Data mining my working life

I’ve been collecting statistics on all sorts of aspects of my working day for a while now. I record how long my meetings last, who they are with, how much time it takes me to get to them, and also track how much time I spend on courses, at conferences, and engaged in any social activity that takes place at lunch time or straight after work. By collecting data I can hopefully spot trends (like attending far more meetings than usual), which helps me with planning my time, maintaining work life balance, and ensuring that I factor in recharging time between events that are likely to leave me feeing quite drained.

As I’ve been in my new role for four months now I thought it was worth trying to do some sort of comparison of things that are directly comparable (number of hours spend in meetings, average number of people at meetings I attend, that sort of thing). My hypothesis is that I seem to have more time for task based work than I have for a while, but I want to see if that’s actually true. I also want to try and devise an formula that will allow me to calculate the amount of mental energy any given week might require, and thus plan recharging activities appropriately.

To do this I started by listing all the activities I partake in that cost me energy (as an Introvert that’s anything involving other people). The list I came up with was:

  • Meetings involving me and one other person. I don’t find these particularly draining in general, and one to one conversation is actually my most comfortable medium for synchronous communication.
  • Meetings involving multiple other people – I find these quite tiring, especially if I’m chairing them or otherwise having to talk quite a lot.
  • Running training or coaching sessions. These can be quite tiring because I’m centre stage and talking for the duration of the session, and there may also be the added energy drain of having to field questions.
  • Attending courses, conferences or workshops. These generally involve meeting new people and taking in new skills and knowledge in an environment that generally doesn’t suit my learning style. This can be quite tiring, although sometimes I find group work exercises quite energising if it’s the right group.
  • Recruitment activity (interviews, recruitment exercises). One of my favourite activities, and although it tires me it’s always worth it.
  • Running events. Something else I enjoy, although sometimes I am far more into the planning, organising and evaluating of an event than anything else.
  • Social events that take place at lunch time or after work. These were recorded to see if there was any sort of correlation with other activities.

I have in no way done a full analysis yet, but from half a day spent plugging the data into Excel and Nvivo a few trends leap out straight away:

  • I spend about two working days a week in meetings, and have for most of the last few years. My monthly average never dips below a day and never rises above three days.
  • I work from home on average one day per fortnight, and only do planned work during this time. I’m much more likely to mark a task as finished during one of these days than any other day.
  • Travel time to meetings takes on average 5 minutes more in my current role. My commute is also 10 minutes longer. Using that extra time for thinking and ideas generation probably offsets the extra time spent walking though.
  • The average number of people in meetings I attend has risen steadily throughout the reporting period.
  • There is a definite correlation between the number of people at a meeting and whether I’m the organiser or not. Meetings I organise are generally with one or two other people; meetings I’m invited to average at least three people more. This is starting to even out a little over the last month or so though.
  • The opposite is true for social events taking place on week days, in that the larger the event the more likely it is I’ll have been involved in organising it, whereas meetings with one other person seem to be almost never initiated by me. There is probably a learning point there somewhere.
  • The key difference between my previous role and the one I’m doing now is that I don’t have direct reports and I do a lot less recruitment and training (both as a trainer and as the person being trained). That’s why I have more time to do everything else.
  • The amount of weekday socialising I’m doing has increased significantly over the last few months, and the activities I’m undertaking have diversified (although the majority is still food/drinks with one other person or a small group).
  • Most of my social activity is planned, rather than spontaneous.
  • There is a definite positive correlation between running events and socialising with people involved in the event afterwards. Even though both activities tire me, it’s rare to find one without the other.
  • There is a definite negative correlation between attending training sessions and social activity. The period in 2016 where I was juggling ILM5, Lean Six Sigma, and a bespoke training program was the period with the least social contact.
  • I leave the office more at lunch time now, and spend time between meetings in a coffee shop or quiet part of campus if it’s not worth going back to the office. I expect this will increase as the weather gets nicer.
  • I leave the office 15-20 minutes later than I did in my previous role, but my actual average working day duration has not differed significantly for years. The difference is down to the slightly longer breaks I’m taking, and the fact that my commute is longer.

There is a lot of food for thought there, and I’m starting to work out the energy requirements of the various activities (and combinations of activities) I undertake. My next step is to try and put some numerical modifiers against each activity so I can do a proper calculation, but that’s a job for another day.

Burnout, work-life balance and stress triggers

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but a couple of conversations over the last few weeks pushed it to the forefront of my mind again. What I want to talk about here is burnout (and what it looks like), how I try and maintain work-life balance, and stress triggers and how to mitigate them. What follows is a what works for me, but hopefully there is something there that would be of use to other people too.

Burnout

I’ve not had a traditional 9-5 job for a while, and I do tend to gravitate to roles where the work is never done, and where it would be easy to work significantly longer than is sensible. Jobs like that do lend themselves to the potential of burnout, and I’ve both suffered from this myself and seen it affect other people.

Wikipedia says “Burnout is a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout or job burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace.”

Burnout often starts to affect the balance between work and what goes on outside of work. In my case how it usually manifests is through exhaustion, and through not wanting to do anything in the evenings or at weekends, and I can generally trace it back to times when I’ve worked long hours, felt unappreciated, or have skipped lunch breaks several times in a week. It’s hard to spot sometimes, but once I do notice it I find it’s quite straightforward to come up with an action plan to get a bit of work-life balance back.

Work-life balance – how to get it back

Things I’ve found that work are:

There are some things that related to my role, but that I’d never get round to if I prioritised them purely on importance/urgency. Some of these things are really enjoyable, allow me to use different skills and work with different people, and make me feel a whole lot more positive about the rest of my work. If the rest of what I’m doing isn’t going well, or is including too much of the same kind of task, then including a few of these types of activities make the day a whole lot more bearable.

I use my morning and evening commute to draw a line between work and non-work most days each week. My commute consists of two periods of walking (20 minutes and 10 minutes) with a 20 minute train journey in between. This gives me blocks of different sort of time to listen to music, read, and think about what I need to achieve during the rest of the day (be that at home or work). I also find the physical act of walking invaluable, as it’s probably the only point of the day where I’m not sat in front of a screen of some sort.

Occasionally I need to work in the evenings. That’s not a bad thing if it will make the day ahead easier or make me feel more prepared. But if I do have to do it, then the next day I make sure I reward myself with a long lunch (ideally with company), or an hour off at a different time of the day to walk around campus and order my thoughts.

When I work from home I work at least an hour longer because I don’t have to factor in my morning commute. I therefore spend the last hour of my working day doing something that is in some way related to personal development, such as updating my achievements log, learning about something new, or opening a blank document and reflecting on how things are going, what’s blocking me, and what actions I think I need to take to get things back on track. These internal brainstorming sessions often produce insights that probably wouldn’t have come up if I’d been in the office.

Stress triggers

I know what my stress triggers are now. It’s something I was particularly interested in when I did my MBTI practitioner training, and they are pretty much exactly what my MBTI profile says they should be:

  • Being bombarded with facts and details
  • Having to adapt to changes in my usual routine, new places, different ways of behaving
  • Encountering obstacles in the outer world – traffic, equipment failures, interruptions, flight delays
  • Extraverting excessively; having to interact with individuals and groups
  • Coping with crowds. noise, confusion, chaotic environments
  • Dealing with incompetent people, illogical systems
  • Being criticised professionally, having my competence attacked, not being recognised

If I’m feeling tense or a little burned out then I’ll look at this list and see if it explains things. It usually does, and it’s a lot easier for me to rationalise the way I’m feeling. It also helps me formulate my reaction to what’s going on, as it’s possible that if I react based on how I’m feeling then I’ll over react compared to someone of a different personality type, and so I try and bear that in mind when I’m talking to other people about things that are on my mind.

MBTI theory says that the following things should help me if I’m feeling stressed:

  • Spend time alone recharging in a quiet, calm environment
  • Engage in positive Sensing activities that accomplish something useful, such as cleaning out closets, sorting photographs, fixing things
  • Take steps to lighten my schedule and sticking to my commitment to do so
  • Step back and use logic to analyse the situation
  • Get closure on some lighter, more manageable tasks
  • Remind myself that it will pass

Based on that I think I’m doing the right sorts of things to manage periods of stress. Most of what’s listed above works well for me, and is usually enough to get my equilibrium back.

Of course, different people respond to stress in different ways, but knowing what works for me has been really useful.

Experiments with PDF files

I’ve been experimenting a lot with combining PDF files in interesting ways (largely to make a recipe book from all sorts of different sources). I’ve used Preview on my Mac for a lot of this, but have also done a fair bit of work in Ubuntu recently which required a slightly different approach.

The best graphical PDF merging tool for Linux is probably pdfmod. It’s in the Ubuntu repositories, and can do anything Preview can do as far as merging/exporting PDF files from multiple sources.

For command line merging, pdftk does the job well. The syntax would be something like:

pdftk *.pdf cat output combined.pdf

Which would merge all PDF files in the current directory, or:

pdftk file1.pdf file2.pdf cat output combined.pdf

Which would merge two specific files.

If you need to convert Word documents to PDF prior to doing this, there is a command line tool called lowriter which is part of the libreoffice suite. The syntax would be:

lowriter --convert-to pdf *.docx

It works with .doc and .docx files.

Making professional presentations

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing a presentation that I have to give as part of my ILM5 qualification. I give presentations fairly regularly (in fact I’ve given two since I started writing this one), but this one is different in that I’m being assessed on every aspect of it, and the assessment criteria is fairly specific.

As part of this process I attended a one day workshop covering all the key aspects of presentation skills, and also giving us the opportunity to practice standing up and talking in front of other people who then provided feedback. I found this useful, and none of the feedback I received was a surprise. I think the only thing I could look to change related to delivery of presentations is the amount I move while I’m presenting, but I suspect I’m not going to be able to move less without feeling really self conscious and detracting from the quality of the presentation – I’m certainly willing to give it a try though.

We didn’t have to create slides as part of the training, but the other piece of feedback I generally get is around my slides, and specifically how they don’t contain a great deal of text and therefore often require further information to make sense to anyone who wasn’t actually at the presentation. I’ve not changed the style of my slides as result of this, but I have worked on ensuring they flow in a sensible chronological order, and I’ve also prepared a longer slide set that intersperses the slides I’ll be showing with slides containing what I’ll actually be saying. Hopefully this version of the presentation will be useful as a handout, and will add context to the slides I’ll be showing (which are largely diagrams, graphs and charts). I’m a big believer that slides should enhance a talk rather than acting as a script, and I’d much rather the audience were listening to what I say rather than reading it off a screen.

Over the years I’ve experimented with a few different ways of creating slides, although in recent years I’ve either presented from a PDF file or created them straight in Keynote (for more complex presentations). This time I ended up doing a bit of both, as I wanted to create the slides/notes as markdown files, but also wanted to take advantage of Keynote’s presentation mode. I created my slides as a markdown file, and converted them to a PDF using Pandoc and Beamer (the process is detailed here), and then I used a tool called PDF to Keynote to convert them. I prefer working in markdown because it allows me to convert the same file to a Word document, PDF, ebook and presentation, but it means I have to go through as couple of extra layers of processing to be able to present from Powerpoint. I’ve made sure I can do that this time, although it’s not usually something I’ll bother with, especially if I’m the only person presenting.

My plan is to present from my laptop in Keynote and to use my phone as a remote (or just to use the trackpad of the laptop as it’s a fairly small room). Mitigations for technical difficulties include PDF, Keynote and Powerpoint versions on a USB device and in Dropbox, a second laptop in my bag, and adaptors to allow me to connect either my phone or iPad to the projector and present from that (I had to do that once when my laptop decided to reboot just as I was about to present). I’ll also have the source markdown with me so I have the ability to create slides on the fly should I need to. A lot of this may be overkill, but I’d rather be prepared.

What I did on my holidays

I’m quite pleased with what I’ve achieved over the last two weeks. This holiday was supposed to be a chance to recharge prior to a very busy period at work, but I think I’ve actually been about as productive as I normally am (just in different ways).

I’ve done a lot of technical things while I’ve been off, including dismantling (and throwing away) 5 old computers, building a server/workstation using a lot of spare parts and a new case/motherboard, and setting up WordPress Multisite on the new server (and then building a site to host my Continuous Professional Development Portfolio which I have to do as part of ILM5). I’ve also decluttered my study, set up a new Raspberry Pi Zero, written a lot of notes about fixing specific technical issues I’ve encountered whilst doing all these things, and ripped about 100 CDs to MP3.

The decluttering has felt very liberating, and I plan on doing more of it (and throwing out more computers) in the summer. Of course, all this means is that I have an even larger pile of old hard drives and memory (even after using 3 of each in the new server) that I need to dispose of at some point.

As well as technical things I’ve also visited the Sea Life Centre, been out for two meals, and booked tickets for various shows. I’ve certainly spent a lot less money than a two week holiday abroad would have cost, and I’m feeling like my technology setup is moving in the right direction again.

Software I use

Software I use that I feel is somewhat noteworthy includes:

  • Evernote – I use this on every device I own, mostly to take notes in meetings and training sessions, and then to revise/reflect later. A lot of my notes are now photographs of whiteboards, which Evernote handles very well.
  • Atom – A text editor that handles Markdown well, and can preview and export to PDF. This pretty much handles all of my writing/blogging work within one application. I’m currently writing this post in Atom. I also use Pandoc to convert to PDF, HTML and/or .docx if required.
  • Trello – I’ve just started using this for my to do list, and it’s a good way to visualise the planning and execution of any task based work.
  • Keynote – For presentations. I wouldn’t say I’m a power user, but I can throw together a half decent presentation now.
  • Dropbox – Cloud storage and synching software to ensure I can access everything everywhere.
  • IFTTT and Buffer – To automate as much as possible. Between them they handle a lot of the seemingly clever things in my digital life, and explain why I seem to be able to post to social media sites at times when I appear to be elsewhere.
  • NVivo – As a lot of the data I work with is words rather than numbers this is proving somewhat invaluable. I use the Mac version, but should get round to exploring the Windows version soon as I understand it has some different features.
  • Virtualbox – Because no-one needs as many physical computers as I had before virtualisation was a thing.

I’m always happy to talk about any of this software and how I use it to be productive.

Automate everything (updated)

This is an updated version of something I posted a few months ago, but as some of my automation methods have changed I thought it was worth a rewrite.

I’m a big fan of automating anything that can be automated, and I don’t like having to think about or do the same thing multiple times if there is a way round it. There are two main ways I achieve this:

Firstly – Using forward planning and/or recorded muscle memory to ensure that I don’t have to think too much about things I do every day (my morning routine, walking to work, typing my PIN number, choosing what to wear or what to cook for dinner).

Secondly – Using technology to automate commonly encountered tasks (adding my signature to an email, typing my phone number, taking notes at a meeting etc.)

The first one is fairly straightforward, and involves what I generally refer to as autopilot. After doing something for a certain number of times I find I can do it without thinking too much about it, and that takes all the mental processing out of the equation. Similarly, if I plan things like clothes and food once a week, I don’t have to spend any time worrying about what to eat or what to wear. I also tend to buy clothes in bulk, so that there is very little decision fatigue involved. Once I’ve found something that I like I’ll buy duplicates so that I can (appear to) wear the same things each day, which removes the need to make decisions. I also tend to do like-for-like replacements as much as possible, for things like clothes, headphones, laptops etc.

A lot of my technology automation involves If This Then That, Buffer and Evernote, and I thought it was worth detailing how a few of these work.

If I add a photograph to Instagram, then it is also posted to Twitter and Flickr. This came about because I didn’t like the way Twitter makes you click on a link to see an Instagram picture – this process makes it look like a native Twitter picture instead. Every photo I take on my phone or iPad is automatically synched with Dropbox, and every photo I take with my camera copies to my laptop, and eventually to the USB drive I carry on my keyring. All of this is automated using Carbon Copy Cloner (which is what I use to back up my machines as well).

I have a Google calendar that details all of my work appointments. 15 minutes before each appointment starts a note is created in Evernote with a template suitable for note taking, and also any agenda items or pre-meeting reading. This relies on keeping my calendar up to date and as detailed as possible, but I do that anyway. It’s very reassuring to know that I can open my iPad and find everything I need for a meeting right there on my screen.

I use Buffer to schedule social media posts to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Generally I’ve got Twitter open anyway, but the other two I largely maintain a presence on by copying content from Twitter and/or my blog. I am hopeful Buffer will work with WordPress and G+ soon (it posts to G+ pages, but not to personal streams), at which point it will handle everything I want to publish to the world.

If I write a blog post, then IFTTT adds a tweet with a link to the blog post to my Buffer queue. I want people to read what I write, so it makes sense to let people know that there is new content on my blog.

I have my computer and iPad set up with keyboard shortcuts that will insert my name, email signature, phone number etc. into what I’m writing. Similarly I have dozens of templates set up in the ITSM software we use at work to insert all sorts of text that I have to send out regularly.

Any email attachment I receive is automatically added to a folder in Dropbox, arranged by who sent the email. Most of these emails are only interesting because of what is in the attachment, and I’d rather have that information stored outside the context of the email thread. I occasionally go through these and delete things that are no longer relevant, but they still exist in my backups anyway.

Any document added to a certain folder in Dropbox is converted into an ebook and emailed to the Kindle app on my iPad. I prefer to read longer documents and papers on my iPad, and it means I can use the offline part of my commute to catch up with reading. I can also email any PDF or free ebook directly to my Kindle and/or any instance of the Kindle app I’m running.

At a certain time each evening the whole contents of my computer’s hard drive is copied to an external drive that I keep plugged in to it (using Carbon Copy Cloner). I also use Time Machine, but I find that having a secondary backup source that isn’t reliant on a network connection is very useful. Also, CCC makes bootable backups, which can be invaluable in time-sensitive situations. I also back up my whole music collection to my NAS, as well as having off-site backups using a combination of Crashplan, Dropbox and iCloud/iTunes match. all of these involve persistent syncing of data, or run automatically once a day.

Every time I get a new follower on Twitter, details about that person are added to an Evernote document. I often used to miss new followers just using the Twitter app, and I find this way of doing it puts it a lot more in my face.

Every time I favourite a tweet, the full text of that tweet is copied to an Evernote document. I use this to make a note of interesting things people have said, but also links to articles or music that I want to check out.

Those are just a few examples of automation that I use quite often. I dread to think how much time I used to spend achieving the same results manually, and I would like to think I’ve freed up more time for pursuits that require me to be fully checked in to what I’m doing.

Travelling light

I’ve travelled a fair bit over the last few years. Monthly trips to London, a few courses and conferences each year, and holidays to New York, Rhodes, Canada and Bulgaria. I love travelling (both the journey and the destination), but I also don’t like having to navigate trains and airports with large suitcases full of everything I might possibly need. What I’ve tried to do recently is to travel as light as I can, whilst still having access to everything I might need on the trip. This is partly about planning what I’m wearing in advance, but also about risk assessment. For example, I used to always take a spare pair of shoes with me when I travelled overnight. I don’t like having wet feet, and it seemed worth it at the time. After a few trips where wet feet didn’t feature I ditched the shoes, and accepted that I may one day need to buy a pair of shoes whilst travelling. So far I’ve not had to, but I can always use a new pair of shoes, and it makes my bag significantly lighter by not having to carry a spare all the time.

I also try and reduce the load by wearing the heaviest clothes I need (generally jeans and whatever jacket/coat suits the weather), which means my bag or case should only have lighter items in it. My holiday packing is mostly shorts and t-shirts, and my business packing is lightweight shirts and trousers, none of which are particularly heavy or bulky.

I think I’m doing quite well on the clothes front, but I still carry a larger than average collection of technology, especially when I’m travelling for work. All of my devices are as light as they can be (Macbook Air, iPad mini and iPhone), but I could probably do with carrying one less device on some trips. I could also probably do with carrying around less cables and adaptors, and I should probably accept that I won’t need to connect my laptop to a projector or a wired network when I’m on a foreign holiday.

Why I’m bad at being on holiday

I am on holiday this week. This is largely because I still had 100% of my annual leave left (it resets in September), but also because I’m going to be in Egypt for a week starting on Sunday, and I wanted to make sure I was rested and relaxed enough to enjoy the trip rather than needing to spend half the week recovering from a fairly long stretch without a proper holiday. It strikes me that I’m quite bad at being on holiday though, because I don’t really know what to do with myself without some sort of structure and routine to keep me focused on the here and now, so I decided this time that I would actually write down what I planned to achieve, and tick things off when I’d done them. So in other words, exactly how I approach the day job and anything else that requires me to exert effort towards achieving predefined goals.

The first thing on my list was to prepare for my week away. I listed clothes I wanted to take, worked out if I needed to buy anything, and then assembled everything in my suitcase ready for sanity checking before I pack properly on Saturday. I’ve also been trying to reduce the amount of cables, adaptors and chargers I take with me, as well as removing anything from my everyday carry that looks dubious or won’t play nicely with airport security.

The second list of tasks revolved around technology. I’ve just bought a new hard drive for my NAS, which needed fitting. I wasn’t sure how long it would take, but actually due to the wonder of Synology it only took a few minutes, after which the NAS was back on line while the two drives started talking to each other and ensuring they were in sync. Again, I’m very impressed with this product, and would highly recommend it. I’ve also updated my 5 year plan for technology buying, and purchased a few other bits and pieces that I was holding off on buying until I was going to be at home for a decent stretch of time. I may write more about this later.

The final list of tasks was not a list of tasks as such, but an attempt to find a way of doing things to reduce the anxiety that comes from having a lot more time, and therefore a lot more choice about how I spend that time. This was dealt with by maintaining my usual routine of sleep, planning my meals and clothes in advance, and pretty much doing everything I normally do except work. I find that routine relaxes me, and that anything that can be automated should be, so that I don’t end up with decision fatigue. I also made sure I kept up my exercise regime, although I’m not quite hitting my usual targets because I’ve spent more time at home and less time walking between places. That said 6km a day is still fairly respectable.

That’s me done for now, although I’m hoping to schedule a few posts while I’m away, and also plan on keeping a travel journal (both text and photographs) so I have a proper record of this trip.

Getting in the zone

How do you get in the zone? And by that I mean how do you prepare yourself to sit down and work on something for a long time (be that a piece of writing, a song or a computer program)?

For me it’s all about turning off distractions, or at least blocking them out so they don’t impair my creativity. Right now I’m sitting in my office at work with the window open. The clock tower is chiming 8, and there is the sound of building work outside. This is not conducive to getting me in the zone, but I can block it out because it’s a fairly common series of sounds around here (my office being near the clock tower and right in between two building sites, one of which will become my new office eventually).

If I can’t turn off distractions then I like to control my distractions as much as possible. This I’ll do largely through headphones and either very familiar music or unfamiliar music without words. I have Spotify play-lists set up to deal with both of these, and I also have a fair amount of music stored locally on my non-work computers.

So what do I mean by distractions? One of the main distractions is the notifications that any internet-connected computer churns out every few seconds. On my work machine I get notifications about emails, tweets, instant messages, texts and all sorts of other things. I need to have a peripheral awareness of them, but what they would really like me to do is to drop what I’m doing and insert some other task right at the top of my to do list. Sometimes that is what I need to do, but most often the task I’m working on now is the most important task, and anything that deviates from what I had intended to do is likely to make me less productive.

Once I’m in the zone, and once I’m writing, then I tend to zone out what is going on in the rest of the world quite well. I often find myself forgetting to notice that I’m hungry or thirsty, and it’s always a surprise to find that I’ve been sitting at my desk for a couple of hours and that the document sat before me has grown in size considerably.

The other key for me is not noticing my computer at all while I’m working on something. This is partly due to keeping my computer uncluttered and distraction free, but also to do with using the right keyboard. I generally either use my solar power Logitech keyboard, or else the keyboard of the laptop I’m typing on. Any laptop I use for this sort of work is likely to be made either by Apple or by Lenovo; both of whom are well-known for understanding what a decent keyboard should feel like and sound like. I also try and use a text editor for writing as much as possible – which generally boils down to either Sublime Text or Gedit. I wouldn’t say I have a favourite as such, and like most things I like to work in at least two different ways to ensure that I don’t get stale or become too reliant on a particular tool-set.

I suppose the flip side to this is what I do what I’m not in the zone. Sometimes I have to write, regardless of feeling like doing something else. I don’t have the luxury of not needing to work, and sometimes that work involves me sitting and writing something while all sorts of chaos is going on around me. If I feel myself getting too distracted then I’ll force myself to write for a certain amount of time, and then take a break, pace around for a bit, and maybe go and take a short walk somewhere. I’ll also use my walking time (I’m currently walking at least 7km each work day and at least 4km at weekends) to think about the next thing I need to do, or how to express some particularly difficult idea or concept.