from 10:00 to 14:00. This gives me an hour after stand up to put out any fires, respond to any coworker requests and then go into lock down.

The routine looks like this:

  • Decide on what I will be working on, and get any unanswered questions answered for the Deep Work session the day prior.
  • Take care of the needs for all of the pets so they won’t be their own distractions during the deep work session.
  • Close out of Slack, Discord, and Thunderbird on the computer. Put the phone on priority DND and set it face down outside of arm’s reach. Close all tabs not directly related to the work in Firefox.
  • Make a full Stanly thermos of coffee so there is no need to brew more during the deep work session
  • Meditate for ten minutes before transiting into the session.

At 1400, grab lunch, pause for a thirty minute Internet block to check Slack, Discord, Thunderbird. Read the RSS feed for the day and catch up on Mastodon.

The last two or three hours of the work day is dedicated to smaller engineering tasks, research, gathering resources and asking questions for the next day’s deep work session.

After 1400 we can use productive meditation to contemplate the next steps or challenges that will require deep work to resolve.

Shut Down Ritual and Relaxation

At 2330 of each day is a thirty minute shut down ritual that casually follows some of the ideas from Getting Things Done:

  • Mark all the done items in my bullet journal done in Todo.txt.
  • Empty all Inboxes into my Todo.txt or calendar. These inboxes might be ideas scribbled in the bullet journal during the day, e-mails, or tomorrow’s events in the calendar. If an e-mail can be responded to quickly (less than a minute) than quickly dash it out to keep it off the list.
  • Decide on the one thing to be done during tomorrow’s deep work session.
  • Prioritize the items in Todo.txt, and jot down the items prioritized for tomorrow in my bullet journal.
  • Clap and say, “It is done.” Leave the home office, closing the door behind me and leaving work behind for the remainder of the day.

I sleep at 0200, so this gives me three hours to wind down with reading fiction or playing games on the Switch.

Elimination Distraction

Do an inventory of your network tools.

Locking down the Smart Phone

  • The purpose of the Smart phone is (1) a communication device, (2) a GPS navigator and (3) a music player. Any usage outside of these three should be circumspect: games, web browsering, and video are right out.
  • Remove Tusky, Discord, and other distracting chat applications from the phone
  • Remove the browser from the home screen to remove the temptation to surf the web when bored
  • Audit all notifications. Remove all but priority notifications. If possible, only notify for texts and e-mails from spouse and supervisors.

Locking down the PC

  • Schedule fixed Internet blocks during the day for network tool use (Slack, Discord, E-mail, Mastodon, RSS). Right now, this is 1400-1430. For additional Internet blocks, record in the bullet journal at the end of each block the next Internet block.
  • Make a habit of closing out of all network tools – applications and tabs, whenever I am in the Deep Work session. Outside of Internet blocks, leave Slack alone open.
  • Audit the RSS feed each quarter to remove any blogs that haven’t sparked joy

Deep Work suggests doing an inventory of your network tools and identifying if they substantially positively impact, negatively impact, or little impact the success of your personal and professional goals.

Looking through my bookmarks, phone, and logs, I come up with the following in order of usage:

  • Slack
  • Mastodon
  • RSS
  • Email
  • Discord
  • SMS
  • Voice and/or video phone

Notably missing from my list, thanks to a continuing effort to pair down the destractions and shallow work in my life over the last few years are Hacker News, Reddit, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook.

The first three were rather hard. It’s easy to become caught up in the belief that keeping up on industry news, watching conference recordings, and reading about the latest tool (that will never appear in your working stack) is a productive use of time. I’ve reached the conclusion that reading about a new tool or technique is only useful if you intend on immediately putting that tool or technique to use. Otherwise, it’s just another form of entertainment. By the time you actually need that tool, whatever reading you did on it will long gone from memory.

Twitter was easy. Twitter was amusing, but ultimately pointless.

Facebook. I still keep an account there. After several years of doing “internet sabbaticals,” it occurred to me that the only use I have for Facebook is it’s original use – as a personal rolodex for reaching out to firends and relatives via other mediums. Liking the latest iteration of someone’s vacation photos is not maintaining a relationship with them. Calling them, or taking them out to lunch when you’re in town is. So Facebook sits, and I log into it once a quarter. It’s draw for distraction entirely broken.

This leaves the remaining network tools and the question: Do they provide a substantially positive impact on my personal and professional goals?


Ther are two Slack servers that I am on and while both are for work they serve substantially different purposes.

There is my dayjob Slack server. Fortunately, my CTO is of a similar mindset in terms of keeping distraction down. We treat slack as an asychronous channel. Unless you mention someone, there is no expectation of an immediate response. Mentions and channel-wide broadcasts are pretty much unheard. We don’t have bots clogging up the main channels, although individuals are free to add bot for their own personal distraction.

My second Slack server is {az}Devs, which is a free-based server for the development community in the Arizona area with a heavy lean towards remote developers. As a rural developer, {az}Devs is a great way to keep in touch and network with the Urban based developers. One of my big insecurities of being so remote is that networking opportunities can be hard to come by and difficult or expensive to orchestrate.

My current configuration is Slack on phone and computer – but tuned to only notify or display a visual indicator for mentions. If there are no mentions, I keep to checking Slack strictly to Internet blocks. {az}Devs are not on my phone and all notifications there are disabled.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? Yes.


Mastodon is perhaps my greatest time waster lately. It very much reminds me of the old web. Small communities, international in scope, but very niche in their interests. On a small instance, you meet people, learn about their hobbies and interests. It doesn’t take long to start recognizing a name from day to day and a community forms around it.

As a remote worker it also serves as a nice water cooler to chat with like minded hackers about work.

It’s hard to say that Mastodon has a substantially positive impact on my personal or professional goals. It’s definitely in the shallow category.

I’ve worked on cutting Mastodon down from being too much of dopamine-hit. I think the big movements are 1) take Tusky off my phone and 2) no more developing and chatting on Mastodon at the same time during the work day. Keep Mastodon confined to dedicated Internet blocks.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? No. Little impact.


RSS replaced Hacker News and Reddit as my source for industry and entertainment news. It works much more off the “pull” concept where my reader pulls stories from a selection of blogs rather than the “push” you see on Social Media news feed where articles are foisted upon you.

Is RSS an improvement or merely a replacement for Hacker News/Reddit? Ocassionally, a solid article comes along with truly fascinating information. Yet, I am often troubled with the notion that I could be spending that time reading a good book or researching a particular topic that interests me.

I’ve established a handful of rules for adding an RSS feed to my reader. It must 1) not update more than once a day (an exception is made for the local paper), and 2) it has to pass the Konmari test. That is to say, does the feed spark joy? When I see that a new post is in my feed does my heart jump with excitement to read the article? #2 is hard to keep true since a blog might have a handful of killer articles and degenerate into personnal rambling. Regular culling, flipping through each feed and seeing if the last few articles sparked joy is needed.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? No. Little impact.


Email is the traditional villian in these discussions of distration. Yet, I’ve never felt too troubled by e-mail. Perhaps it’s a generational thing. I find inbox to zero and ignoring e-mails rather easy. I do get a couple dozen log files each morning that takes all of 30 seconds to review. I try to tune Jira and Github notifications to as minimal as possible. Email is generally useful for my professional work and certainly less distracting than Slack.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? Yes.


Discord, far more than Facebook, has been a great resource for reconnecting with friends. What better way to connect than over some random shared PC gaming and voice chat? That almost all of my gamer friends already have Discord installed makes it an easy excuse to fire up a game.

There’s also local servers for connecting with other gamers in the White Mountians looking to play board games, roleplaying, and Magic. It’s by far the best resource for meeting new people with shared interests in my remote mountain town.

Last, Damasca community, after years of failing to rekindle things over Minecraft, IRC, etc. has actually congealed around a Discord server, sharing music, chatting about old times, and daydreaming about ventures in indie games.

Still, it should probably follow the same kinds of limitations as Discord. Not on the phone, and limited to Internet blocks only.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? Yes.


I never really got into texting. I exchange the occassional text with the spouse through the day to keep abreast of our schedules. On ocassion I text family, but very rarely. It never caught on with me.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? Yes.

Voice and Video Conferencing

Voice and Video Conferencing (regardless of the application) are perhaps my least used network tools but also perhaps provide the highest quality when they are used.

Work tends to realize that any time spent on a conference calls is time spent using 100% of a developers capacity. They don’t make these meetings lightly when an asynchronous solution is available. Hotfixes. Daily stand ups. That’s about it. That said, I would always be careful of maintaining this high standard of asychronous first and video conferencing only when it is the best medium for the problem.

Personal phone calls to friends and family are also high quality exchanges. If anything, I should make more phone calls.

Does it provide a substantially positive impact? Yes.


So far, with a couple rules in place for avoiding distraction, there are no substantially negative impacting networking tools in my regular usage. There two items of little impact that I’ve put some rules around and I think should be monitored each quarter to ensure that they continue to be either of little or moving into a positive impact.

July 12, 2019

Burnout And Deep Work

Filed under: Software Development

Cover of Deepwork by Cal Newport

As I make my way trhough Cal Newport’s Deep Work, I am thinking about some of the habits and rituals that I’ve put in place to encourage a habit of deep work and to stave off burnout in my professional career.

  • Burnout. Working long hours of low productivity and highly distracted. Carries on into the evening. Then into the weekend trying to hit deadlines
  • Solution was to start observing Sabbath. Practice that I haven’t been too good of as of late. for me, Sabbath means disconnecting from my work in pursuit of leisure. In this regards, Friday at twlight, no matter where I am in my work. I put my phone on the desk, turn off my monitors, walk out of the home office closing the door behind me and not go back in until Sunday morning. Free from the tyranny of the desktops, laptops, and cell phone – I focus my Saturday on reading dead-tree books, playing games on the switch, watching movies, and hiking. The goal is both to avoid work, the internet, reading about work, as well as any non-leisurely chores (yardwork, house cleaning other than tidying up messes made on Saturday itself, finances/bills, planning or even thinking about work). Cooking is leisurely.
  • Lately, my schedule has a hard stop on all work and chore related activity at 2300. Since I bed at 0200, this gives me three hours to unwind with a regiment of reading fiction and playing on the switch.
  • PC gaming is problematic. Since I want to get off and away from the computer in my leisure time and yet also enjoy playing Minecraft and the ocassional FPS. But nights in which I play a PC game become days in which I sit in front of my computer for 12 hours. Console gaming, I’m forced to admit at least moves me into the living room, and gives me an interface other than a keyboard. It no longer feels like an extension of work.
January 01, 2019

2018 Cultural Review

Filed under: Literary Criticism part of Annual Reviews

One sentence micro-reviews of each film, show, book, and game that I watched, read or played over the last year. Each item recieves a letter grade from F (terrible) to A (a must watch/read).


Reserve for items that are so good and re-watchable/readable that they deserve to bought as a physical addition to my library.
This is a re-read or re-watch of a volume in my library.
A multi-episode show, an ongoing comic, or series of books instead of a single contained volume.

Film & Shows (33)

Q1 (5)

Made in Abyss B (S)
The environment and creativity that goes into the ecology of the abyss makes for an interesting show. It’s a pity it abruptly ends.
The Greatest Showman C
An okay film. Entertaining to watch, but not memorable.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi B+
A mess. Like most of the new films, it isn’t bad, it just isn’t great.
Oscars Short Animations 2018 C
A mixture of good and bad as can be expected.
Ready Player One C-
Like most of the 80s era directors, Spielberg has quite lost his touch.

Q2 (4)

The Shape of Water B-
Held off on this, because I had low expectations. But was pleasantly surprised by an interesting inversion of the swamp-thing type film.
Blade Runner 2049 A (B)
The only honest, non-cyncial cash-in on Ford’s career. This is actually a good, stand alone film and a better than good sequel to the original.
Solo B-
Didn’t really need the backstory to Solo, but surprisingly didn’t entirely destroy the character.
March Comes in Like a Lion C (S)
A rather slow slice of life. Probably would enjoy it more if I was in the right mood. Difficult to really watch more than an episode or two at a time.

Q3 (12)

Elysium C
Blockbuster of the big graphics, guns, explosions variety. Entertaining while I watched it.
Arrival C+
I really liked Ted Chiang’s collection of short stories, but they really don’t translate into movie form nearly as well.
Citizen Kane A (R)
Brilliant work by Orsen Welles. A classic that I alone in my household enjoy.
Delirium C
Above average horror film, which puts it at about average for most films.
Synecdochee, New York B+
Film took me by surprise. Synecdochee captures a kind of creative ennui and stuckedness in life that I could relate. The surrealism and direction made for a wonderful film similar to the works of Gondry.
Dark City B+
A neo-noir with Jennifer Connelly set in a bizarre dystopian world. Another film that is worth a watch.
Uresai Yetsura: Beautiful Dreamer A (B)
Never saw any of Uresai Yetsura before this, but it left me itching for more. The film wonderfully captures a kind of adolescent dreamscape and capitalizes on animation’s ability to break rules.
Looper C+
Theirteen Monkeys but with a much more straightforward plot.
Mullohland Falls A- (B)
An excellent entry in the noir genre. It hits all the beats just right with a more modern tempo.
Your Name A-
Beautiful. Gorgeous. I can see why this film raked in so much cash. It has a little bit of everything in it for everyone – science fiction, adventure, romance.
Lost Highway C-
Lynch misses more balls than he hits. There are films like Mulhollland Falls or the original Dune that I love, but so much else is just lost on me.
Let the Right One In B+
Swedish films have this strange way of just being extraordinarily creepy.

Q4 (12)

Cloak and Dagger B+
Strangly don’t remember watching this, but I must’ve liked it.
Evil Dead II B- (R)
The king of the “B” reels. The Evil Dead films still hold up.
No Country for Old Men B- (R)
Great film for the Southwest, and having now lived out here, I can see how it captures both the landscape and the people.
The Sixth Sense C
Finally watched this film, and I can say, it was mediocre.
Number 23 C
Jim Carrey does his best work when he’s not trying to be funny.
Miss Hokusai B-
Great period piece about the life of Hokusai’s daughter who apprenticed and followed him in his work.
American Psycho B+
Perfect film for this era, truly captures the American Dream.
The Resident D
Santa Sangre A-
My introduction to the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky (outside of the Metabarrons that is). Brilliant explosion and truly an expansive attempt to push the medium into new realms. Horrifying all the same.
El Topo A (B)
A stand out in Alejandro Jodorowsky films and perhaps my favorite of the lot. A brilliant splash of style, an exploration of Christian and Eastern thought, wrapped up with a dark plot.
The Usual Suspects B+
Excellent heist film, perhaps the best that I’ve seen in the genre.
Vanilla Sky C
Extremely slow start with an eventual payoff. Debatable on whether it’s worth it.

Books (11)

The Pragmatic Programmer by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas C
An excellent collection of advise for the professional developer.
Test Driven Development by Kent Beck A (B)
This book really grows on you. It’s like pair programming with a master. Really boring to read. But transformative in how you approach problems.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius A
A great introduction to classical stoic philosophy, but greatly overrated by the Hacker News crowd.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo A (R)
Kondo’s ideas on consumerism and focusing on owning stuff that brings joy is certainly worth a look.
Time Enough for Love by Robert Heinlein C
Dirty old man’s adventures through time and space. Heinlein is overrated.
The Nine Princess of Amber, The Guns of Avalon, The Signs of the Unicorn,
The Hand of Oberon, The Courts of Chaos, and Trumps of Doom by Roger
Started my way through the Chronicles of Amber series, and I must say that it is a great alternative take on modern fantasy that actually adds to the genre.
Solanin by Inio Asano A (R)
This is my third or forth run through Inio Asano’s Solanin. It has become a rather core entry into my personal philosophy.
Queen Emeraldas by Leiji Matsumoto B+
Great to see more of Leiji Matsumoto’s works make it into English. I’m getting tired of having to read them in French.


Minecraft A
I stayed away as long as I could, but it got me in the end. This game is genius.
Mario Kart 8 A-
Another great entry in the series that maintains the same level of quality as other entries in the series.
Team Fortress 2 A
The last FPS that I still play. Worth checking out since it still maintains a nice casual feel to the servers.
Super Mario Odyssey A-
Probably the best 3D entry since Mario 64. There are some truly great levels in this game, although there are also some truly forgettable levels as well.
Rocket League B
Worth playing if you have some friends to play it with, otherwise a pass. I don’t know how anyone actually controls the cars themselves, it’s utter chaos.