May 2012

Learning more about what I want to learn

May 1, 2012 - Categories: learning, planning

It’s hard to get better without knowing what better is.

I want to draw better. What does better mean? For me, “better” means having a wider visual vocabulary for both individual concepts (icons? shapes?) as well as layout (graphic organizers? metaphors?). “Better” means cleaner lettering and more font or design choices. “Better” means being able to draw more things more recognizably, and to design pages so that they’re visually appealing as well as informative. “Better” means becoming more comfortable with colour and shade, and using them to emphasize what’s important. Someday, “better” might even include working with animation.

How can I learn how to draw better? Practice is a big part of it, of course. I can revise my previous sketches, and I can make new ones. I can also look at sites like Sketchnote Army for inspiration. I can collect graphic organizers and visual metaphors. For deliberate practice, I can draw lines, circles, and other shapes, and I can work on lettering.

I want to write better. “Better” means adding more vividness to my writing: picking just the right verb, noticing little details and fleshing them out, adding more specifics and more data. “Better” means pushing beyond clichés. “Better” means writing so that other people can learn more effectively – digging deeper to find things people might be curious about, organizing my notes so that other people can learn more from them.

How can I learn how to write better? Again, practice and inspiration. I can revise my posts and organize them into a coherent e-book or blog series. I can challenge myself to research and share a topic I’m curious about. I can read other people’s work and play around with their styles.

I want to connect better. “Better” means knowing more about people’s lives – it’s easy to know about mine, but I think it would be interesting to know more about people too. It boggles my mind wonderfully that I now have old friends here in Canada (by golly!). I’d like to cultivate more friends and build deeper friendships both in person and online.

What does your “better” look like?

Visual metaphor: Danger

May 2, 2012 - Categories: visual


This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other terms you’d like to see!

Optimism, happiness, and being young

May 3, 2012 - Categories: happy

Someone remarked that I’m clearly an optimistic person, and asked me how old I was. When I told him that I’m 28, he laughed and said that I’m optimistic because I’m young, and that he’s cynical because he’s 35 and part of Generation X (and older and wiser and more experienced, probably his unspoken continuation).

I thought I’d write about this because it’s something that comes up from time to time, as if happiness and optimism are exclusive to the young and naïve.

Oddly, I never hear it from people who are also happy and optimistic. I know someone who’s well into his eighties and who is somehow more energetic and bubbly than I am. I have role models who are wonderfully engaged with work and life. That’s what makes it easy for me to grin and let the stereotyping slide right off my back. I know something many cynical people don’t accept: that it’s possible to be delighted with life without necessarily letting myself be pushed around by it. I know that because other people have shown it’s possible.

I’m patiently waiting for the time when people won’t conflate my happiness with these other confounding factors, when silver hair and wrinkled skin throw happiness into sharper relief. Then people will tell me it’s easy to be happy with such a lucky life. That’s okay. People will always find reasons.

In the meantime, for other people who are in the same boat: Life is pretty good. Some people will tell you that you only think so because you don’t know much of it yet, but you don’t have to believe them. =)

Sketchnotes: Marketing Automation, Jeffrey Yee (#torontob2b)

May 3, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes

UPDATE 2012-11-15: Here’s the video recap!

Marketing Automation
Jeffrey Yee, Eloqua

Like these? Check out my other sketchnotes, visual book notes/reviews, and visual metaphors.

Here’s the text from the sketchnotes to improve people’s ability to search for it:

Marketing automation

Marketing Automation
Jeffrey Yee, Eloqua

leads small
list management
-Too expensive
-Not fully used
-Not implemented correctly
-Did not address business needs

1. Focus
one thing! business need!
2. Identify
Look for what your top performers are already doing
3. Start small, then build for mass adoption
-Target the second-tier salespeople!
4. Wait patiently for the lift.
incremental improvement

Best practices from client side
Dun & Bradstreet
credit risk management sales & marketing supply risk management

1. Focus
Retention trigger-based e-mail
one need
40.1% opens
13.4% click through
10% increase in retention rates
2. Identify before you automate
Focus group?
Study top performers
How are we achieving this today?
Can we automate and scale this?


Think linear, it’s easier that way

Get personal and add value
plaint text e-mail from sales, not marketing
3. Mass adoption (but start very small)
advocates get others on board

Look for the people who are close to their quotas:
Tier 2 segmenting your salespeople!

Have reps vet leads before adding to program

3rd party data
4. Wait patiently for the lift. Set expectations.
Ex results
-6 months
pipeline value *19%
# of yes 14%
average upsize 3%
ops won 25%

Budget 12+ months

Like low-hanging fruit
Scaling up what already works
Notes by Sacha Chua, @sachac,


Sketchnotes: Building a Social Enterprise – Andrew Jenkins (#torontob2b)

May 3, 2012 - Categories: marketing, sketchnotes

UPDATE 2012-11-15: Here’s the video recap!

Click on the images to view larger versions. I might redraw these sometime – I still have to get the hang of working with paper! =)

Building a Social Enterprise
Andrew Jenkins, Volterra


Like these? Check out my other sketchnotes, visual book notes/reviews, and visual metaphors.

Here’s the text from the sketchnotes to improve people’s ability to search for it:

Building a social enterprise

Building a Social Enterprise
Andrew Jenkins, Volterra
#torontob2b May 3, 2012

competitive intelligence
pin points
cocktail party
conversations we couldn’t overhear before

Individual targeting
Indium example
content contact cash
planking example

External to Internal
-Coca Cola
social media university

can’t make me
adoption count me in

How does communication flow?


Some people: I can’t wait for you, so I’m going to set things up myself…

-Resistors: Use peers, look for the bright spot.
It took 20 years for e-mail to be ubiquitous.

Who can’t gain from greater visibility? question
Social media: 10 years
RBC: 140 years

Notes by Sacha Chua, @sachac,

Sketchnotes: Designing content so that it works – Carl Friesen (#torontob2b)

May 3, 2012 - Categories: blogging, sketchnotes, writing

UPDATE 2012-11-15: Here’s the video recap!

Designing Content So It Works

Carl Friesen, Global Reach Communications

Like these? Check out my other sketchnotes, visual book notes/reviews, and visual metaphors.

Here’s the text from the sketchnotes to improve people’s ability to search for it:

Designing content so that it works

Designing content so that it works
Carl Friesen, Global Reach Communications

Website for e-book on content design

1 2 3 4 5


The Trend
Client wants customized solution
Show that you understand their world

1. Trend & historic causes
2. current situation
3. Thoughts on developments, reasons
4. Recommendations

The How-To

Example: trustees, communication process

must be:
Relevant + Realistic
not necessarily what you do, but what clients will find helpful

– process with steps or
– a list of success factors

1. outcome
2. supplies/equipment
3. steps
4. avoiding pitfalls/problems

The How-to-Work-With
How to get good results from working with you

cannot be self-serving
include info on saving money
1. wild success experience
2. factors
3. advice


The Case Study
Leading-edge thought & sound implementation
Trans-Canada highway story
Wildlife protection

Not about showing how clever you are!

Must have learning points THEY can use
Must be a story
Tell with the client credibility

1. Initial situation
2. Steps
3. Problems & solutions
4. Lessons learned


The Survey
Shows that you stay in touch
must be what your audience cares about

More useful with a trend

Distribute appropriately
Level of detail
Consider limited distribution
The Opinion
informed opinion, thought leadership
at no charge

Long form
-views on good & bad aspects

The Review
-New product/service
-What’s different
-Discuss good/bad

The Comment

Notes by Sacha Chua, @sachac,

Looking forward to watching the Avengers

May 4, 2012 - Categories: life

I like superhero comics and movies because it’s fun imagining a superpower, seeing the kinds of appropriate challenges that could oppose it, and watching how the heroes creatively deal with the situation. Teams of superheroes are even more interesting, because the combinations of powers lead to interesting possibilities, such as Colossus and Wolverine’s Fastball Special.

Comics are also cool because they portray all sorts of dynamic situations you’re unlikely to find in real life. Like the way I’m beginning to appreciate the startling colours and juxtapositions of abstract art, I like the way comic books play with reality. I may never see someone flying through the air, but isn’t it amazing that the brain can recognize and make sense of these images?

So yes, I’m definitely looking forward to watching The Avengers.

The AMC movie chain is organizing a marathon viewing of Marvel movies for $40:

  • Iron Man
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Iron Man 2
  • Thor in 3D
  • Captain America in 3D
  • The Avengers in 3D

Tempting, but that’s a long time to sit in a movie theatre. From my experience with movie marathons of Lord of the Rings or Star Wars at friends’ places, I know I need to get up and move. Besides, I rather like being able to watch with subtitles and do something else at the same time, such as fold laundry or draw or write.

So, W- and I have been putting together our own Avengers movie lead-up. He requested the movies from the library. We watched the Hulk last weekend, and this weekend we’ll watch the Iron Man movies. I’d recently watched Thor and Captain America in the theatres, which is fortunate as there are hundreds of holds for those videos. For my part, I’ve been requesting and reading Avengers-related comic books. Hooray, Toronto Public Library!

Weekly review: Week ending May 4, 2012

May 5, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: E1: Mon-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [-] Connect: Attend open source meetup – skipped in favour of staying home
    • [-] Build: Draw a visual metaphor
    • Earn: E1: Put together one-pager for training
    • Connect: Attended #torontob2b meetup and posted sketchnotes
    • Connect: Met with Kathryn Everest
  • Relationships
    • [X] Spend time walking around with W-
    • [X] Hang out with J-‘s friends’ parents
    • [X] Get together for the Avengers (May 5)
    • Helped look around for a scooter
    • Helped study group
  • Life
    • [X] Get halfway through chapter 4 of Latin Made Simple – completed the chapter, even!
    • Improved my Emacs configuration

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: E1: Mon-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [ ] Connect: Go to Toronto Reference Library small business meetup and post sketchnotes
    • [ ] Connect: Follow up on conversations from #torontob2b
    • [ ] Build: Draw a visual metaphor or book summary
  • Relationships
    • [X] Watched the Avengers with friends
    • Baked brownies and shared them with neighbours
    • Earned $4 in a yard sale
  • Life
    • [ ] Plant vegetables and herbs

Notes on time

  • Consulting: 28.7 hours
  • Drawing: 2.6 hours
  • Discretionary: 32 hours
  • Sleep: average of 7.9 hours per day – 6.5-7.5 hours during the week, longer on weekends

Monthly review: April 2012

May 6, 2012 - Categories: monthly

Business: April was my second full month as an independent business owner. It’s awesome having a flexible schedule, especially as the weather warms up. Instead of laying the groundwork for another consulting engagement or other active income gig for September, I’ve been focusing on developing skills and content instead – writing, drawing, things like that. I think that will work out better for me with our plans for this year. In May, I look forward to doing consulting 3-4 days a week and using the other days to improve my system and learn more about drawing.

Drawing: I’ve been working on more visual metaphors and book reviews, and general drawing practice as well. Tracing pictures is easy, and it’s pretty fun too. In May, I’m looking forward to drawing more book reviews and meetup notes, and testing if I can review the images easily on my phone.

Life: Warmer weather is biking weather, hooray! I biked to work throughout April, except for two rainy days. I look forward to biking almost all the time in May as well. I enjoy the bike ride downtown, and it’s good exercise.

Time reviews: Did lots of things, yay!

Tracking focus: In May, I want to analyze the season’s output for the Cooper’s Farm community supported agriculture program. I also want to start tracking grocery receipts at the line-item level, which I might do with Lemon or with a virtual assistant. I’m curious about whether we can shift towards buying more vegetables this season.

Tweaking my introduction, focusing on sketchnotes

May 7, 2012 - Categories: connecting

One of the things I like about meetups is the opportunity to test introductions. With all the different things I enjoy doing, what do I want to focus on, and what hooks do I want to give people in order to make conversation easier?

I’ve been thinking about introductions because of conversations with Judy Gombita and Rachel Lane at last week’s #torontob2b meetup. Judy delights in introducing me as the famous Shy Connector. This makes me grin a little in embarrassment, as (a) chances are that people haven’t come across it, and I don’t like making people feel a little out of the loop because they don’t know someone who’s supposed to be famous, and (b) umm, the whole point about shyness?

After the event, I thought about what some better reactions might be. For example, I could use that opportunity to give a 15-second summary of the key points, in case they’re useful for other people. Chances are, the people I’m meeting at these events are either extroverted or have found ways to cope. For extroverts, it might be something they can share with their introverted friends (a handy excuse to reach out). For introverts, I might share a surprising tip (for example, public speaking lets you get around starting a conversation) and find out what their tips are. If I keep a copy of the presentation on my phone, that makes it even easier for people to pick it up quickly.

Rachel and I are figuring out this tricky introduction bit, too. In one of these conversations, Rachel introduced herself as just a freelancer focusing on digital strategy and copywriting. After that conversation wrapped up, I passed on the lesson that Alan Lepofsky taught me about eliminating “just” from self-descriptions. After all, “independent” isn’t a synonym for “unemployed”; it can be something awesome. So now I’m going to introduce her as Rachel, who focuses on digital strategy, and who is also into wonderful things such as making Toronto greener through Guerrilla Gardening and helping people learn through Ladies Learning Code.

While we were talking about introductions, Rachel asked me how I wanted her to introduce me. “Consultant” is too vague. “Enterprise social software adoption consulting” is a mouthful, and it’s relevant to only a tiny fraction of people. “Blogger” is too generic, although mentioning that I blog at does give people a sense of my personality.

I think that at these meetups, I’m going to focus on sketchnotes, because that’s something that will be useful for anyone attending. I can quickly show some examples on my phone (or show the event’s notes if this is post-talk conversation) and promise to send it to people. That would be a good lead-in to exchanging contact information or connecting on Twitter, and it also gives me an excuse to follow up.

I’ll try emphasizing sketchnotes next time. When introducing myself, I can:

  • connect with people’s challenges with information overload
  • explain that I sketch notes of books, presentations, and meetings so that people can quickly understand and review key ideas, and that I blog at
  • offer to send them my notes from the event

I’ll put together a business card focusing on sketchnotes too. Cards are good physical triggers for memory.

This is quite a different introduction for me. You know how you get a sense of where people put you in their mental classifications of people? I usually fit in the “geek” box. Although I’m sure people can figure that out as soon as they start browsing my website… =)

How do you experiment with your introduction?

Gardening with herbs and exercising the senses

May 8, 2012 - Categories: gardening

W- and I spent Sunday afternoon gardening. We dug up the boxes, amended the raised beds with nine bags of sheep manure, and filled the deck planter boxes with soil. We had bought twenty bunches of seedlings the day before at this corner store that had a large variety of plants and sold them cheaper than Home Depot or Rona did. Somehow we managed to squeeze all of them in.

I love gardening with herbs. Pulling up weeds among the lavender sprigs, separating the basil seedlings, planting cilantro in the boxes – all those scents wafting through the air, sticking to my fingers. The memories of tastes: basil in pesto and salad and sauce, oregano spicing things up, rosemary sprinkled on potatoes or sausage. And then the softness of a fine tilth, still a touch sandy but better than it was when we started. Our garden doesn’t have a lot of colour, but maybe we’ll plant more flowers next year. Other people’s gardens and the Toronto parks are filled with vibrant colours. This week, the tulips are putting on a show.

Computer work is abstract, but I’ve been building other senses into my life. Drawing teaches me to look more closely, and painting (digital – less clean-up!) gives me a new appreciation for colour combinations. Touch comes from kneading dough and working the soil and cuddling the cats. My husband and I both enjoy cooking, so that takes care of taste and smell. Sound is the one sense I tend to forget. I tend to find music distracting and earphones have a high failure rate in our household (aforementioned cats), so I usually work in silence. Maybe I’ll play around with that.

Sketchnotes: Red Rocket Coffee, Toronto Public Library Small Business Network meetup

May 8, 2012 - Categories: business, sketchnotes


Click on the image for a large version. Want an even better version for printing out? Contact me. Feel free to reuse or share this image under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

We heard from Pamela MacDonald, Liako Dertilis, and Billy Dertilis of Red Rocket Coffee at today’s Small Business Network meetup at the Toronto Reference Library. They shared hard-won lessons from building a coffee shop business that now has three locations.

The small business network meetup at the Toronto Reference Library happens on the second Tuesday of every month. You can view my sketchnotes from past meetups:

View more sketchnotes, read my notes about business, or browse around my blog!

Here’s the text from the image to make it easier to search for:
Pamela MacDonald Liako Dertilis Billy Dertilis

Small Business Network Meetup
Toronto Reference Library
May 8, 2012
Notes by Sacha Chua, @sachac,

Make sure you have enough money to live for a year.

You always have to be “on”, even at the grocery store.

Be adaptable, but watch out for over-adapting. You can’t please everybody.

Book recommendations:
-Setting the table: the transforming power of hospitality in business
-The little black book of entrepreneurship

Be prepared to wear a lot of hats.

Take care of yourself. Give yourself time to recharge.

Soft opening: work out kinks

The smartest thing an entrepreneur can do is learn when to let go.

#1: Good relationships
clients suppliers neighbours…

Hire a Lawyer. Any kind of contract, any kind of lease

Organization is important!
Suppliers etc. make mistakes, bill you twice…

Reassess success.
Had to buy out partner. Have partnership agreement!

Dedicate time to schmooze.
Customers can become suppliers!
Building relationships with people who understand

Trust your instincts.
Build a team you can delegate to.

Knowing WHO to ask & WHEN
Made up recipes

We don’t micromanage. We’re very very careful about hiring, and we let them run the show. We let the store develop its own personality.
self-employment benefits


Maintaining a manual topical index for my blog using Emacs

May 9, 2012 - Categories: blogging, emacs, organization

I’ve been blogging for almost ten years. I started with notes from my university classes and snippets of open source code, and became comfortable enough to share decisions I’m puzzling through and things I’m learning about life. There’s a lot of stuff in my archive, and I want to be able to review things again.

Categories would probably make this easier, but I use categories liberally and sometimes inconsistently. I use them like tags, quick keywords that I add so that people might explore a category and bump into other posts. I probably should split it out so that I assign posts to one category and leave everything else as tags. Someday.

In the meantime, it’s easy enough to maintain a manual topical index of my blog posts, and it’s a good opportunity to review what I’ve been writing as well.

I use Emacs Org Mode to manage a large text file divided into headings. Every month, I copy a list of titles into my topical index. I hacked Org-friendly output into my WordPress theme – you can see April’s blog posts as an example ( I manually organize the list items under different headings, splitting off new headings when I can see a pattern. Working with two windows viewing the same buffer makes it easy to move information around, and org-refile is handy too. I use a checklist structure so that Org can automatically update the number of posts under each heading (C-u M-x org-update-statistics-cookies). When I’m happy with the structure, I use org-publish-current-file to publish it using the settings I’ve configured. The files are in my public Dropbox folder, so they’re automatically published to the Web. It takes me about 10 minutes to add a month of posts to my index and publish the page.

I like seeing how much I’ve written about different topics, and it encourages me to write and organize more posts. Maybe the index might be handy for other people too!

Sketchnotes: The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future

Chris Guillebeau’s new book The $100 Startup was released just yesterday. Here are my notes! Click on the image to view a larger version.


The book is packed with clear, practical advice and backed by concrete, diverse stories from successful microbusinesses around the world. It’s not a very deep book (don’t look here for step-by-step instructions, thorough analyses of case studies, or hand-holding through the business startup process), but it’s an enjoyable read. I’ll probably find myself referring to it a lot for inspiration and ideas. If you like this book, you’ll probably also like The Lean Startup (see my notes). Enjoy!

Check out more sketchnotes or read about my ongoing experiments in business. I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s the text from the image to make it easier to search for: THE $100 STARTUP Chris Guillebeau What you love to do What people will pay for passion + skill + usefulness = success benefits features Ex: happiness widgets Expand your opportunities by reusing your skills in different ares. Most people want simplicity. Don’t give them unneeded details. Some businesses are easier to start. consulting information products You don’t have to be an expert yet! Action Planning Don’t wait for perfection. Start and learn along the way. Invest time into growing your business. Learn how to offer, hustle, launch… “Franchise yourself” -partner -outsource -spin off a different biz scale up You don’t have to build a huge business. Make one that’s the right size for you. Where to find opportunities -marketplace inefficiency -new tech or opportunity -changing space -spin-off or side projects Decision-making matrix Impact Effort Profit Vision Idea Idea Market before manufacturing Test your idea Failsafe: offer refunds FAQ: objection-squasher 25 cents Make your first sale ASAP. Great confidence builder. Other useful parts: 1-page business plan 39-step launch checklist 1-page promotion plan + web resources Like this? Check out my other notes @! – Sacha Chua Twitter: @sachac

Sketchnote workflow

May 10, 2012 - Categories: drawing

I like sketching notes of books and presentations. It forces me to squeeze the information onto one page, and the notes are easy to share and review.

I prefer to draw on a computer because I can use colour, erase what I’ve written, and move items around. I draw on a Lenovo X220 tablet because I like having a full computer as my tablet. My favourite drawing application for this is Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, which has the best pen-based controls I’ve come across so far. When I don’t have my laptop, I draw on paper and scan it in. I’ve been thinking about getting a tablet, but I’m holding off on it until I pass certain thresholds that I’ve set.

After I draw my notes and clean them up a little, I save them to a directory on my hard disk. I save a lower-resolution version to another directory, where it automatically gets imported into Evernote and synchronized with Dropbox. Evernote lets me search my handwriting, and it’s good for looking up individual items. With Dropbox, I can use Foldersync Lite to synchronize my sketchnotes folder to my phone’s SD card, where I can use Gallery to browse my sketches. The sketches are readable on my phone’s screen, and I can zoom in for details.

Windows Live Writer makes it easy to include the image in a blog post. It automatically scales the image to my preferred dimensions, and I can set it to link to a higher-resolution version of the image. After I publish it, I announce it on Twitter as well.

When I come across elements I like in other people’s sketchnotes, I take a small screenshot and I add them to a Microsoft Onenote notebook for sketchnote inspiration. I collect colour combinations, visual metaphors, title treatments, lettering examples, and so on. It’s easy to flip through the notebook and search for specific keywords.

I’m working on getting even better at sketchnotes. For me, this means:

  • using more colours whether I’m drawing on my computer or on paper: I can try banning black from my visual vocabulary for a while
  • drawing more quick icons to illustrate my notes, even if they’re literal
  • drawing more visual metaphors so that I can get beyond the first idea
  • experimenting with more layouts
  • collecting sketchnote elements from other artists and keeping them in a notebook for inspiration

It’s easy to get started with sketchnotes. The key things for me were:

  • Give yourself permission to draw badly. Stick figures? Wonky shapes? Sure!
  • Leave yourself plenty of whitespace so that you can come back and draw. Write on different parts of the page, not just one side.
  • Write less by focusing on the important concepts. Draw more during the “filler” time, or add drawings after you’ve written your notes.
  • Have fun!

Quantified Awesome: Analysis of the winter/spring season for the Cooper’s Farm community-supported agriculture program

May 11, 2012 - Categories: quantified


Click on the image to view a larger version.

I weighed everything we received from Cooper’s Farm for this season’s community-supported agriculture program so that I could compare it with Plan B Organic Farms. The numbers always surprise me when I tally things up at the end. Did we really go through that many potatoes? Wow, we actually got more onions than cabbage. Sure didn’t feel that way.

Getting vegetables bi-weekly instead of weekly definitely helped stave off the “oh no I’m swimming in vegetables” feeling. Some food was still wasted, though. Some of the beets got mold before we could do stuff with them (they came moist) and the rutabaga and turnips stumped us. But we managed to plow through most of the vegetables.

We averaged 5.5kg per delivery, which was less than what we received with Plan B Organic Farms (see my fall analysis). That was a fall share, though, so winter/spring is understandably smaller in terms of the harvest. I opted for Cooper’s Farm because I thought the delivery might come in really handy during winter, but this winter was unusually mild, so I didn’t end up with as many “thank goodness I don’t have to trudge out for vegetables in the snow” moments as I thought I might have. That’s okay.

I wish someone else was keeping track of what the corresponding Plan B Organic Farms results were! Oh well. =)

This season, we’re going to skip the CSA and buy our vegetables ourselves. I want to see what that comes out to in terms of cost and whether we still get through as many vegetables without the forced commitment of a vegetable box. We’ll see!

Weekly review: Week ending May 11, 2012

May 12, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: E1: Mon-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [X] Connect: Go to Toronto Reference Library small business meetup and post sketchnotes
    • [X] Connect: Follow up on conversations from #torontob2b
    • [X] Build: Draw a visual metaphor or book summary: $100 Startup
    • Earn: R1: Thu/Fri – helped MT with backups
    • Build: Worked on Quantified Awesome – added outfit dropdown, duration to category lists
  • Relationships
    • [X] Watched the Avengers with friends
    • Baked brownies and shared them with neighbours
    • Earned $4 in a yard sale
  • Life
    • [X] Plant vegetables and herbs

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: R1 Mon,Fri
    • [ ] Earn: E1 Tue-Thu
    • [ ] Connect: Have lunch with mentor
    • [ ] Connect: Take sketchnotes of Jeremiah Owyang talk
    • [ ] Build: Migrate old time data for Quantified Awesome
    • [ ] Build: Hire VA for data entry
    • [ ] Build: Review applications for WordPress development
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Host study group
  • Life
    • [ ] Have massage
    • [ ] Get receipts typed in with line-item detail

Time notes

  • Business: 49:18 (E1 30:00, R1 9:37, Quantified Awesome 2:12)
  • Discretionary: 31:20 (gardening 6:52, writing 4:30)
  • Personal: 29:04 (biking 11:02, routines 11:51)
  • Sleep: 52:52 (average 7.6 hours per day)
  • Unpaid work: 4:38 (I need to help out with more chores =) )

Decision review: Razor A5 Lux kick scooter

May 13, 2012 - Categories: family, life

imageTechnically not my decision – W- was the one who decided to get J- a kick scooter so that she can easily go to school or hang out with friends. Since J- stays with her mom during the weekends, the scooter’s fair game for trips to stores or libraries.

The Razor A5 Lux was $69.99 during a Toys R Us sale a few weeks ago. None of the stores we went to had it in stock, so W- got a raincheck. This week, we dropped by Dufferin Mall and bought the kick scooter. The box wouldn’t fit in my bike bags, so we tested the scooter and discarded the box when we were satisfied that we didn’t need to return it. Without the box, the scooter fit neatly into my bike bag.

My bike’s big and hard to lug up the stairs, so I’ve been trying out the A5 for short trips. It cuts the 750m walk from ten minutes to five, although there’s a bit more exercise involved. I don’t have the same carrying capacity that I have on my bicycle, but the scooter is a lot more convenient for short trips. Worth it, I think! We’ll see how it works out over the next couple of weeks.

Pizza pizza pizza pizza

May 14, 2012 - Categories: cooking, kaizen, life

DSC_3056We’re settling into a routine of making pizza from scratch almost every week. It’s relatively quick and easy to make. I use the basic bread dough recipe from Jamie Oliver’s cookbook, "jamie’s kitchen". W- prefers it when we make a double batch of dough with just one batch worth of yeast, and let the dough rise overnight. This results in these really puffy, bread-like pizza crusts.

After the dough rises, it takes me just an hour to prepare four pizzas. I divide the dough into four parts, forming them into rectangles by stretching and rolling them out. I use practically all of the baking sheets in the house. While the pizza crusts rise again, I chop and grate the rest of the ingredients. Assembly is quick and fun, although I still tend to err on the side of loading the pizza up with too much food. Baking takes twenty minutes per batch of two pizzas, and then we have plenty of pizza to eat through the week.

We’re always looking for kid-friendly recipes that we can cook in bulk. Pizza is a great way to use up bits and pieces from the fridge: pepperoni, chicken, peppers, tomatoes, and so on. Other family go-to recipes include pasta and curry. Good to be able to make things ahead!

I moved the calendar to the fridge so that we can use it to plan the meals during the week. Another step towards even smoother everyday routines!

Sketchnotes: Jeremiah Owyang @ Third Tuesday Toronto (#3TYYZ) on the Social Business Hierarchy of Needs

May 14, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes, social


Click on the image for a larger version or contact me for a high-res version (2608x1600px). Feel free to share this under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence.

Lots of great research released under Creative Commons. Yay Jeremiah Owyang and Altimeter!

Quick notes for searching, more later: Social business hierarchy of needs: Foundation –> Safety –> Formation –> Enablement –> Enlightenment

If you like this, you might also like:


Here’s the text from the image to make it easier to search for:

Jeremiah Owyang
Third Tuesday Toronto: May 14, 2012
Sketchnotes: Sacha Chua (@sachac):

untrained employees
advanced companies prepare internally first

~180 accounts for average enterprise
-only 25% active
Social media mostly separate from rest of site/db

Frequency of social media crises
-exposure to poor customer experience
-poor influencer relations
-violation of ethical guidelines rogue employees

Social sanitation
Reinforcing bad behavior
We’re teaching them to yell at their friends.

Constantly getting ahead of themselves.

Advanced companies
Social business hierarchy of needs

5 Englightenment
4 Enablement Empowerment scaling
3 Formation asset inventory Center of Excellence
2 Safety Team workflow Crisis prep
1 Foundation Policy
Education required
social media & communities

Predict what customers are going to do
Integrate into databases, etc.
Build better products
Tap employees

self-serve hubs Chatteratti (EZE help, compensation) Social

strategic internal communications tactic
important for scaling

Decentralized centralized

41% Hub and spoke
sometimes on their behalf

COE empowers business units

Safe & consistent
(Best Buy, Zappos)
I do customer support

Team Aug. 11
1.5 social strategist 3 comm manager soc media manager 1 analyst 1.5 dev

content strategist, emerging role
-editorials, ex. journalists, comm agencies…

-Strategists/Business units
-all employees

-Everyone has access & must be trained

Listening centre
some involving business unit centres

FireBell simulation of social media crisis

Most crises: Friday afternoon

-Analysis? CRM, Omniture (Adobe), SAS, Eloqua… A number of different directions. System integrators.
-Adobe Social. Very bullish, if they can act like a small company. Paid, earned, owned media
Also watch Lithium Technologies & bazaarvoice (300% ROI for ratings). New ad units, IBM social metrics.
-Soc media correlations? Social loyalty (people are loyal to each other), gamifications.
C-suite: Novelty, fear, potential for new business models.
any data company stands to gain early in the space, lots of experimentations
-Social software: Combrian explosion. Lots of duplicate companies, VCs investing in clones
Best-in-class will probably connect with each other.
-Startup? Yes, but you can go through steps faster. Our research focuses on enterprise, but can still help.
-Soc media agencies? Ads right now. May need to restructure. Everything starts with earned.
-Disclosure? Vendors unlikely. Agencies making tech-agnostic methodologies.
-Facebook fans? Loose affinity. Facebook wants people to pay.
-Product is info? Utility, etc. Go up a level: Lifestyle, workstyle. G8, IBM.
Get clients to tell stories. See banks for examples. Orsten in.


Org-mode and habits

May 15, 2012 - Categories: emacs, org

Org Mode is a personal information manager for the Emacs text editor. People have contributed a ton of useful features to it over the years, and the development shows no sign of slowing down. One of the features I’ve been playing around with is the ability to track habits.

Org habits are recurring tasks. For example, everyday, I want to:

  • take my vitamins
  • capture a quick note about the day, and
  • plan the next day

Every week, I want to:

  • talk to my mom
  • check the org-mode mailing list
  • write a weekly review and plan the next week
  • clear and reorganize my belt bag
  • clear my inbox
  • write a bunch of blog posts
  • back up my computer

Once a month, I want to:

  • update the topical index for my blog
  • review and uninstall programs
  • balance my books and update my budget
  • review the past month and plan the next
  • check the library for new books

Org habits let me manage my task list without cluttering future days with tasks. The Org agenda view displays habits that are due today, indicating consistency with colour. In particular, it shows overdue days in red, so you can get the Seinfeld-esque pleasure/commitment-device of not breaking the chain.

Here’s a view from Sunday:

2 days-agenda (W19-W20):
Sunday     13 May 2012
               8:00...... ----------------
              10:00...... ----------------
              12:00...... ----------------
              14:00...... ----------------
              15:57...... now - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
              16:00...... ----------------
              18:00...... ----------------
  organizer:  22:00...... TODO Capture a one-sentence note                                           !       
  organizer:  22:00...... TODO Plan the next day                                    ** ***** ** *****!       
  organizer:  Scheduled:  TODO Make a list of recipes I want to learn
  organizer:  Scheduled:  TODO Write a bunch of blog posts             :writing:
  organizer:  Scheduled:  TODO Set up WordPress as my backup system
Monday     14 May 2012 W20
  organizer:  Scheduled:  TODO Build Emacs interface so that I can have Org automatically switch my tasks

To use Org habits, customize org-modules and enable the habit module. To set something as a habit, use C-c C-x p (org-set-property) to set the STYLE property to habit. For more information, you should definitely check out the Org manual’s section on habits.

Yay Emacs and the people who contribute to it!

Responsive web, responsive life

May 16, 2012 - Categories: business

A responsive site design is one that can adapt to different screen sizes and different devices. As you resize the browser window, elements move around or even disappear from the page.

I’ve been thinking about what the code for responsive life would look like. I recently accepted another contract, which means I’m pretty much working at close to capacity. Although I really like the breathing room of having a day or two free each week, it also seemed like a good opportunity to make a difference. With the reduction in my discretionary time, what do I give up, and what do I shift around?

Working a little later during the afternoons means that I can’t come home early to cook something nice for dinner. My husband’s been doing most of the cooking lately, but I don’t want him saddled with all the housework. Besides, I enjoy cooking. I can shift that to more of the weekends. By cooking and baking our meals in advance, we get to enjoy making food, and the weeks are a little bit easier. I thought about trying one of those meal delivery services, or even experimenting with a personal chef. I don’t know. I get a lot of intangible benefits from learning how to cook, especially when my husband and I are cooking together.

Some things I simply need to drop or postpone. For example, studying Latin takes me a lot of time. I struggle with the inflections. I don’t think I’ll be able to focus on it well over the next few weeks, so I’ll take it up again when the crunch time is over. I will probably have to repeat some of things I learned, but I think it will be all right.

Sometimes it’s a matter of investing in more tools and social processes. For example, I’m experimenting with dictation as a way to write while doing other things, or while relaxing my wrists. I’m thinking of restarting my experiments in outsourcing, too. It should be easy to find someone who can handle the data entry from the receipts that I’m scanning, or who can help me cross-reference my passport entry stamps with trips in my record so that when I submit my application for Canadian citizenship, all my paperwork is in order. Little things like that, particularly little things that take a lot of time — those would be great candidates for outsourcing.

There are some hobbies that I still want to hang onto. Writing and gardening are both great ways for me to relax. Drawing lets me take notes from books and presentations. I guess that’s a little like the min-width of a web site design. I don’t want my life get any smaller than that. I don’t want to work so much that I don’t have time to spend with family and friends, or my laptop and a good book. After all, this is my adventure. I can choose what I do.

So far things have been wonderful, so I just want to make sure that I monitor the balance as I try out this new arrangement. That way, I can fix things if anything starts to get out of whack.

What if I stretch life the other way? Both of these contracts will eventually wrap up, and I occasionally think about what I want to do next. I’d like to see what it’s like to spend some focused time on building things: writing a book, working on my own code, playing around with ideas. I guess the web design equivalent of this would be is building a site for people who have those humongous monitors. Just have so much more room to play with – that’s a completely different playing field.

Different kinds of work lend us different metaphors for looking at life. It might be interesting to look at life through the lens of design. How can I improve the user experience? How can I adapt to changing conditions? How can I take advantage of emerging technologies and toolkits?

We’ll see. This is going to be fun.

Drawing studies

May 17, 2012 - Categories: drawing


Playing around with different ways to draw simple figures. =)


Investigating the effects of drawing lines from different directions. I’m right-handed.

Taking stock of the way I take notes

May 18, 2012 - Categories: organization, writing

One of my friends was surprised that I use both Evernote and Microsoft OneNote. Many people are fervently in love with one or the other, as they’re both excellent notetaking tools. I like them both, and I also add Emacs OrgMode to the mix. I figured it would be a good idea to write about how I manage my notes so that I can think about ways to make it even better. Besides, other people might find it useful, or they might share a few good tips!

I take most of my text notes using the Emacs text editor. In particular, I use Org Mode because org-capture totally rocks. It’s easy for me to quickly take a timestamped note. I share most of my notes on my blog, but some stay in my private notes – post drafts, sensitive information, random tidbits. I save sensitive information to an encrypted location as needed. Every week, I review my inbox of notes, filing them under the appropriate headings in a large outline file.

Org is great for text. It can handle attachments too, but I want a more graphical way to manage the visual notes and reference pictures that I take. Evernote’s handwriting recognition gives me a way to search for words in my sketchnotes, which is awesome for digging up sketchnotes or book notes (and for wowing people; yes, the future is here). OneNote is better at capturing screenshots and snippets, though, so I use it to collect elements from sketches and pictures that I like. I also use OneNote for Latin studies because it feels the most like a paper notebook.

I share as much as possible on my blog so that I can have more ways to get to what I know. Google searches occasionally lead me back to blog posts I’ve completely forgotten about, which is pretty nifty. Besides, people often comment and share even more information, and that’s awesome.

I’m still trying to figure out better ways to get to what I’ve stored in all these places. I’ve been going back and adding more posts to this topical index. I’m thinking of reviewing the 6,000+ posts in my archive and rating them on a scale of 1-5 so that I can filter them for the highlights view of my blog. So much in the past, and that’s just ten years of writing – imagine what the archive will be like when I’ve been writing and drawing for decades. =)

I picked up this quote recently. It’s from Carl Sagan:

“Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”

  • Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Writing, drawing, and photography are all miniature time machines. They’re amazing and fantastic, but you’ve got to have a way back into them in order to make the most of them.

How do you manage your notes?

Weekly review: Week ending May 18, 2012

May 19, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Busy week! Learned a lot from Jeremiah Owyang’s talk. Helped two clients. Yay!

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: E1 Tue-Thu – training, prototyping communities
    • [X] Earn: R1 Mon, Tue, Thu – not needed on Fri – backup instructions, technical interview
    • [X] Connect: Have lunch with mentor
    • [X] Connect: Take sketchnotes of Jeremiah Owyang talk
    • [-] Build: Migrate old time data for Quantified Awesome
    • [X] Build: Hire VA for data entry
    • [X] Build: Review applications for WordPress development
    • Build: Practised drawing figures
    • Build: Quantified Awesome: Added library requests
    • Build: Quantified Awesome: Improved clothes-tracking interface for multiple outfits
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host study group
    • Baked four pizzas
    • Gardened
    • Helped write a bio for my dad’s upcoming TEDxKatipunan talk
    • Planned the week of meals
    • Inquired about rates for cooking ($30/hour) and chores/errands ($25-35)
  • Life
    • [X] Have massage
    • [X] Get receipts typed in with line-item detail

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: E1 Tue-Thu – training, getting ready for conference
    • [ ] Earn: R1 Submit timesheet
    • [ ] Connect: Sat: Help out with Ladies Learning Code workshop
    • [ ] Connect: Tue: Drop by Hack Lab open house
    • [ ] Connect: Thu: Take notes at WordPress meetup (custom post types)
    • [X] Build: Upload sketchnotes to Google+
    • [ ] Build: Delegate more tasks
    • [ ] Build: Update my business accounts
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Plant front garden
    • [ ] Clear inbox
    • [ ] Practise making pepperoni pizzas until I can make awesome ones
  • Life
    • [ ] Start a “Stuff I Use” blog series

Time notes

  • Business: 55:11 (E1 23:11, R1 11:56, Quantified Awesome 1:51, drawing 6:37, connect 5:57)
  • Discretionary: 20:25 (gardening 2:07, writing 5:06, social 12:05)
  • Personal: 29:04 (biking 11:02, routines 11:51)
  • Sleep: 57:29 (average 8.2 hours per day)
  • Unpaid work: 5:46 (more cooking this week)

Planning my life

May 20, 2012 - Categories: life, planning

I often think about what I want in life. What do I want to learn? What do I want to be able to share? What do I want to try? What do I want to do?

I think about life a lot because:

  • I want to make better decisions: Planning my life allows me to deliberately try things instead of being limited to chance or what other people want
  • Looking back makes it easier to go forward: Reviewing my life helps me decide what I want to continue doing, what I want to stop doing, and what I want to start doing
  • Planning ahead helps: You can’t plan for everything, but a little foresight can make things a lot easier

Gaps are great for thinking about these things: biking to work, waiting in line, getting ready for bed, relaxing during a long weekend. I review my key priorities and brainstorm ideas for the next steps. I make lists in my notebook, tap ideas into my phone, type thoughts into my laptop, or think out loud (good for bike rides!).

Most of my notes are in scattered places, and that’s okay. I don’t need a perfect record of everything. I don’t need a well-organized outline. I don’t mind covering the same ground again. Every time I make a list, I learn from what I add, change, forget, or remove.

I revisit my plans regularly. Every week, I review the things I’ve accomplished, plan what I want to do the next week, and check how I feel about how I’m doing. Once in a while, I flip through my old mindmaps and notes, crossing out things I’m no longer interested in and adding new ideas.

Every so often, I sit down and flesh out the plans further, sharing them on my blog or adding them to my private notes. I think about what I want to learn, and I plan my curriculum for getting there. I think about the experiments I want to try, and I take the first step. I think about what I want, and I dig deeper to find out if I really want it or it’s something I think that I want. These plans change, and that’s good. The changes tell me more about myself.

I don’t have a firm plan for my life. I don’t have goals like “I want to be ____ by ____” or “I want to _____ by ______.” Many people have these bucket lists – things they want to do before they die. It’s easy to get carried away by these goals, though. Many people plan themselves into unhappiness by saying, “I’ll be happy when I…”. I try to not give in to the temptation to think that happiness is something external, something caused by events or reached when you get to a threshold.

I like to think that I plan out of curiosity. I’m curious about certain things, and I can make certain decisions that get me closer to understanding. For example, I’m curious about entrepreneurship and parenting. With a little planning, we can give ourselves as good a foundation as any. I can’t dictate the cards that are dealt, but I can stack the deck.

How would I like to get better at planning my life?

I’d love to learn more from other people’s lives. I read voraciously to learn about other people’s patterns, and I also ask people about their lives and their decisions. The more I learn about the different paths people have taken, the more I can explore and prepare for possible futures, and the more ideas I can pick up and play with.

I’m working on getting better at documenting and reviewing my decisions. I read a lot about decision science and decision management. I like the way that the practice of thinking through my decisions helps me understand future ones. I’m looking forward to writing about more decisions.

I’m looking forward to testing more of these plans. Many things take time. The wait is fun because I can periodically tweak my plans to try new ideas, understand things better, and get closer to what I want. Besides, there’s always the chance I’ll be surprised, and that helps me learn to think on my feet. (Many of these surprises are awesome!) Life is good.

Thanks to Soha for the nudge to write about this!

Getting Started with Quantified Self

May 21, 2012 - Categories: quantified

How can you get started with Quantified Self? Don’t worry, you don’t have to build your own system or use fancy tools. You can start with pen and paper, and use a simple spreadsheet to analyze your data.

Even if you don’t start with a clear question, sometimes tracking data helps you see patterns. When you collect data, then you can change something in your life and see if it has any effect.

Here are some ideas:

  • Track the time you go to bed, the time you woke up, and whether you felt tired after waking up.
  • Track how many glasses of water you drink a day.
  • Track how many steps you take each day. A pedometer makes this easier.
  • Track the groceries you buy in one month. How much do you spend on different categories?
  • Track the clothes you wear. Do you have a handful of favourites? Are there clothes you never use?

Give it a try and see what you discover!

Added new gallery views so that you can review sketchnotes easily

May 21, 2012 - Categories: wordpress

One of the reasons why I like sketchnotes is that they’re easy to flip through and review. I’ve uploaded many of my sketchnotes to Google+, and you can click on an image there to start flipping through it.

I’ve also added a gallery view here on is a quick slideshow of sketchnotes, and you can click on the selectors near the top to jump to a sketch or stay on one. What do you think? Are the transitions too fast or too slow?

Visual metaphors: Success

May 22, 2012 - Categories: visual


This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. I’m drawing these to help expand my visual vocabulary for drawing sketchnotes. It’s a good way to exercise. Any suggestions?

Decision review: Logitech H800 wireless headset

May 23, 2012 - Categories: decision, sketches

imageThis is my Logitech H800 wireless headset. I bought it so that I could try dictating to my computer using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5. The wireless headset that came in the NaturallySpeaking box never quite fit on my ear. It was always falling off. The Logitech H800 fits me well, and the voice recognition software has no problems with it.

The headset turned out to be pretty handy for other things as well. Bluetooth support meant that I could pair the headset with my phone. I started listening to classical music when working on my computer. I listened to podcasts while I tidied up the kitchen, watered the garden, or went for a long walk.

The headset charges using a micro-USB cable, and can be charged while in use. This is great, because I always forgot to charge my previous headset in time for me to use it. We use micro-USBs for so many other devices, so we always have cables handy. The downside? Between listening to music over Bluetooth and using my phone’s GPS to track exercise, I need to remember to charge my phone at every opportunity I get.

The Logitech H800 headset comes with a mini receiver that’s small enough to stay plugged into a laptop all the time. Unfortunately, it’s not a Logitech unifying receiver. Now I have two of those slim-profile Logitech receivers plugged into my laptop (mouse and headset). That leaves one USB port for flash drives, charging, and other things I want to plug in. I haven’t gotten into the habit of carrying around a powered USB hub, but I’m close to it!

Decision: Better than I expected, although FutureShop sold the headset for quite a bit more than the Amazon US price. I picked it up at FutureShop because I wanted to test the fit before getting it, and it worked out fine.

Starting up my delegation experiments again: data entry from receipts

May 24, 2012 - Categories: delegation

We decided to skip the community-based and culture program this season, and instead buy the vegetables ourselves. I wanted to track how much we buy of different kinds of vegetables to see if we were still getting through a good quantity without the forced commitment of a box delive red bi-weekly. Tracking this means tabulating data from grocery receipts, though, and that can be a lot of typing.

Two weeks ago, I posted a job on oDesk, where I’ve hired virtual assistants before. I like oDesk because you can find a lot of potential contractors there and you can monitor people’s work. This was my job post:

Typing text from images (scanned receipts, etc.), occasional web research

Looking for someone who can type in text from scanned receipts and other images into a spreadsheet. Should be proficient in Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice/LibreOffice. Should have a Dropbox account and be comfortable using it. To show your attention to detail and give me a basis for comparison, please start your reply with your approximate WPM. Around 1-2 hours a week, no urgent requests so you can fit this around your other contracts.

By afternoon, 150+ people had applied. I narrowed it down to a shortlist of fifteen applicants based on whether they followed my application instructions, avoided gendered assumptions (so many people start their applications with “Dear Sir”; yes, I have an ambiguous nickname, but still!), and had competitive rates and typing speeds. I interviewed a few by e-mail, then hired a couple of assistants for a short trial.

The task I assigned to the first person was that of typing in line items from the grocery receipts that I scanned. I shared the folder of scanned receipts using Dropbox, and I created a sample spreadsheet with a few items. He asked a question to clarify what to do, and I answered it before going to bed. By the time I woke up, he had completed the spreadsheet and moved the receipts to the “done” folder. Total time for eleven receipts: 0:50, or roughly $0.70 of work. By golly. (I gave him a $2 bonus for good work and to start the relationship off well.) I added another eleven receipts, and he completed those in 0:50 too.

Here’s the spreadsheet. See the INSTRUCTIONS tab for details. I filled in the Lookup table afterwards so that I could easily categorize the results.

There are some web and smartphone apps that digitize receipts, like Shoeboxed or Lemon. The premium plan of Lemon can extract the item-level details, but the FAQ / help forum says that item-level export is still in the works. I haven’t found anything that has great item-level export. Having someone fill in a spreadsheet handles all the edge cases, like crumpled receipts or handwritten notes.

I’ll share more delegation experiences as I experiment!

A perspective on outsourcing

May 25, 2012 - Categories: delegation

Mel suggested that I write about delegation and outsourcing to virtual assistants because I approach it in a different way. I’ve read many of the same blog posts and books that she must have read, mostly written by entrepreneurs trying to squeeze as much value out of their time as possible and who want to eliminate pesky necessities like housekeeping or cooking.

I happen to like cooking. I get intrinsic value from many of the activities that people typically outsource: cooking, gardening, writing blog posts, responding to e-mail, developing websites… I also don’t mind living a small-scale life, a life where there’s room to breathe. I don’t have to do it all or have it all.

What are my reasons for delegating, then?

I want to learn how to give instructions and let go of tasks, because the feeling that I need to do everything myself will be a bottleneck if I allow it to be.

I want to get things done better than I can do them myself, taking advantage of skills that take people years to develop and experiences that I will never have.

I want to work around the limits of my attention. Sometimes I shelve projects or procrastinate tasks. Paying someone to do things not only gets those things done, it also strengthens my own commitment to move things forward.

Part of this motivation to learn how to outsource things comes from more deliberate choices about what I want to focus on and more awareness of what tends to fall to the bottom of my to-do list. In my sketchbook, there’s a page divided in two: things to say yes to and things to say no to. For example, I accept that I’m not going to invest the time into drawing realistic figures or painting work as beautiful as the ones I see hanging in the art galleries (“no” pile), and I’m going to focus instead on simple, quick drawings that capture ideas (“yes” pile).

Deciding not to try to do it all – picking some things I’m going to focus on, at least for the next year – makes it easier to choose tasks to outsource. If I want something done but I’ve chosen not to budget the time to learn how to do it well, then the real question is whether I want it strongly enough to pay someone to do it this year or whether it’s something I can postpone until I reevaluate my learning priorities. Here are the reasons why I might delegate something:

  • Time premium: Is there value to having it done earlier than I can make the time to do it or learn the skills I need in order to do it?
  • Skills: Can other people do it much better than I can?
  • Relative advantage: Can other people complete it in less time or for less cost than I might?
  • Energy: Is this something that energizes other people much more than it energizes me?
  • Interruption / task switching: Can delegating this free up my attention so that I can focus on larger chunks?
  • Opportunity cost: Would I be able to earn more or enjoy a different activity much more if I spent time doing that instead of this?
  • Documentation and repetition: Is this a repeatable process? Is it worth investing the time in documenting the process and debugging the instructions?
  • Learning: What can I learn from delegating this?

Here’s a short list of activities I’ve been thinking of delegating:

  • Reminders
  • Appointments
  • Data entry
    • Typing in text from scans (receipts, evaluations, business cards, etc.) or sketchnotes
    • Contact information
    • Comparison-shopping
    • Transforming text
  • Web research
  • Text formatting
  • Transcription
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Illustration
  • Graphic design
  • Web development
    • Web design
    • Turning sketches into mockups or HTML/CSS templates
    • HTML5/Javascript development
    • Rails development
  • Setting up get-togethers with friends

I’m also interested in local assistance for:

  • Occasional batch cooking, so we can try different recipes and enjoy more variety
  • Cleaning
  • Other chores and errands

I’ll gradually work up to delegating different activities. Gotta work on my comfort level and ability to give instructions, after all! =)

Weekly review: Week ending May 25, 2012

May 26, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Busy, busy week, even though Monday was a holiday. I helped out at Ladies Learning Code on Saturday, discovering along the way that being in the middle of a busy crowd of 120 people will wipe me out for the rest of the day and leave me slightly frazzled for the next three days. It’s a good event and I’m glad something like that exists, but I’ll probably find more introvert-friendly ways to help people learn. =) Work-wise, I clocked around 38 hours of billable, fairly intensive work doing training and coding. So yeah, I think I’ll slow the pace a little next week.

It’s been a good week for reviewing the past, too. I’ve been going through a spreadsheet of my old posts, rating the posts on a scale of 1 to 5 so that I can pick out the memories that were the most significant for me. It would be interesting to see that on some kind of timeline, with maybe some ways to filter. We’ll see! I’ve also scanned in three of my old paper notebooks, and it’s fun flipping through my notes and lists. I’ve been thinking about getting the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime TF700T for a light-weight way to review and create sketches, blog, and read. The iPad may have a better app ecosystem, but I still like the way Android apps build on each other. The TF700T’s supposed to come out in June, so I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve been biking to work almost every day, and I like it. So far, the weather’s been mostly cooperative, although I’ve been caught out in the rain once. I enjoy seeing the landscape change as we move into summer – there are so many different kinds of green! Life is good.

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: E1 Tue-Thu – training, getting ready for conference, mobile images
    • [X] Earn: R1 Submit timesheet
    • [X] Connect: Sat: Help out with Ladies Learning Code workshop
    • [-] Connect: Tue: Drop by Hack Lab open house – social quota exceeded with LLC workshop
    • [-] Connect: Thu: Take notes at WordPress meetup (custom post types) – introvert mode
    • [X] Build: Upload sketchnotes to Google+
    • [X] Build: Delegate more tasks – more receipts
    • [-] Build: Update my business accounts
    • Earn: R1: Helped with i18n, interviewing, deployment; learned about Sencha Touch
    • Connect: Added the ability to disable e-mail for O1
  • Relationships
    • [-] Plant front garden
    • [X] Clear inbox
    • [X] Practise making pepperoni pizzas until I can make awesome ones
  • Life
    • [-] Start a “Stuff I Use” blog series
    • Scanned three of my paper notebooks
    • Started reviewing my blog posts

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: E1: Mon-Thu: More training, get ready for conference
    • [ ] Earn: R1: I18n, invoice
    • [ ] Connect: Practise pinging people
    • [ ] Build: Set up my local development environment for Quantified Awesome
    • [ ] Build: Coach my mom on delegating to virtual assistants
    • [X] Build: Learn more about Dragon NaturallySpeaking
    • [ ] Build: Write about first-quarter experience
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Help with study group
    • [ ] Clear my inbox
    • [ ] Plant front garden
    • [X] Install irrigation system
  • Life
    • [ ] Balance books and update accounts
    • [ ] Review past notebooks
    • [ ] Finish rating my past blog posts
    • [ ] Relax

Time notes

  • Business: 54:19 (E1 23:25, R1 15:28, drawing 0:26, connect 9:46)
  • Discretionary: 18:25 (gardening 1:05, writing 2:18, social 12:05)
  • Personal: 28:31 (biking 8:39, routines 16:25)
  • Sleep: 51:55 (average 7.4 hours per day)
  • Unpaid work: 11:27 (lots of tidying up)

Making polvoron

May 27, 2012 - Categories: cooking, philippines


Yesterday, I tried making polvoron for the first time. =) J- and her friends had devoured most of the stash that my mom sent us. I followed a simple recipe, but once we get through the… umm… 139 pieces (although we lost quite a few to breakage, see above), I’ll try other recipes with more cooling time. I’ll also try dividing the recipe by four, as that recipe resulted in a lot of polvoron. Mmm!

W- and I cook a lot. There’s enough room in the kitchen for both of us to work, and it’s fun making and enjoying good food. I’m really lucky that he enjoys cooking as well, and that he’s up for eating my experiments!

Quantified Awesome: Blogging, WPM, and the speed of reflection

May 28, 2012 - Categories: kaizen, quantified, reflection, writing

The combination that I use to write most of my blog posts (Emacs, Org Mode, and org2blog) automatically keeps track of the time that it takes me to write a post, making it easy to calculate my actual words per minute rate. I created a table with data from 32 of my previous posts, discarding posts that didn’t have any time data.

It turns out that my median is actually around 16 wpm when writing blog posts, far lower than the 110wpm that I clock during typing tests and the 180wpm that I speak at when excited. This accounts for thinking, writing, research, and editing. For example, this post has 388 words and was written in 23 minutes – a rate of around 16wpm (hah!), including a little bit of research but excluding the tabulation of data (which I did before starting the blog post).

I talk slower in my head when I’m writing than when I speak, testing the words out and trying to figure out where I’m going to go. There are a number of ways I can write faster. I can experiment with outlining more of my posts, like the way a list of blog ideas helps me sit down and write a lot without idling between thoughts. I can try out dictation using Dragon NaturallySpeaking and my new headset, to see whether the shift from from writing to speaking also changes my baseline speed.

And then there’s accepting that I write a lot already, and decently quickly too, so I could focus on other improvements. Organizing or illustrating my notes, for example, or revising old posts.

This is good, though. I want to write and explore and share as much as I can. I think the bottleneck isn’t:

  • having enough writing time
  • being able to type fast enough
  • knowing the tools well enough
  • being able to express myself through words

The bottleneck is probably more about my own speed of understanding and learning. That’s an entirely different area of hacking – and it looks like there are ways to tweak that, too. The visualization and peg techniques from memory books will help me absorb and retain more. Experience will help me get better at making sense of what’s going on. I wonder how I can come up with comparable numbers.

Where I am in terms of Emacs

May 29, 2012 - Categories: emacs

Now that I have more control over the tools I use, I use Emacs for more of my planning. I’m back to using Org Mode to manage my task list (hooray!), and it has grown by leaps and bounds. I’m looking forward to getting even deeper into it.

Here’s where I am in terms of Emacs

I’m still on Microsoft Windows 7 because I like some of the drawing programs that I can’t get to run on Linux, so my Emacs experience is less than ideal but still okay. It’s one of the first applications I start after a reboot, and I keep Emacs open almost all the time. I’ve pinned Emacs to my task bar (right-click on the icon and pin it) and moved it to the first slot, so Win+1 gets me back to Emacs.

When I’m at my client site, I use the laptop they provided to do work, and I use a wiki page to manage and publish my task list. I use Emacs during the early morning, the evening, weekends, and personal days.

I use org-capture to quickly capture tasks and notes. Here are some of the templates I use:

(setq org-capture-templates
      '(("t" "Tasks" entry
         (file+headline "~/personal/" "Tasks")
         "* TODO %?
        ("q" "Quick task" entry
         (file+headline "~/personal/" "Tasks")
         "* TODO %^{Task}
         :immediate-finish t)
        ;; other entries go here
        ("r" "Notes" entry
         (file+datetree "~/personal/" "Inbox")
         "* %?\n\n%i\n"
         :clock-in :clock-resume)))

The Org agenda helps me check what I need to do. I have it set up to display the time grid so that I get a relative sense of where things are. I use a 2-day view so that tomorrow is in my peripheral vision.

Here are some things I want to explore:

  • Improve the integration of Org and my self-tracking system at
  • Use Org for blog posts with images (I don’t quite trust it yet, although I’ve used it before)
  • Take notes in Org Contacts instead of stuffing notes into BBDB
  • Read the Org Mode mailing list and Planet Emacsen more often to get inspiration, maybe contribute patches
  • Get MobileOrg working for me smoothly on my Android – need to get the hang of the workflow
  • Use Org’s literate programming support to annotate my Emacs configuration

Scanning my notebooks

May 30, 2012 - Categories: notetaking

You’ll often find me taking notes in a small paper notebook that I tuck into my beltbag for easy access. I like taking notes on paper more than I like taking notes on my smartphone because:

  • I don’t have to look down when taking notes.
  • I don’t have to worry about battery life. My phone runs out of battery frequently enough even without using it for notes or web browsing, because I use Bluetooth and GPS frequently.
  • I can add little sketches here and there.

My notebook habit started in 2006, when I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto. My mom reminded me that living like a student didn’t have to mean denying myself all sorts of things, so I splurged on my very first Moleskine and started writing in it.


I’ve filled a few of these notebooks over time. I don’t write in them consistently. Sometimes there are gaps of weeks or months when I take notes on my smartphone or my laptop instead.

Many of the pages are lists: things I’d like to do in Toronto, reasons for starting a business, ideas to try. Many of the pages are notes from conversations. Few of the pages are straight-up journal entries like the one above, as I prefer to type in my reflections so that they’re saved in Org Mode.


Scanning the notebooks

We have a Samsung SCX-4828fn printer/scanner/copier/fax. The scanner supports both sheet-fed and flat-bed scanning. For batch scanning on Microsoft Windows, I used Picasa’s import function. (XSane on Linux is more configurable, though.) I set up my foot switch to click on a button in the scanner program so that I could scan the next page without touching the mouse. I put the notebook on the flat-bed scanner, hit the footswitch, waited for the scanning head to finish the page, and then flipped to the next page while the scanning head returned to the ready position.

Well, technically, there was also the set-up step of hooking up a second monitor and picking things that would run on that second monitor so that I could watch screencasts while scanning. =)

You can do the same setup without a foot pedal (keep your mouse within easy reach) or a second monitor, but those things made it a lot more fun for me.

Reviewing the notebooks

Picasa makes it easy to flip through images, and I’ve been using that to “star” pages and add tags. I’ve also imported quite a few of my notes into Evernote in order to take advantage of the handwriting recognition.

I saved the images in my Dropbox folder and uploaded them as private albums to Google Photos, so I can refer to them on my Android phone too. That’s pretty nifty. I may spring for the Evernote premium subscription so that I can sync and search the handwriting in my notebooks when I’m offline, too. (Still cheaper than a data plan.)

Updating my notes

Haven’t done this yet, but updating my scanned notebook pages with additional notes should be easy to do with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro or something like that. Hooray for tablet PCs! I might use git or something similar for version control, but it’s not important.

Partial notebooks

Partially-used notebooks are harder to scan because I have to remember to come back and scan the last section, and I can’t seem to change the import filenames in Picasa (one of the reasons why XSane is awesomer). Anyway, I’m going to focus on filling the pages of the partial notebooks, then I can scan them in one go. I tend to update previous pages in my current notebook (lists, recent conversations, etc), so I’d prefer to scan them only when the notebook is finished. I see scanning as a way to carry digital copies of my past notebooks with me, so that works out nicely.

Lessons learned

  • Cursive script is hard to quickly read. Winking smile I think I’ll stick to printing letters.
  • Conversation notes are ephemeral.
  • Lists are useful for a long time.

Thanks to Markus Zmija for the nudge to write about this!

Thinking about the next mini-experiment

May 31, 2012 - Categories: life, planning

The consulting engagement I’m working on is great. It takes advantage of a hard-to-find combination of different skills and experiences, and I’m having lots of fun. I’m glad I can help make a difference.

What do I want to do when it wraps up in around three months? I’m leaning towards experimenting with concentrating on some projects, which means not committing to any large, regular chunks of outside work. The Quantified Self conference in September will give me lots of reasons to work on Quantified Awesome. I’ll probably harvest enough ideas from it to be busy for quite a while afterwards.

I keep thinking about writing a book, too. If I clear the space for it, dedicate the time to it, then I’ll have some clear answers. Either I’ll emerge with a book (the first book is often the hardest, they say; after that, you know you can write), or I’ll know that I’m not yet in the right space for writing a book, and maybe I’ll have an idea of what I need to work on before I am.

I haven’t had such a large chunk of time to myself in a while, structured and directed mostly by me. The closest I can think of was the time after I returned from my technical internship in Japan and before I left for my master’s degree in Canada. Fortunately, I blogged back then too, so I can try to remember what I did and what it felt like.

March 2005: Spoke at a conference, worked on open source, practised poi April: Worked on open source, spent lots of time with family May: Worked on open source, wrote flash fiction, wrote about hipster PDAs (index cards) June: Took driving lessons, worked on open source, wrote flash fiction, moved to Canada

Right! Open source, that was what I was focusing on – that, and spending time with family, and exploring productivity tips. I’ve been working on far less open source than I thought I would be, but that’s because I’ve been focusing on non-programming things like writing and drawing. It was fun working on open source. I was maintaining Planner Mode (another organizer for Emacs) at the time, and I had a lot of fun working with the community. Time to re-subscribe to mailing lists and see if I can stay sharp by helping out.

That should be a good balance, eh? Writing and drawing to exercise creativity and share what I know, Quantified Awesome and open source software so that I can make better tools. Should be fun. For the business side of things, I might explore e-books and icon design as a way to use the writing and drawing skills I’ll be developing. Quantified Awesome and open source software might be more of a stretch for business, but let’s see where that takes me.

By that point, I’ll have been consulting for six months. I’ll probably give this self-directed learning and working a try for six months as well, and we’ll see how other factors influence our scheduling.

Looking forward to it!