Todos os posts de Fábio Fortkamp

Sobre Fábio Fortkamp

Escritor, engenheiro, estudante de doutorado, interessado em ciência, tecnologia e produtividade, leitor serial, bebedor de cerveja, apaixonado por bons filmes.

Uma das melhores trilhas sonoras para trabalhar

Podem falar o que quiser, La La Land é um dos meus filmes favoritos, e essa trilha sonora é espetacular.


2018-05-30 (1)

Um dia de trabalho típico (e um bom dia): programando em Python e plotando coisas no PyCharm.

A propósito: em 2018 eu finalmente parei de ser teimoso com a mentalidade de “uso apenas um editor de texto” ou “vou criar uns gráficos rápidos em Jupyter” para minhas tarefas que exigem programação. O PyCharm é fantástico para o meu fluxo de trabalho: lidando com módulos grandes, navegando entre classes e funções, executando scripts de pós-processamento. E eles oferecem gratuitamente licenças acadêmicas!

Trabalhando sob pressão


Essa semana estou tentando viver uma semana mais contemplativa, mais conectado a Deus. No meio de toda essa agitação, muitas vezes eu só quero estar sozinho com Ele.

Hoje estamos no meio do feriadão de Corpus Christi. Enquanto eu simplesmente observo a paisagem na janela, tudo parece tão anormalmente calmo, tão diferente de outros dias, e isso me fez pensar sobre minha rotina de trabalho.

Exagerando, acredito que existem dois tipos de pessoas: os que só funcionam sob pressão, e os que quebram. Eu definitivamente pertenço ao segundo grupo: prazos não me fazem ir para frente, eles me paralisam.

Eu me conheço e sei que faço o meu melhor trabalho quando estou calmo, quando minha tela de Hoje no Todoist está vazia, quando meu calendário está deserto. Nesses dias, minha mente está livre para mergulhar em algum artigo complicado que preciso entender, ou para criar um caderno Jupyter e fazer alguma análise mais complexa, ou para começar a escrever algo. Eu quero dias calmos não para que eu possa deitar e assistir Netflix, mas para que eu possa realmente trabalhar.

O lado ruim dessa minha personalidade é que sou um trabalhador lento, uma vez que gosto de deenvolver calmamente minhas ideias. Minha própria solução para isso é começar cedo e ser organizado. Eu não gosto de prazo, mas gerencio-os. Eu tento manter 2-3 projetos ativos, e trabalhar neles um pouco a cada dia até completá-los.

Eu ainda tenho de aprender muito; uma das maiores partes do meu doutorado está meses atrasada, e em parte a culpa é minha. Meu maior desafio: aprender a trabalhar com pessoas que precisam de pressão, e de trabalhar eu mesmo sob pressão nos tempos mais críticos (eles não vão durar para sempre).

Nota do autor: Os últimos posts foram escrito em inglês. Isso foi um experimento que começou quando estava na Dinamarca. Este blog é o justamente o meu espaço para experimentações.

Mas enfim, eu amo a língua portuguesa, fato que foi realçado pela minha experiência em Portugal. Eu escrevo em português no meu diário, leio livros em português, converso em português. A maior parte dos meus leitores são brasileiros, e eu escrevo para vocês. Já leio e escrevo bastante em inglês para meu doutorado, e assim vou voltar a escrever regularmente em português em

Todos os posts em inglês vão continuar existindo, com as mesmas URLs de sempre.

Espero continuar com a leitura continuada de muitos dos meus leitores atuais. Agradeço a paciência de acompanhar esse experimento. E mais uma vez, obrigado por acompanhar esse simples blog!

Can I work only 40 hours as an academic?

Prof. Marco Mello has published (in Portuguese) some advice for people considering entering graduate school including how “graduate school is not a 9-to-5 job”, and that good doctoral students usually work way more than 40 hours a week.

Similar advice was given by Prof. Matt Might:

Ph.D. school is neither school nor work.

Ph.D. school is a monastic experience. And, a jealous hobby.

Solving problems and writing up papers well enough to pass peer review demands contemplative labor on days, nights and weekends.

Reading through all of the related work takes biblical levels of devotion.

Ph.D. school even comes with built-in vows of poverty and obedience.

The end brings an ecclesiastical robe and a clerical hood.

Students that treat Ph.D. school like a 9-5 endeavor are the ones that take 7+ years to finish, or end up ABD.]

Although I still haven’t completed my doctoral studies, and I greatly value advice from people who are more experienced than I am, I tend to disagree with this sort of argument. My views are more aligned with another Professor, Cal Newport; he argues that you should mantain a regular 9-5 schedule, and you can accomplish this by:

  • Dramatically cut back on the number of projects you are working on.
  • Ruthlessly cull inefficient habits from your daily schedule.
  • Risk mildly annoying or upsetting some people in exchange for large gains in time freedom.
  • Stop procrastinating.

From observing all kind of people working around me, I’ve come to the conclusion that working hours mean very little. If someone maintains two-hour lunch breaks, plus one-hour coffee breaks, plus 2-3 meetings per day, plus endless sessions to process email, he might as well have worked 12 hours in a day without producing any value. On the other hand, if I work say 7 hours per day (as is usual for me, and without including the lunch break), but am able to keep two sessions of 2.5 hours each of intense concentration in an important task (like programming, reading and writing papers, studying some topic), haven’t I worked enough?

Additionally, for a graduate student, work is a subtle definition. If I leave the lab somewhat early to go for a run, and in my practice I listen to some podcast that gives me an idea to try at work on the next day, am I working or not?

I may only “work”, sitting down at my desk, for 7-8 hours each day, but I am constantly thinking about work, about how can I better write some section of some paper, about what does that theory mean, about some result I got from a simulation.

And lastly, there are non-work things that help me to work. I spend almost one hour each day praying and reading the Bible; I could work during that time, but doing this instead makes more calm and more focused than if I simply “worked”. Same for exercising on the evenings, or relaxing while watching a movie on the weekends.

Am I wrong?

Adjust your plans

Expectation: come to the lab, work like crazy for two hours, have lunch, organize some stuff, work like crazy for two more hours, attend a meeting, workday done.

Reality: come to the lab, turn on the computer, wait over one hour for Windows Update.

Lessons learned:

  • I should always have printed papers to read in my backpack, so I can always work offline

  • Is it possible to carry my laptop with me all the time?

  • I had a plan, but the plan is worthless now: after the update is done, I will do a new plan. Eisenhower: “Plans are nothing, planning is everything” (see also this video by Thomas Frank)

Why learn GTD

2017 was a mixed year for me. For 6 months, I lived in Denmark during an external stay for my doctoral studies, and this experience was wonderful. Professionally, I became a colleague of researchers I truly admire, complemented my numerical studies with some important experimental work, re-evaluated my work ethics. On the personal side, I tried to learn Danish while also practicing my English, ate a lot of bread, met some new friends, and experienced of the most exciting cities in the world in the wonderful company of my wife.

The preparation, however, was an emotional hell. For starters, me and my wife had visa issues. I also missed an opportunity to book accomodation months before going, and when I finally found a place, I missed the deadline for the security deposit for our new home (luckily there was no consequence). Since 2016, I had been trying to follow a “simple” productivity system, inspired by the works of Kourosh Dini, with some daily routines and review practices, but clearly it was not enough. I am a huge fan of Dini, and I follow his work closelyto incorporate his ideas about creativity in my own work, but I needed something more suitable to lots of projects with multiple deadlines.

And that’s the story of why I decided to revisit the productivity classic Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen, whose first edition I read in 2009. I bought the new edition just before traveling to Denmark, to make this period an opportunity to learn to be better organized. During my daily train commutes, I read this book very actively, taking lots of notes and trying to implement its practices. My period abroad was an excelent experimentation opportunity.

I will use this blog to document my GTD setup and what I’ve learned from the book. I’m by no means a GTD expert; this is a pure example of showing my work of reading Getting Things Done analytically. I did become a lot more organized and productive in this process. I’ve already mentioned my great experience there, but in more specific terms, while I was in Denmark I accomplished a few things:

  • Published the first journal paper from my doctoral studies
  • Submit one conference paper and have it accepted
  • Prepared one poster and one talk for another conference
  • Travelled with my wife to several countries, after my study period ended
  • Managed to host my family and some friends as they visited Copenhagen
  • Participated in two bike trips around the city
  • Completed my first street run

In addition to that, I kept regular contact with my family in Brazil, continued to work in my numerical studies, attended Mass regularly and hang out with friends often. The GTD method was essential to that, and now I hope to help others. This series is a not a substitute for the book; it´s mainly intended for people who have read the book and need some practical examples, or for people considering to read the book and who would like to know a little more about the method.

To understand GTD, there are three fundamental principles:

1. Learn to manage open loops

The GTD method is a productivity system. It tells you how you should manage your projects and tasks, with the basic goal of higher producivity with lower stress. According to Allen, productivity is simply a ratio of outputs and inputs: how much you can accomplish (in terms of results) for a given investment of time and energy. Being productive is valuable for two reasons:

  • For fixed input, you accomplish more or perform a better and more complete work, in the same time it would take to do a poor job if you were not productive
  • For fixed output, you need less time to conclude something you have to but don’t want to do

The challenge is being productive without the stress and overwhelm of trying to do too much. The first basic argument from the book is that the key to being productive and stress-free is managing open loops. You feel anxious about your work when you do not control it. Some piece of information comes to you: a worry about a family member, a request from your boss, the fact that something is broken at your home, an email about a paymemt due. You know you should do something about it, but you don’t know what. In addition, you have unfinished projects: a report, a party to organize, a talk to prepare.

Keeping these open loops on your head is a bad idea. You have no guarantee that you will remember to do the appropriate things at the right time, as you cannot control what you remember and what you don’t (try it). And these worries take energy out of your mind, preventing you from doing good work. The goal of the GTD method is, in its own terms, to help you engage with your work, achieving the state of flow, the state of play as Kourosh Dini calls it in his texts. In a sense, the GTD method is all about creating conditions for deep work . The GTD term for this is mind like water: your mind is so relaxed that, when requested, it reacts in a proportional way, but then goes back to equilibrium. When you are working, you work, and don’t think of anything else.

The core of the method is to provide a system where you store information, ideas and worries out of your mind, and to develop habits that allow you to not worry about open loops. This was what caused most of my problems: I had lots of deadlines (for submitting the visa application, for mailing documents, for paying fees) that were not properly recorded, and I often had to act in a hurry when it was almost too late. I also was underutilizing the concept of contexts (as we’ll see in later texts), the notion that I can do different things in different places; I would maintain a list of sequential tasks and would postpone some of them until others were completed, when in reality I could do some things while waiting for others.

2. Start bottom-up

The second main argument from the book is that the most effective way to manage open-loops is bottom-up: first manage your day-to-day actions and commitments, and only them re-evaluate your commitments and higher priorities.

This is not exactly common sense, and is against “modern” advices on productivity. Most gurus advise you to do something like a “personal mission statement”, and then to only work on goals that align with this mission. However, decision-making takes time on itself (as discussed in Kourosh Dini’s excellent Workflow Mastery) , and it’s impossible to find time to important things like this in the midst of a daily chaos.

Based primarily on his experience as a coach, David Allen states that first you have to be able to manage daily activities. If you have to do a report for next week, you need to take care of that. If you have a meeting in an hour, you have to be there in time, even if it does not align with your personal values. However, if you learn to be productive, you start to take less time to do your work (as discussed in the first principle above) and to be less stressed, and it is with this energy and time that you attack on your higher levels of focus.

Fancy techniques, trendy apps and productivity hacks don’t work because they don’t give you more time — or worse, they may help you processing your email in less time, but then you will want to fill this time with new responsibilities (something I experience myself all the time, and I bet most readers do too) and then new worries. What we need is, according to the author, a systematic approach of managing these worries.

Another important proposition, related to this argument, is that the key to manage open-loops is to manage actions: if something is on your mind, then you must find what your should do, physically, to resolve that loop. If I’m worried about a birthday party, then I need to put the date on my calendar and then a reminder to buy the gift; when the time comes, all I have to do is go to the party. We’ll talk about this concept of next actions in future posts.

To summarize: if you have an open-loop in your head, draining energy, you have to act on it. As you learn to do this, you begin to take control of your days. Then, you can take time and energy to analyze your long-term goals and values. Doing that in the reverse order may only create more worries.

3. To close open loops, apply the 5 steps

We’ve already established that, to be productive and stress-free, we have to manage open-loops, so that worries don’t pop in our heads when we are trying to engage in the work. But how do we manage these open loops?

David Allen states that there 5 habits or processes that you have to master and apply to every piece of information that comes to you. The author argues that they are “commom sense, systematized”, and are the result of years in coaching successful individuals. Personally, I think that the examples the author gives to show that these steps are “natural” a little bit forced, and he is trying to prove the conclusion he wants. The GTD method is used for many years and many people have already proved that the method work; we don’t need to fit it into a precise explanation of how our mind works.

The 5 steps of the GTD method to control the workflow are:

  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organize
  4. Review
  5. Engage

To recap: open loops are created with stuff (to use a term from the book) that comes to your attention. Some other examples:

  • You’re reminded by the newspaper that it’s tax season
  • Any colleague request you to do something
  • Your wife kindly suggests it’s time to visit her family again
  • You feel ill and should see a doctor
  • You receive an email about a job opportunity
  • You get work assignments after an important meeting
  • You need to study for an exam that was just announced

For every item like this, you apply the 5 steps, defining concrete things to do, until you close all loops.

In the next posts, I will detail how I set up my GTD system and how I implement these habits.

A Year Without Coffee

In 2017, I spent 9 months without drinking coffee.

I admit that I cheated a little bit in the title, since 9 months is not a year, but 2017 felt like the year without coffee for me. During Lent, I abstained myself from coffee as a form of penance; and a few months later I chose to stay coffee-free for the rest of the year as part of a religious promise.

Before starting to write this post, I saw that there are a lot of texts in the Internet with identical titles and themes. I chose not to read any of them; what follows are simply my impressions.

Drinking coffee is a habit

This may sound obvious, but my strongest impression is this: what I missed the most was not the taste of coffee, but the ritual of drinking it.

I quickly got used to drinking a cup of tea in the morning and right after lunch. But this was when I was by myself; it was particularly hard to watch my family drink the usual espresso after our meals, or to not join my wife for a nice warm coffee in Copenhagen cafés.

From what I read about habits and addictions, dealing with these triggers is the first step in managing good and bad habits, and my experiene proves this.

Coffee ≠ caffein

The worst side effect I expected was worsening my ability to focus, or feeling drowsy all the time. I was particularly worried about this because I started this experiment right before going to Denmark for my PhD external stay. However, by drinking black tea regularly (in its various forms, like English Breakfast and Earl Grey), I managed to feel almost the same stimulating effects as regular coffee would provide me.

As I said in previous posts, my period in Danish land was very productive. Abstaining from coffee did not affect this, nor did it affect my sleep. I don’t usually sleep very well, mainly because of anxiety issues, and trading coffee for tea did not change anything.

Religion is a great motivation

During preparation for going to Denmark, many things started to go wrong, and I became pretty desperate; I then prayed and prayed and promised that, if God provided myself with the solution to my problems, I would stop drinking coffee for the whole year. Because of His Infinite Grace, He came to my rescue, and so I kept my promise.

Every time I felt the urge to drink coffee I reminded myself of my motivation, and the desire quickly vanished. This was not a game bet or some joke; this was a minuscule action to thank God for the incredible experience He provided me.

And for Him, I would do it again.