Achievement file unlocked

gtd mumblings

If you’re anything like me, when the time comes to update your CV or convince those above you that you do actually do some stuff, your mind goes frighteningly blank. “I know”, you think to yourself, “that I’ve done something this year, but what was it?“. Even if you do manage to remember a few things, you have to rummage around in your hard drive or filing cabinet to retrieve the details of that talk you gave or that cool thing you did. I’ve had this problem for a long time and vaguely thought I should do something about it. This weekend, I finally did it: I made an ‘achievements file’.

It’s a simple enough thing. You just need some kind of file (in your favourite format) that is easily accessible and in which you jot down the details of praise-worthy things that you do, as you do them (so that you don’t forget). Since I have Tinderbox, and it’s the perfect fit for this kind of problem, that’s what I used. I made a container for this year, and started to fill it with rough notes. It’s easy to forget to capture the details (such as where a workshop was held, when, and what the title of the talk I gave was), so I also set up some prototypes to include some custom key attributes. I have prototypes for talks, papers, awards1, grants and one called ‘brownie points’ for rather more nebulous — but still potentially praise-worthy — achievements. Custom attributes store information like the amount of an award or grant, the status of a paper or grant, the title of the workshop and so on. I also use the built-in attribute $StartDate to store the date of the talk, award or grant. This has the nice side effect that I can use the Timeline view to see how things worked out through the year. I’ve just switched to using Bookends (which I love by the way), and you can easily import references as notes by holding down Cmd+Opt as you drag a reference to a Tinderbox window. This automatically captures all the bibliographic info and includes a link back to the reference in Bookends, which makes it a very painless way to keep all the information on a particular paper in one place. As a final touch, I set up a hotkey in Alfred, so that I can open the file with a keystroke. For this process to work, you need to be able to open it as soon as you think of something to add, and you don’t want to be poking around in your folders to find it.

Tinderbox is structured in such a way that you can start out with a relatively simple set up and add complexity as you need it. My achievements file is fairly simple at the moment, but I do have a few agents to pull in the different types of events and sort them reverse chronologically. I’ve also played around with making a dashboard to summarise information about my achievements for the year (money awarded! papers written!) which is a bit of fun. Having made this document, I can actually imagine using it to plan my activity as well, in the sense that it shows you the status of various bits of work in progress and you can see whether or not you are on course for whatever is perceived as an acceptable level of achievement. It’s also quite nice to have all the stuff you’ve done that you’re proud of in once place, because it’s easy to feel that you are toiling but getting nowhere. Seemingly Sisyphean tasks need a bit of feedback, even if it’s just how many times you’ve pushed that damn rock up the hill.

  1. Frankly, I think that prototype is going to be unused most years, but it does have one item attached to it this year.
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