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The Supersheet

2020 June 110 min read

Six months ago, on December 1, I took a leap of faith: moved into a new place, dropped out of school, and began dedicating myself to an assortment of career pursuits and passion projects. It's been a ride, and despite some rather unusual setbacks (particularly in recent months, as you might imagine), I've kept my motivation throughout, and maintained a level of consistent productivity that I'm pretty proud of. While I may not be meeting my own standards, I'm exceeding my own expectations - and that's all I can really ask for.

Certainly, there are a lot of forces on my side: I'm financially stable despite being unemployed, my cost of living is quite low, and my sedentary schedule is uniquely resistant to disruption from, say, a worldwide lockdown. All these factors have not only enabled me to spend most of the past six months indulging in my own independent hobbies, but motivated me to do so, to take advantage of the opportunity that I've been given.

But there's one other factor that I think made a lot of the difference. December was when I first built, and began maintaining, what I call my "supersheet": a comprehensive account of basically everything that I've been doing on a day-to-day basis, in a format that's amazingly simple, easy to maintain, and tons of fun to look back through both broadly and in detail. I'm the kind of person who can invest himself perhaps a bit too much in numbers on a graph, so starting this sheet was a personal experiment that carried a bit of risk. But after six months, I'm quite pleased with it, and a couple of my friends have expressed considerable interest in it, so I figured this would be a good chance to show off how it works, and in the process give a little recap of what I've been up to since taking that leap. Let's take a peek, shall we?

This is an excerpt from the "Details" page of my sheet. It's basically just an itemized list that I add things to as they happen throughout the day. I put each item into one of nine categories (the icons on the left show up automatically when I do this), and give it a point value: one point for small tasks that take less than an hour or are relatively insignificant, and two points for more substantial projects that take longer.

These point values, as well as what counts as one single task in general, are subjective, and sometimes I do have little internal debates with myself over how many points to give for such and such items, but it's honestly much less of an issue than I feared it might be. Certainly, filling out this sheet has not become a chore; it takes maybe 5-10 seconds per item, and I still get that little extra rush of dopamine whenever I get to give myself another point.

The real fun, though, starts when all of this data propagates to the "Summary" page, which is where the long stream of bullet points is aggregated into a more visually compelling image, from which broader trends can be seen:

First off, we can see up top the overall point totals and daily averages for all nine categories. From left to right, these categories are "general", "work", "music", "coding", "tutoring", "activism", "writing", "fitness", and "social". Most of these are self-explanatory, but a couple need a bit of explanation: the "general" category is for chores, things related to personal health, and other uncategorizable items (including, incidentally, making the sheet itself), and "work" is for things related to my music career that don't involve actually creating, performing, or recording music (that stuff goes under "music") - for example, maintaining my website and social media, making album art, or connecting with other musicians.

In each row there's a breakdown of the points I got on that day, and a "significant item", which is just the item that got me the most points... or if there's a tie, the first such item in the list. Some days, like March 11, had entirely one-point items, so the first of these is displayed; others, like March 9, had multiple two-point items. If I feel like it, I tend to reorder certain items such that the more personally significant one comes first; writing that blog post about youth suffrage, for example, took more time and effort than tweaking the Discord bot, even though they were both worth the same number of points.

If an item is truly substantial, taking upwards of 6 hours and draining most of my energy for the day, I give it a whopping four points. Making the Liberosis outreach targets sheet on March 14 was one of those four-point tasks, indicated by the dark shading, and as expected it left room to score only one more point on that particular day. These four-point items are pretty rare - out of 543 items so far in my list, only 36 of them have been four-pointers - but they're some of the most satisfying to put in when I get the chance.

There are a couple reasons why I use this very coarse points system, rather than, say, going by number of hours. Firstly, it's much less effort and doesn't require dealing with lots of different numbers and decimals. But more than that, it suits my particular kind of work ethic: the first step in a project is often the hardest for me, but once I'm immersed in it, I can spend hours on it - even at the expense of other smaller things that also need to get done. A consequence of my points system is that a two-point task usually takes significantly longer than two one-point tasks, but it also usually takes less mental energy, since it's only one task and not two. I might have anxiety about a task that only takes ten minutes, like sending out an email or something, and I think it benefits me to inflate the importance of tasks like these in the points system.

The "all" column is what consumes much of my attention on this page. My tentative goals as I was getting into my daily routine were to keep my average points-per-day above four, and to avoid "zero days". High-score days are particularly fun; I've had a total of four eight-point days now, the first being on January 2, and very recently (May 26) I scored my first nine-point day, when among other things I wrote the first draft of my Instagram Etude #2 live on stream.

Amongst these peaks, though, there have been just as many troughs to balance them out. Just as I've had four eight-point days, I've also had four one-point days, the first two being on January 15 and 18 during a period of illness. And my first zero-point day did unfortunately happen, after an almost six-month streak, on May 13 - a date that, ever since 2018, has had somber associations for me. But one nice thing about the sheet is that I can look back and see myself recovering from every one of these momentary lows, and reassure myself that there will always be highs again in my future.

But even this broader day-to-day picture is still pretty granular; there are certain trends that aren't really apparent until we zoom out even more:

This chart, which automatically updates like everything else, is where the overall shape of the past six months can be seen at a glance. Each significant rise and dip usually comes with a story, and each visible splash of colour is usually indicative of a big project or series of events that I can easily pick out.

I can see in the beginning, for example, when my preparations for the new year were in high gear, polishing my social media, planning out my upload schedule for YouTube, and composing and writing blog posts for Resolution and Without Delay. I can tell from the blue bump at the bottom in February when I started going on regular dates with a girl I met online, before my weird full-body illness came back for one last huzzah and left me bedridden during the conspicuously non-blue week of February 23. From this came the very prominent red surge in late February and March, when my work on Liberosis and other political endeavours began to pick up again. And when I got burnt out (ironically) from all this in early April, you can see me retreating into two more personal projects, in coding and writing respectively. (Both of these projects are still in early stages and pretty secret... unless you by any chance want to join my Discord server!)

Finally, I guess you can see when I realized I was gonna be putting out this semiannual "report card" here, and I needed to cram in as many last-minute points as I could to pad my stats. After one more depressive slump in mid-May, I got back on my music tip one last time and pulled out my most productive week yet - including preparing my Twitch stream schedule, compiling and creating artwork for the first half of my double-album Soundbytes, and (as previously mentioned) writing, learning, and recording Instagram Etude #2.

You can get a sense here of which categories I've gravitated towards the most over the past six months, and there are reasons for this that I can get into. But first, just for the sake of it, let's zoom all the way out and see how all these points add up:

What strikes me is how balanced this chart is, given how topsy-turvy it might look week-to-week, or even month-to-month. I'm pleased, but not entirely surprised, that left to my own devices I tend to focus on things in these proportions. The lack of attention paid to coding is apparent, and it's something I want to work on more, but it's partially reflective of the fact that a few of the coding-related projects I've had were better categorized elsewhere, like the Liberosis bot and the website. I had also just dropped out of computer science studies and probably needed a good long break from serious programming.

This is also why the "tutoring" category is by far the weakest link; after focusing quite a bit on that in December, I decided to make it less of a short-term priority, planning to get back to it in the spring and summer... and then quarantine happened. Still, I hear tell of online tutoring opportunities that I may well take advantage of soon, and I might get to see this pie slice grow and hold its own with the others. And honestly, that might be the motivation that I need.

There's a lot more in this "supersheet" of mine that I haven't even touched on, beyond the general productivity tracking. I have a page where I track my sleep patterns, which are still as erratic as ever; I have a page for recording my workouts, which over time have shifted from gym visits to home exercises and long runs. I use this sheet to plan out my music upload schedule and social media promotion, and I'm also working on a "Projects" page that uses keyword searching to aggregate related tasks from the itemized list.

But the stuff I've talked about in particular is maybe the most satisfying part of the sheet for me, and I feel like one of my projects for the next six months should be some kind of program that can generate sheet templates like this for other people. I imagine there's tons of apps out there designed to keep people on track in this way, with each one taking a different approach... but I'm a programmer; why would a saturated market ever dissuade me?

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