December 2012

Networking with notes – and sketchnotes, in particular

December 1, 2012 - Categories: connecting

Incredibly powerful technique. I don’t know why more people don’t use it. So I’m going to give this “secret” away, even if it means that I might have to come up with different ideas once Toronto folks catch on and start mobbing speakers for autographs. It’ll be a good problem to have, because I’ll learn from more talks.

Most people are lazy when it comes to taking notes. That’s because we think we understand things when we listen to them. Everything makes sense. We’re sure we’re going to remember everything, or at least the important parts. Besides, if we take notes, then we’re looking away from the speaker, and we might miss something on the slides, and what’s the point of coming to a presentation instead of listening to the podcast or reading an article if we can’t watch the speaker’s eyebrows go up and down? It’s hard to listen and take notes at the same time, and it reminds us too much of school. (I totally hear you. I hardly took notes in university. I wish I did. I wouldn’t have fallen asleep in lectures if I were taking proper notes, and I would’ve made better use of that time.)

Taking notes gives you an instant follow-up excuse. I am such a lazy networker. Small talk and regular networking is hard. You’ve got to come up with a way to do enough of a “deep bump” (as Keith Ferrazzi puts it in Never Eat Alone) that you’re memorable and you’ve found something valuable for your follow-up. Notes? Notes are awesome. They work for practically everyone. Talking to someone who didn’t take notes? Offer to send them yours. Talking to someone who took notes? Offer to swap notes. That gets your e-mail conversation going, and you can take things from there.

Sketchnotes are even more awesome. Simple notes with stick figures, colour, whatever else. Nothing fancy. But  they resonate with people, they’re easy to review, and they’re fun to share.

Here’s how you can really take advantage of sketchnotes in a way that you can’t do with text notes or live-tweeting:

Walk up to the speaker after the talk and ask for their autograph. You’re there. The speaker’s there. You might as well. While waiting for your turn, you might get to eavesdrop on interesting conversations. And when that turn comes and you bring out your sketchnotes and ask for their autograph, you’ll most likely get this reaction:

“Wow! That’s so cool! Send me that!”

… cue the speaker’s business card, and often a deluge of business cards from other people around you. Send them all a link to your notes once you’ve posted them. Voila! You’re memorable, you’ve created something of value, you’re on people’s radars, and you can ask them questions in that e-mail in order to continue the conversation – maybe even set up a phone call or coffee get-together.

Most people have never been asked for their autographs, and are delighted to oblige once they see you’re not asking them to sign a contract or a blank cheque. It’s a little weird to autograph someone’s text notes. Visual notes, though, especially with a little sketch of them? Excellent excuse to make contact. It doesn’t matter if you have a signed sketchnote or not (this isn’t like a signed first edition or anything), but it gets you that human contact with the speaker and with other people who’ve stuck around for questions.

(Lenovo tablet PC tips: you can disable the buttons on your stylus. I just figured out how to do this, and it will save me so much explaining to speakers.)

Sketchnotes: Angel Hack Toronto pitches!

December 2, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes

Sketchnotes from today’s pitch afternoon – 62 2-minute pitches from the different teams in Angel Hack Toronto. Lots of great stuff! Feel free to share these visual summaries under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

20121202 AngelHack 1 20121202 AngelHack 2 20121202 AngelHack 3 20121202 AngelHack 4

See the AngelHack Toronto presentation list for links to short descriptions.

Like this? Check out my other sketchnotes for business- and technology-related visual summaries. Want me to draw for you? Get in touch!

Weekly review: Week ending November 30, 2012

December 2, 2012 - Categories: weekly

Lots of sketchnoting last week and this week! =D

From last week’s plans


  • [X] Earn: H: Revise presentation
  • [X] Earn: H: Send invoice
  • [X] Earn: H: Give presentation
  • [X] Earn: E1: Wrap up consulting before December break
  • [X] Build: Attend art class
  • [X] Build: Sketchnote content marketing webinar
  • [X] Build: Learn about launching online businesses
  • [X] Connect: Have lunch with Scott and Nolin, discuss sketchnotes
  • [X] Connect: Attend Awesome Foundation pitch night
  • [X] Connect: Sketchnote Entrepreneurship 101
  • Build: Improved scheduling process
  • Build: Learned more about using Trello to manage my tasks
  • Earn: Added more logos to Lean Startup Day template
  • Build: Flesh out sketchnoting business idea
  • Earn: E1: Signed contract extension and submitted it
  • Connect: Helped mom with copyediting “About Us”
  • Build: Cleaned up web host files
  • Earn: Deposited cheques, yay!
  • Connect: Discussed sketchnotes with Alex Chong
  • Build: Sorted out tax instalments


  • [X] Cook a lot!
  • [X] Spend time together relaxing
  • [X] Put package together for family – to mail on Tuesday


  • [X] Attend women’s self-defense course

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: Sketchnote MaRS Lean Startup Day
  • [ ] Earn: E1: Check in on theme, prepare performance improvements (Tue)
  • [ ] Earn: Talk to N regarding sketchnotes (Wed)
  • [X] Connect: Sketchnote AngelHackTO
  • [ ] Connect: Attend Dan Roam’s lecture at Rotman (Tue)
  • [ ] Connect: Attend Toronto Holiday Tech Social (Tue)
  • [ ] Connect: Reconnect with Curtis Voisin (Wed)
  • [ ] Connect: Reconnect with Sharon Sehdev about connecting (Fri)
  • [ ] Connect: Talk to Gary Wolf about delegation
  • [ ] Build: Revisit scribing course
  • [ ] Build: Document sketchnote workflow some more
  • [ ] Build: Get ready for business brainstorming sessions


  • [ ] Go to krav fitness class on Thursday
  • [ ] Attend Eric Boyd’s birthday party
  • [X] Cook a ton of food and restock the freezer


  • [ ] Go for a nice long walk (1-2 hours)
  • [ ] Finally sit down and write those monthly reviews

Sketchnotes: Lean Startup Day

December 3, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes

Update: Watch the videos / view the slides!

Sketchnotes from all the talks at Lean Startup Day 2012 (MaRSDD local content in Toronto + livestreamed talks from San Francisco!)

You can view or copy these notes from Dropbox or browse through the gallery below. Feel free to share the images under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence!

What people said:

Interested in Lean Startup? Check out the Lean Startup Conference or my other sketchnotes too. Other notes from around the Web: community notes, Trevor Lohrbeer.

Visual learner? Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes!

Event organizer or conference organizer? I’d love to help you help your attendees remember and share key points. Talk to me about sketchnoting your next event!

Business update: Tax update

December 4, 2012 - Categories: business

I filed my taxes on November 2 by myself, since I wasn’t comfortable with the first accountant I hired. It turned out to be not that scary (aside from, well, making really big electronic payments) – I don’t mind balancing books, making sense of GIFI codes, or searching the Quickbooks/TurboTax websites for information.

A little over two weeks later, I received a Corporation Notice of Assessment that said I owed an additional $146, with no interest due if I paid it before December 31, 2012. (Good news: that means my tax payments made it into the correct account!) The difference was in the Ontario tax calculations. It was easy to send in another tax payment through my bank.

Someone from the Canada Revenue Agency has been trying to reach me in order to ask questions about my HST registration. We’ve been playing phone tag for a few days. I called the CRA to follow up on that and ask a couple of questions. I confirmed that I was eligible for quarterly instalments instead of monthly instalments. The CRA agent also pointed out that I needed to take into account that I just wrapped up a short tax year, so I recalculated all of my instalments and set up bigger payments. I double-checked that they don’t mind me overpaying my instalments for a little peace of mind. (I know, funny question! “Is it okay if I send you more money than I need to?”) Whew!

I’d still like to know an accountant whom I can e-mail quick questions or ask to review my books. In a few years, I’ll probably want to start taking money out of the corporation in order to take advantage of the basic personal exemption for taxes, and it would be great to have an accountant help me get that set up properly. In the meantime, it’s good to know that the CRA isn’t all that scary – no be-suited auditors breaking down our door! <laugh>

Sketchnote reflection: conference intensity

December 4, 2012 - Categories: drawing, kaizen, reflection

Still a little tired from two intense days of sketchnoting: 62 2-minute pitches from Sunday’s AngelHack Toronto, and then a 12-hour sprint involving 33 talks and 11 startup demos for Monday’s Lean Startup Day. Focused listening is tough – squeezing through hundreds of people to find a seat at AngelHackTO, straining to hear pitches despite the back-of-room chatter competing with weak sound; dealing with a quick succession of topics with a livestream that shows only brief glimpses of slides; tweeting with one hand while drawing with the other.

Although I had to shift writing positions a few times, my hands didn’t cramp up once. The breaks were just enough time for me to shake out any tiredness, drink some water, dash to the facilities, munch my way through three energy bars and a sandwich, and answer questions from curious onlookers. After the conference and a short time at Quantified Self Toronto’s pub night, I gratefully slid into the quiet of solitude, and I slept for eleven hours once I got home.

It was intense work, but worth it. Visually summarizing the pitches and talks during the event itself meant that the sketchnotes could be part of the conversation instead of an afterthought, and people appreciated it both here and elsewhere.

Every time I sketch an event, I learn something. Here’s what worked well:

  • I set up custom templates before the event. MaRS wanted partner logos on the template, so I created that PNG beforehand, and I added a light grid from my own drawing templates. This meant that the sketchnotes were consistently branded.
  • I saved my sketchnotes using Autodesk’s automatic numbering feature and a shared Dropbox folder. This came in really handy during the Lean Startup Day conference, as the talks were quick with very few breaks in between. Automatic numbering meant that I didn’t have to spend time changing the filename, while using Dropbox meant that my files were synchronized with my phone and easy to publish on the web.
  • I switched devices instead of switching screens. One of the advantages of using an all-digital workflow is that I can publish my sketchnotes during the event itself. My tablet PC is great for drawing, but switching windows and sharing notes on Twitter is hard when it’s in tablet mode. By saving the files in Dropbox and synchronizing with my phone, I could avoid switching applications – my tablet PC was dedicated for drawing, while the phone was great for posting links to Twitter.
  • Dropbox also made it easy to update files. If I wanted to correct an image, I could simply save a new version. The old links would continue to work seamlessly. This was much better than my previous workflow of using Twitpic or WordPress – replacing old images is so much easier now.
  • I kept the clutter off my blog. When covering single talks, I’ll often publish the sketchnotes directly to my blog. I didn’t want to post twenty separate entries for a conference, though! Using Dropbox+Twitter allowed me to publish sketchnotes immediately without cluttering up my blog. At the end of the event, I created a blog post recap with all the sketchnotes for easy access.
  • I stocked up on supplies. I tucked a few Clif bars and two water bottles into my backpack, and they came in really handy during the conference. Concentration makes me hungry!
  • I added some light shading. Using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 6.0.1’s new Color Puck, I picked a shade that was related to the logo colours. Whenever I had time, I added subtle shading on a different layer. (Ex: panel) It was fun, and I’m looking forward to revisiting past sketchnotes and using that technique.
  • I set aside a day for recovery. Introvert overload – energy management required! =)

Here’s how I’m thinking of making things even better next time:

  • I might be able to automate the Dropbox > Twitter publishing process with WappWolf, if I can figure out how to add some information without needing to type it in using my laptop.
  • Alternatively, I can use an external keyboard (or even dust off my Twiddler!) in order to speed up data entry while I’m in tablet mode.
  • I can see if there’s a way to use Microsoft Powerpoint’s Photo Album feature to insert high-resolution images instead of having them downsampled. Inserting them one by one and changing the “Compress Pictures” setting to use the document resolution seems to work, though. You can see or download the results on Slideshare.
  • I can identify frequently-used nouns and build a visual thesaurus so that I’m not drawing boxes all over the place.

Next on my sketchnoting calendar: today’s talk by Dan Roam on “Blah Blah Blah”, the Wednesday lectures on Entrepreneurship 101, and next week’s book club on “Best Practices are Stupid”. People tell me these sketchnotes are valuable. I’m getting better and better at making them!

Delegation update: Scheduling!

December 5, 2012 - Categories: delegation

I think we’ve got this scheduling process sorted out, and I really really like it. It turns out that I didn’t have to fuss about with lots of templates or worry so much about exceptions.

When I’m reaching out by e-mail, all I have to do is cc: my assistant and add a short paragraph with details. She knows how to handle things. She knows my preferences for in-person and online meetings. She can follow up and make things happen.

So far, amazing. Things appear on my calendar! I can send Criselda a long e-mail with the AngelHack schedule for the weekend, ask her to pull out just the 2:15pm demo and block off 1h before / 2h after for travel, and it appears on my calendar with the venue information and other things I need to know. I feel comfortable asking her to coordinate with multiple people. This is good.

Here are a few things we’ve done to make it nice and smooth:

  • I used Google Calendar to share my calendar with her so that she has full edit access to it without being able to access the rest of my e-mail. Stephan Spencer has his assistants process his e-mail for him – I’ll get to that level of trust someday!
  • I set up an account for her on Google Apps. Because she uses a address, I feel like I need to explain less about who she is, and I worry less about offboarding.
  • I add the person’s name to the subject line: That way, when she’s reviewing her inbox, she can easily distinguish the different conversations.
  • We use Trello to keep track of task status: I want to be able to see whom we’re waiting for a response from and the status of other tasks I’ve assigned her, and Trello makes it easy to do that. I do most of the Trello task updates, but I hope we’ll get the hang of updating the boards together.

Who’s interested in talking about delegation and scheduling? We can look into scheduling a Google Hangout!

Sketchnotes: Visual Problem-solving–Dan Roam (DAN ROAM!)

December 5, 2012 - Categories: drawing, sketchnotes

Dan Roam (Back of the Napkin; Blah, Blah, Blah) was in Toronto yesterday to give a talk on visual problem-solving at the Rotman School of Management. I like to think that I was cool and composed during the post-talk book-signing, but really, the only reason I didn’t get a picture with him was because I was too busy trying to not hyperventilate about the fact that he recognized me from Twitter and said he liked my work. =)

I did ask him to sign this sketchnote, though. 20121204 Visual Problem-solving - Dan Roam

“Whoever best describes the problem is the most likely to fix it.” That reminds me of SPI 046: Building a Lucrative Business with No Ideas, No Expertise & No Money with Dane Maxwell, a Smart Passive Income podcast that dove deeper into defining problems and building businesses around them. Nugget from that one: “If you can define the problem better than your target customer, then they will assume you have the solution.”

Check out my other sketchnotes for one-page summaries of business and technology talks. Look at Rotman’s upcoming events calendar for other cool speakers!

Text from the sketchnote, to simplify searching:

Whoever best describes the problem is the most likely to fix it.

Say more with less: ideas -> pictures (easy to share, easy to act on)


  • Best – Boeing: built in 17 countries; challenge: languages; solution: all communication is visual
  • Worst – Politics: challenges: intentional obfuscation, outcome is so many words
  • 1974 Dr. Arthur Laffer – taxes; If you reduce taxes, you might increase revenue. Napkin sketch.

We can solve our problems with pictures. Simple drawing is okay. 75% of brain = vision. We are highly visual people. But we teach linear, verbal thinking in school!

detail + big picture. We think detail is intelligence. Power on your visual operating system. You can recognize ~100% after delay. You can figure out time from simple images. Our memory uses images and then we translate

The six ways we see:

  • who/what: portrait
  • how much: chart
  • where: map (how things fit, what’s missing)
  • when: timeline; also, motion
  • how: flowchart
  • why: equation (now + change = new)

Maybe it’s enough to draw 6 simple pictures

Drawing – you don’t have to remember anything!

Why visual thinking? Run away from death by Powerpoint.

Tools: Tablet PC (can use mouse as well), PowerPoint – pen tool

Wong-Baker pain scale; maps: spatial relationships; time: we recognize the when through the change in the where in the what.

Sketchnotes: ENT101 Business Plan and Other Communication Tools–Veronika Litinski

December 6, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes

This talk is part of the free MaRS Entrepreneurship 101 series (webcast and in-person session every Wednesday). Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence. Click on the image for a larger version of sketchnotes.

20121205 ENT101 Business Plan and Other Communication Tools - Veronika Litinski

Check out my other ENT101 sketchnotes, or other sketchnotes and visual book notes!


Sketchnotes: The Very Versatile Drip–Mathew Sweezey (Pardot)

December 6, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes

UPDATE: Dec 13, 2012 Want to watch the webinar? Here’s the video recording.

In this marketing webinar hosted by Pardot, Mathew Sweezey shared tips on setting up a drip nurturing program for marketing and sales support. Click on the image to view a larger size, and feel free to share this with attribution!

20121206 Pardot - The Very Versatile Drip - Mathew Sweezey

Pardot has many other webinars and recordings, so check them out if you’re curious about marketing automation.

Like this? Browse through my other sketchnotes, including my visual summary of The 5 Key Elements of a Better B2B Content Marketing Strategy by Nolin LeChasseur. I sketchnote technology/business conferences and presentations – if that sounds interesting, get in touch!


Poach my assistants, they’re awesome

December 7, 2012 - Categories: delegation

Most companies try to be hush-hush about good people. That makes sense. You don’t want to train people and then have them headhunted away from you. Hiring can be expensive and distracting.

I want to see what happens if you turn that upside down. Other people have been asking me about my delegation experiments in scheduling, data entry, and other areas. I’m really happy with the virtual assistants I have. I wanted to them to find as much work as they want doing the kind of work they want. I’m happy to recommend the people that I like to the people that I like.

Will this come back to bite me? Maybe. My assistants’ workloads may get to the point where they don’t have time to work on my tasks because the tasks they do for other people are so much more interesting. My first reaction is to think of this as a bad thing, but when you dig deeper, it’s not actually that scary.

I’m reminded of something that I read in the E-Myth Enterprise:

People-oriented companies depend on "good" people to produce results, where "good" is defined as experienced, successful, self-motivated—in short, people who can be depended upon to produce good results. Someone is always shouting, "Find me someone who knows how to get the job done!" in a people-oriented company.

Process-oriented companies depend on good processes to produce results, where good is defined as the process’s ability to produce the very best results in the hands of inexperienced (or less experienced) people than the competition needs to produce the same results.

(p116, The E-Myth Enterprise: How to Turn A Great Idea Into a Thriving Business – affiliate link)

I don’t want to rely on just working with good people. I want to build up good processes that can harness good people. If I get to the point where I need to hire someone else because my assistants have become integral to someone else’s business or life, that’s not so bad. I’ll get more experience in hiring. Each person gives me another opportunity to improve my processes and learn from somebody new. I actually enjoy the hiring process, although it also makes me feel mixed emotions – such a candy store of talent out there! I don’t mind doing more of it.

It’s not like the churn that happens when you burn people out and discard them. I want to get to the point where working with me is an excellent launch pad, and where I have great onboarding and offboarding processes to make it even easier.

If any of my delegation experiments sound interesting and you think you might want to invest in trying that out too, talk to me. Share what you’re learning and what you hope to learn. If you sound like an okay sort of person – I don’t want to waste my assistants’ time in interviews or have them burned by someone who doesn’t work out – I’ll introduce you to the appropriate assistant, and both of you can see if it’s a good fit. =)

Investing time into building sketchnotes as a business

December 8, 2012 - Categories: business

Something shifted, and I was curious about what it was. I’ve been drawing a whole lot more than I did last year and the year before that. How much more?


(Data extracted from my Evernote notebook using XSLT and Microsoft Excel)

That much more. Over the past 50 sketchnotes in my Evernote notebook, I’ve averaged a sketchnote every 1.2 days. There are 119 sketchnotes there now, all searchable, and it’s fun to trace the developments in my skills and style. (For example, I’ve recently discovered colour!)

I think the inflection point was getting feedback from people that this was really useful for them. When I go to events and mention that I do these sketchnotes, people light up in recognition and tell me the notes are awesome. Some ask me if I cover corporate events and conferences as well, and I’ve been setting up lunches and coffees to discuss the possibilities. On Monday and Wednesday, I have some paid gigs coming up – sketchnoting a conference, then sketchnoting to support business communication.

As part of this 5-year experiment, I think it might be worth seeing what kind of business I can turn sketchnoting into. It’s so different from the consulting and web development that I did at IBM. I can see how it creates value for and delights people, so why not?

So, what do I need to do in order to explore this?

  • Get the hang of talking to potential clients and understanding their needs. I want to deeply understand that spark of curiosity and desire that prompts people to ask me if I can do this for their organization. I want to know the kinds of words that resonate with people, and use that when talking to them and to others.
  • Simplify the experiment so that I can learn about it in chunks. For example, I was uncertain about pricing because I was curious about what this would look like with value pricing, which means I need to get a better handle on the value it creates. I think it will be easier if I simply pick a rate (say, $75/hour) and go with time-and-materials pricing.
  • Open for business! Invest in business development, get engagements, and make stuff happen. Some “trophies to unlock”: get three clients; get a recurring relationship; get a completely remote client.
  • I can keep improving my website so that people can find out about my services online. I’ll start with this page, which I can link to from all the sketchnotes. I’d like to add more of a handwritten feel to my website and start putting together tips specifically for helping people with visual communication and engagement, maybe even splitting off a separate blog for easier navigation.

Other considerations:

This is still a service business like consulting and web development are. While less lucrative, it does offer the following advantages:

  • I can learn more about marketing and sales because the service is more visual and easy to communicate
  • It uses smaller, more flexible chunks (two hours here, four hours there, a day scheduled well in advance) instead of the more solid chunks of focus I need for development
  • It’s less stressful – I don’t have to worry about bugs or systems going down, just typos
  • It lets me experiment with building a radically different business
  • I can use the skills and knowledge gained to build products that are relevant to more people

I’m taking December off from consulting and focusing on building this as a business. By the end of December, I want to have the beginnings of a clear value proposition stated in customer language, testimonials based on paid engagements, and a marketing plan for identifying and going after companies I might want to work with. I also want to have an idea of what wild success might look like, so that I can get a sense of whether the end game appeals to me. We’ll see how it goes!

As another part of this experiment, I’m going to see what happens if I share as much as possible during the adventure. I’ve shared the kinds of services I’m thinking about offering, key competitors (including links!), my motivations, how to test this idea, even my pricing thoughts. The past ten years of blogging have shown me that sharing often leads to amazing conversations and even more things learned, so let’s see what happens if we do that in business, too.

I’m going to be learning a lot – and I can probably learn and share even more with your help. I’d love to talk to people who have hired or contracted with illustrators, social media people, and event promoters to find out what those buying decisions looked like. I want to learn about managing deal flow from freelancers who work on small gigs. What else can I learn from you and share with everyone else? What kind of help should I be asking you for?

Weekly review: Week ending December 7, 2012

December 9, 2012 - Categories: weekly

I sprained my ankle in fitness class, but I’m almost back to normal. It’s been quite an eventful week! I’m getting closer to the uncertain parts of my business adventure, which is good because that’s what makes an experiment an experiment. This December, I want to build the foundation for good marketing and sales. There’s so much to learn. =)

Sketchnoting Lean Startup Day was a blast – and it got me past one of my first milestones in this line of business. Onward and upward!

From last week’s plans


  • [X] Earn: Sketchnote MaRS Lean Startup Day
  • [X] Earn: E1: Check in on theme, prepare performance improvements (Tue)
  • [X] Earn: Talk to N regarding sketchnotes (Wed)
  • [X] Connect: Sketchnote AngelHackTO
  • [X] Connect: Attend Dan Roam’s lecture at Rotman (Tue)
  • [X] Connect: Attend Toronto Holiday Tech Social (Tue)
  • [X] Connect: Reconnect with Curtis Voisin (Wed)
  • [P] Connect: Reconnect with Sharon Sehdev about connecting (Fri)
  • [X] Connect: Talk to Gary Wolf about delegation
  • [X] Build: Revisit scribing course
  • [-] Build: Document sketchnote workflow some more
  • [-] Build: Get ready for business brainstorming sessions
  • Build: Said no to a potential client because I really should focus
  • Build: Practised calm and polite responses to unhappy ex-contractor. We’ll see how that turns out.
  • Build: Sent sales letter! =)
  • Build: Brainstormed one-page explanation of conference sketchnoting service


  • [X] Go to krav fitness class on Thursday
  • [X] Attend Eric Boyd’s birthday party
  • [X] Cook a ton of food and restock the freezer
  • Helped my dad with Android photography tips
  • Set up my mom on Google Hangout


  • [-] Go for a nice long walk (1-2 hours)
  • [X] Finally sit down and write those monthly reviews
  • Sprained my ankle; almost back to normal!

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: Check in on E1 and theme
  • [ ] Build: Sketchnote ENT101
  • [ ] Connect: Go to MaRS Book Club
  • [ ] Connect: Have coffee with Zak Homuth
  • [ ] Connect: Chat with Tipera Cleveland about business coaching, brainstorm business ideas
  • [ ] Build: Sketch out sketchnote success vision


  • [ ] Get ready for get-together
  • [ ] Host get-together
  • [ ] Attend Gabriel Mansour’s improv show?
  • [ ] Go to fitness class
  • [ ] Watch the Hobbit! =)


  • [ ] Sketch 5-year plan

Delegation: How I hire and manage my virtual team

December 10, 2012 - Categories: delegation, kaizen, management

I’ve been helping other people get started with their own experiments in delegation, and one of them asked me how I manage my team in oDesk. Here’s how I do it.

Setting expectations

I like thinking of oDesk contracts as mini-experiments. It’s not about hiring amazing people – as in the regular job market, amazing people usually have their plates full of work and don’t have to look for more (aside from word of mouth). Each hire is an experiment involving the process and the person. If it works out, wonderful; I’ll keep them on as long as I can find work for them to do. If it doesn’t – and there have been some gigs that were just not a good fit – well, it’s only a small experiment.

I like taking notes so that I can hire people again for other things. Many people move on from oDesk after some time, though, so I haven’t always been able to go back and rehire people who have worked out. I try to focus on developing good processes instead of relying only on hiring good people, though, so I don’t mind turnover so much. I sometimes have to refer to my notes to remember whom to send tasks to, though!

Someday I might graduate to having one or two assistants with more time dedicated to my tasks. In the meantime, this patchwork of assistants requires a little bit more oversight.

Posting a job ad

I usually post my job ads for as-needed work, 1-3 months, < 10 hours a week. This gives me the flexibility to experiment on a low-commitment basis.

In addition to describing my requirements, I also ask that job applications show their attention to detail by beginning and ending their cover letter with an unusual keyword, such as “blue”. This makes it super-easy to filter out people who are indiscriminately applying to job posts or who don’t read the requirements all the way through. Many people put in the first keyword, and a few remember to put in the last keyword as well.

I often ask people to include a sample of their relevant work in their cover letter, and to describe their experience (especially for skills that are optional but useful). I detest the scammy practice of asking people to do unpaid work as part of their application, so I only ask for existing work samples.

Stephan Spencer (one of my delegation role models) uses a riddle in his job application / interview process as a way of testing people’s thinking. He spins one of the classic riddles into something that’s not easily Googleable, so he can see if people can figure things out on their own.

Here are some job posts I’ve used:

Filtering people

As mentioned, I use attention to detail as one of my quick filters for applications.

I usually also search and filter by 4.0+ rating, > 100 hours on oDesk, but I’ll look at the reviews even for people with lower rating if I like their profile. I’ll occasionally take a chance on people who are new to oDesk – everyone’s got to start somewhere – with the expectation that I’ll need to teach them a little more about working with me or using oDesk to file time.

It’s always a treat to find good people in the Philippines because I’m from there as well, so the shared cultural background makes interviewing and working a little bit easier.

Inviting specific people

When I come across interesting people’s profiles, I save their profile in oDesk or Evernote (Evernote is easier to browse/search). After I post the job, I invite them to participate. There are so many good people looking for work, though, so I don’t often do this.

I occasionally create private job posts and invite specific people to them. I more often post public job posts even though I invite specific people to them, because you never know what kind of awesome talent is out there.

Interviewing applicants

I want to confirm that people understand the job requirements, find out how much they meet the requirements, and – also important – learn more about their other skills and their career goals so that I can come up with more tasks that fit them.

I use ScheduleOnce to schedule Skype interviews. The timezone difference and the interface turn out to be useful filters for attention to detail and willingness to deal with unknown tools. For virtual assistant positions, communication skills and trust are key, so I like talking to people first.

I also want to answer any questions they have. Contractors take on some risk whenever they accept a contract, as there have been quite a few employers who have scammed them into unpaid work or feedback blackmail. I want to give them the opportunity to make sure I’m not crazy, too. =)

I’m working on improving my interview process. In particular, I’m going to start asking people to tell me a story about the time they were wrong about something or the time that they argued with someone. Talking to my mom about her HR issues (and now, sorting through my own!), I’m beginning to realize the importance of understanding people’s conflict/disagreement resolution strategy and whether they can maintain calm and respect under stress.

For straightforward tasks like transcription, I might hire someone without ever talking to them in real-time, because I can “interview” them in the process of them working on their first paid task.

Hiring and onboarding

After we answer each other’s questions satisfactorily, I go ahead and set up the contract. For virtual assistants who will be communicating with other people on my behalf, I’ll set up a Google Apps account. LastPass makes it easy to share and revoke passwords, and I’ve also started the habit of keeping track of who has access to which accounts in order to simplify offboarding them when I end the contract and onboarding a replacement.

I usually keep the job post open until the person has satisfactorily completed their first task and we’re happy with the time/process. That way, if I need to hire someone else, I can choose from the pool of applicants that I’ve already shortlisted. Depending on whether I have tasks that can be broken down and done in parallel (ex: data entry), I might hire several people with the understanding that I’ll choose one or two going forward.


I send most tasks by e-mail because that’s the most convenient for me. I use Skype or Google Hangout to explain tasks in more detail. Since Skype tends to perform badly when I’m out and about, I also give assistants my cellphone number. I’ve been trying to get people set up using my VOIP phone so that they can call me, but we haven’t sorted that out yet. The easiest way might be for me to fund a company Skype account and have them call me with that.

I don’t want to require people to shift their timezone / sleeping habits – some of my friends have done overnight shiftwork before, and it really messes up one’s social life. Since my virtual assistants have access to my calendar, they can either use that to directly book me or use ScheduleOnce to find a time that works with their schedule.

I try to remember to specify due date and time budget (ex: spend a maximum of 2 hours on this, then send me whatever you have so that we can make sure you’re on the right track). The due date typically works, although I don’t think anyone’s been paying attention to the time specifications yet. I might revisit the Four Hour Work-week’s templates for getting these things communicated.

I hate the idea of tasks falling through the cracks especially if assistants get preoccupied with other things, so I’ve been experimenting with project-management applications like Trello or Asana. I want to be able to see what tasks I’ve assigned to people, what’s waiting for a response, and what’s done. One of my assistants just updated her Trello board – hooray! I gave her a bonus to recognize her initiative. =) We’ll give that maybe six months of trying before I even think of introducing a different tool. We’ll see how this goes!

Rewards and recognition

In addition to the automatic billing that oDesk takes care of, I like catching people doing something good and giving them an unexpected bonus. I always explain why I give the bonus. For example, I’m impressed when people take the initiative and when they submit excellent and timely work, especially if this is my first time working with them.

People don’t often negotiate with me for a raise, probably because my contracts tend to be shorter-term. As a client, though, I like being different by proactively giving people raises – I occasionally check my contractors’ profiles to see if they’ve raised their rates, and I’ll raise them during our existing contract because it’s good to reward good people.

I also take notes on people’s career goals and personal interests, and I try to tailor the tasks to fit them.

Dealing with miscommunication and disputes

As the employer, the buck stops with me. If someone didn’t complete something to my satisfaction, it might be because I didn’t sufficiently communicate the requirements, didn’t invest enough time in oversight or training, didn’t filter enough for skills/fit, and so on. Each mistake is a learning opportunity.

Typical mistakes and how I’m learning to deal with them:

I didn’t specify the level of detail I wanted, so I get back a War and Peace epic equivalent when I wanted Hemingway-short summaries.

  • Share the big picture (Why do I want this? What will I use it for?).
  • Provide sample output.
  • Give a time budget, so that people get back to me after 2-4 hours instead of spending two days on a task. (Still working on getting people to follow this…)

People promise to work on something, but end up not doing it. It happens; people can be over-optimistic about their time.

  • Set earlier deadlines than I need, and give myself leeway to try someone else or do it myself.
  • Follow up. Then follow up again. If necessary, take the task back.

I get the output back and think I should probably have done it myself instead (skills, background knowledge, whatever).

  • Breathe.
  • See the value in a first draft and alternative perspectives. Focus on the good.
  • Remember the additional benefits of this delegation experiment – it’s not just about saving time, it’s also about learning how to give instructions and work with other people.

I find that some steps are missing.

  • Consider whether the steps are truly necessary.
  • Review the process and flesh out the steps. Explain why the steps matter.
  • Turn the process into a checklist. Add the checklist to my e-mail templates if needed.
  • Keep a closer eye on tasks, at least until the process is sorted out

An assistant is uncommunicative / unreachable.

  • I take back any tasks needed.
  • I follow up to see what’s going on. Life happens, and people sometimes need support and understanding to get through rough spots.
  • If they’ve become too busy to work on my tasks or they’ve gone AWOL, I shrug that off as a cost of doing business, and pick up the threads from there.

For chronic mistakes: If I get along with the person, I might give them different kinds of tasks instead. I might end the contract, but be open to hiring them again in the future. If I feel really uncomfortable, I end the contract and resolve not to hire them again, which has happened in a couple of cases. That’s also a good prompt to go back and think about how I can improve my hiring and training processes.

Ways to improve

I sometimes get distracted by other things I’m working on, so I end up not sitting down and investing in delegating tasks. I’ve attempted to address that by giving people 10-25% discretionary time for learning things and brainstorming other ways they can help me, but assistants seem to be reluctant to take this self-directed time, so I may need to tweak how I communicate it. Maybe I should turn it into a formal task, or establish a weekly wask – “I want to give you at least 5 hours of work each week, and if I don’t, please use one hour to brainstorm ways you can help me and send me a note.” Hmm…

Another tip from one of my role models was to involve assistants in your weekly review so that they can help you with your big picture. One of my assistants has a long-term career interest in HR, so I’ve just invited her to set up a weekly one-hour meeting with me where we can review what I’m working on and what I’m planning to do next. Maybe she can help me brainstorm what and how to delegate. I think that would be great, and possibly more useful than the discretionary time idea (at least for starters, until people get a better sense of the big picture and trust that I won’t blow up at them for learning something.)

What else would you like to know about how I delegate? Do you have any tips that can help me do this better?

Visual book notes: Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 ways to Out-Innovate the Competition–Stephen M. Shapiro

December 11, 2012 - Categories: visual-book-notes

Here’s my visual summary of Stephen M. Shapiro’s 2011 book Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition (affiliate link). It’s a good book for people handling innovation management in medium and large enterprises, although small business owners might still be able to apply a few tips like the one about getting out and observing your customers (Lessons from Indiana Jones, p.69) and when to buy/innovate/hire solutions (There’s no such thing as a “know-it-all”, p.42).

Click on the image to view a larger version, and feel free to share it under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence!

20121211 Book - Best Practices Are Stupid - Stephen M. Shapiro

Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes!

Visual book review: The Sketchnote Handbook–Mike Rohde

December 11, 2012 - Categories: visual-book-notes

I know, I know, two visual book reviews in one day. But The Sketchnote Handbook is cool and I just received my copy of it this morning, so I wanted to share this with you today. =)

In The Sketchnote Handbook, Mike Rohde breaks down the process for sketchnotes. He found that writing his notes in pen in a small sketchbook and giving himself permission to doodle made taking notes so much more fun and less frustrating. If you’ve been having problems paying attention in class or in meetings, or you’ve been frustrated by your inability to remember key points from conferences and presentations, this is for you. No art degree required.

Here’s my one-page summary. Click on the image for a larger version, and feel free to share it!

20121211 Book - The Sketchnote Handbook - Mike Rohde

© 2012 Sacha Chua, Creative Commons Attribution Licence

If you’ve always been curious about how to start sketchnoting, this is the best book I’ve come across so far. Read this, then read Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin for more business-oriented visual tools.

If you’re ordering through Peachpit, use the coupon code SKETCHNOTE to get 35% until Dec 31, 2012. It’s roughly the same price on Amazon (affiliate link). Note that there’s a video edition that includes 70 minutes of video tutorials, which is great for bringing these ideas to life.

I received a review copy of this book from Peachpit Press. Props to them. =)

Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes for more business- and technology-related visual summaries!

Other people’s visual summaries of The Sketchnote Handbook:

Experiment pre-mortem: Imagining and dealing with causes of failure

December 12, 2012 - Categories: experiment, sketches

I am, for the most part, a relentless optimist. I embrace my inner Pollyanna. I regularly explore my goals with the Imagine Wild Success technique. Most people know this part of me, because I’m often the first to find the silver lining in any cloud.

Here’s something less visible but also very useful: I also use worrying productively. I plan ahead so that I can make myself a strong safety net. I go through mental fire drills so that I can figure out how to respond to various situations. I use the stoic practice of negative visualization to deal with loss before I have to deal with it.

I use pessimism in order to enable and support optimism. For example, a project pre-mortem is a great way to imagine causes of failure – and think about how you can prevent or address them.

I’m about ten months into this 5-year experiment with entrepreneurship and self-directed time. There are many ways it could fail. The good thing about framing it as an experiment is that even failure can give me valuable information. The main “real failure” is not being able to collect and make use of the insights it gives me. Here’s that and other things that could make this a waste of time:

20121210 business planning - experiment premortem

When I write down my ghosts, they become less scary. Knowing that the potential failures have been written down, defined, and (somewhat) planned for, I can free myself up to think about the flip side: what does success look like? how do I get there?

What are your potential reasons to fail? How can you deal with them?

Sketchnotes: #ENT101 Meet the Enterpreneurs: Social Innovation – Izzy Camillieri, IZ Adaptive; Kaela Bree, AussieX; Dessy Daskalav, Greengage Mobile

December 12, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes

This sketchnote was captured live during the free MaRS Entrepreneurship 101 series (webcast and in-person session every Wednesday). Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence. Click on the image for a larger version of the sketchnotes.

20121212 ENT101 Meet the Enterpreneurs - Social Innovation - Izzy Camillieri, IZ Adaptive - Kaela Bree, AussieX - Dessy Daskalav, Greengage Mobile

Check out my other ENT101 sketchnotes, or other sketchnotes and visual book notes!


My digital sketchnoting workflow

December 12, 2012 - Categories: process, sketchnotes

2013/07/29: Update: Watch the episode or read the transcript!

Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook (see my sketchnotes of it) focuses on pen-and-paper sketchnoting. I really enjoy digital sketchnoting, although there’s a bit more of a barrier to entry in terms of hardware. I’ve figured out a pretty sweet workflow for live-publishing conference/event sketchnotes so that you can catch people while they’re looking at the Twitter hashtag. Mike and I will be talking about digital workflows and tips for one of his podcasts, and I wanted to sketch my thoughts/talking points in preparation.

Click on the image for a larger version of the sketchnote.

20121212 My digital sketchnoting workflow

Not specifically mentioned there because it’s more of a blogging setup, but WordPress + NextGen Gallery + Windows Live Writer + Text Templates plugin = great.

Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence.

Like this? Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes. Want me to sketchnote your event? Know of any interesting tech / business talks coming up? I’d love to hear from you!

Monthly reviews: October and November 2012

December 13, 2012 - Categories: monthly, review

In September, I wrote:

What will October look like? I took a month-long break from consulting in September, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things and helping my clients get ready for the next major milestones. There are quite a few events in October, so I’ll be getting lots of sketchnoting practice. In terms of skill-building, I want to focus on lettering and typography. I’d like to ramp up my delegation so that I can get more things done, too. I’m also looking forward to gathering the papers for my first business tax return and HST return, wow. =)

October and November flew by in a blur. Conference season + consulting = chaos! While helping clients prepare for a big launch and analyze more metrics, I also took the time to sketchnote dozens of talks, do a professional speaking engagement, and reach out to lots and lots of people. I hadn’t done as much deliberate practice in lettering and typography as I thought I would, but I’ve made up for it in sheer volume and an improved digital workflow. I sketchnoted the Lean Startup Day simulcast hosted by MaRS Discovery District – my first proper conference gig, hooray! That worked out really well. It was a good two months. An excellent two months.

Now it’s December and I’m taking another month-long break from consulting so that I can focus on exploring other ideas. What might December look like? I want December to be a time to:

  • celebrate and share the things I’ve learned in the past year
  • lay the groundwork for more awesomeness in 2013
  • reach out to people and help them out

Post index for the past two months, newest on top


  1. Sketchnotes: The 5 Key Elements of a Better B2B Content Marketing Strategy–Nolin LeChasseur
  2. Awesome Foundation Toronto pitch night: Kensington Mesh Network, Women and Tech, Lovecraft TO, 360 Screenings
  3. Sketchnotes from #ENT101: Business Model Canvas–Mark Zimmerman
  4. Made my largest sketchnote ever! Painting the MaRS Lean Startup Day banner
  5. Sketchnotes: Venus Ventures Town Hall
  6. Sketchnotes from #ENT101: IP Management – Creating Value by Protecting Knowledge-based Assets – Nathaniel Lipkus, Matthew Powell, Ashlee Froese
  7. Capturing my sketchnotes with Camtasia Studio Pro; organizing the digital workflow
  8. Sketchnotes: Girl Geeks Toronto: Vexed in the City
  9. Sketchnotes from #torontob2b: Dragging an Organization into the Digital Age; 7 Steps to Social Media Success
  10. MaRS ENT101: Meet the Entrepreneurs: Life Sciences & Healthcare – Peter Adams, Joel Ironstone, Trevor Van Mierlo, Alex Hodgson
  11. Sketchnotes: ENT101: Value Proposition–Joe Wilson
  12. Sketchnotes: #INNOTalkTO Innovatively Speaking – Joanna Track, Justin Raymond, David Nam, Brenda Rideout
  13. Discovering the MaRS #startupbookclubTO: The $100 Startup
  14. Sketchnotes from WordCamp Developers Toronto 2012 Day 2 #wcto
  15. Coming up with a three-word life philosophy
  16. Sketchnotes: WordCamp Developers Toronto 2012 Day 1 (#wcto)
  17. Sketchnotes: SOHO SME Expo 2012
  18. Sketchnotes: Startup Communities and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
  19. Sketchnotes: TEDxToronto 2012
  20. #SMref panel: Changing Nature of Influence–Moderator: Terry Foster–Panel: Matt Juniper, Patrick Thoburn, Ron Nurwisah, Eric Alper
  21. Sketchnotes: AndroidTO–The Business of Mobile
  22. Sketchnotes: #ENT101 Entrepreneurial Management–Jon E. Worren
  23. Sketchnotes: Different Types of Entrepreneurship, Kerri Golden, Allyson Hewitt (MaRS ENT101)
  24. Sketchnotes: Small Business Forum – Enterprise Toronto
  25. Sketchnotes: Quantified Self Conference 2012
  26. ENT101: Startup Law 101: Legal Launchpad (Arshia Tabrizi)
  27. Cameron Lewis at the Toronto Small Business Network meetup
  28. Sketchnotes: #torontob2b: Free trials, cold-calling, brainstorming
  29. Sketchnotes: ENT101: Lived It Lecture – Bruce Poon Tip (G Adventures) on Social Enterprise



Quantified Self



One to three, that’s all

December 14, 2012 - Categories: business, reflection

One to three good pieces of work each day. That’s all I want to check off my list, and anything else is a bonus. On a day-by-day basis, this seems unambitious. Sometimes I wonder if I’m wasting this opportunity of an experiment – but I’m slowly feeling my way around, and it’s good to take my time.

This week’s accomplishments:

  • Monday: business planning, and a meeting with a potential client.
  • Tuesday: book sketchnotes, the book club, and halfway through putting together an e-book follow-up for my talk
  • Wednesday: lunch with another entrepreneur; coffee with Quantified Self organizers and brainstorming; ENT101 sketchnote; finishing the e-book
  • Thursday: digital sketchnoting podcast with Mike Rohde; on a personal note, survived another fitness class
  • Friday: first coworking session at ING Direct; more business planning; brainstormed business marketing with someone

I am so glad I stumbled across the power of writing and review. It’s much too easy to forget about where the time has gone, and to forget to celebrate the small wins.

While I waited for W- to finish his krav maga class, I mapped different emotions and the situations in which I feel them. The predominant emotion for this week has been a little hard to pin down. It’s not quite the thrill of developing code and closing tickets, or the happiness of having everything line up. It’s more amorphous. I think it’s more of a patient, deliberate preparation.

One thing at a time, one step in front of the other. If I accept this as the normal, it’ll probably be much better for me than assuming that normal is a whirlwind of activity.

Then I can hack this pace, bit by bit. I can experiment with breakfasts and other starts. I can write down more challenges and worries, and I can get better at working with other people to make things happen. I can figure out what my “treats” are – those small, productive tasks that give me a thrill – and sprinkle them through my week.

I’ve played with the “manic productivity” setting in life. Let’s see if I can get the hang of “steadily increasing strength.”

Weekly review: Week ending December 14, 2012

December 15, 2012 - Categories: weekly

My sister and her husband welcomed the newest addition to the clan. My parents are over the moon – their first grandchild. =) How exciting!

As for me, lots of meetings with people and lots of time spent in the subway. It felt like a slow week, but looking back, I can see that I got a lot of stuff done.

W- convinced me to go to Thursday’s krav fitness class. I’m glad I didn’t chicken out because of a sore ankle. I took it easy and modified any exercise that involved more impact, but it felt good to stay active even though I was definitely not working as hard as the other participants were.

From last week’s plans


  • [P] Earn: Check in on E1 and theme
  • [X] Build: Sketchnote ENT101
  • [X] Connect: Go to MaRS Book Club
  • [X] Connect: Have coffee with Zak Homuth
  • [X] Connect: Chat with Tipera Cleveland about business coaching, brainstorm business ideas
  • [X] Build: Sketch out sketchnote success vision
  • Build: Brainstormed marketing with Tipera Cleveland
  • Build: Sketched flowchart for I2
  • Earn: Produced e-book of Hardlines talk
  • Connect: Reached out to Dscribe and other graphic recorders/facilitators
  • Connect: Met with Assaf Weisz about events, VentureDeli
  • Connect: Had lunch with Bonnie Lui about events, coworking spaces, digital agencies
  • Connect: Talked to Joshua Kauffman, Carlos Rizo, Eric Boyd about Quantified Self
  • Build: Recorded podcast on digital sketchnoting with Mike Rohde


  • [X] Get ready for get-together
  • [P] Host get-together (this is actually Saturday, so it’s included in next week’s review)
  • [C] Attend Gabriel Mansour’s improv show? – had introvert day
  • [X] Go to fitness class – survived, yay!
  • [P] Watch the Hobbit! =) – postponed


  • [P] Sketch 5-year plan

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: Check in on E1 and theme
  • [ ] Earn: Review I2 sketches
  • [ ] Earn: Follow up on Hardlines; send invoice
  • [ ] Build: Try including Criselda in weekly review sessions
  • [ ] Build: Share marketing resources with Tipera
  • [ ] Connect: Have lunch with Karim (Third Ocean)
  • [ ] Connect: Get together with Rafael and Adnan regarding their startup idea
  • [ ] Connect: Sketchnote ENT101
  • [ ] Connect: Connect with other sketchnoters / graphic recorders/facilitators
  • [ ] Build: Experiment with using mornings for coding


  • [X] Host get-together
  • [ ] Have dinner with Rachel Lane and friends
  • [ ] Have dinner with David Ing and friends
  • [ ] Attend krav fitness class
  • [ ] Spend time with W-


  • [ ] Write more personal stories

Time review

I missed having this kind of summary, and since I have the code to do this easily, I might as well. =)

  • Business: 35.9 hours (Connect: 7.8, Drawing: 9.8, Illustration: 3.3)
  • Discretionary: 17.6 hours (Social: 9.3, Writing: 3.8)
  • Personal: 29.9 hours (Routines: 16.3)
  • Sleep: 64.6 hours – average of 9.2 hours per day
  • Unpaid work: 20.0 hours (Commuting: 8.0, Cook: 6.5, Tidy: 2.0)

I slept a lot this week!

Decision review: Art class (includes sketches)

December 16, 2012 - Categories: decision, drawing, review, sketches

As part of my resolution to spend more on learning, I went for one-on-one art classes in a nearby studio (Pamela Dodds’).

My first exercise was to draw shoes with lots of soft lines. The teacher said to focus on drawing each line in relation to each other instead of thinking about the whole shape. That makes it easier to defamiliarize yourself and draw what you see, instead of this preconceived notion of a shoe. I ended up making this shoe a little shorter than it actually was, but it was recognizably a shoe, hooray!


My homework was to draw more shoes.


Since I’m curious about translating abstract concepts to concrete images and vice versa, my teacher also suggested that I draw different kinds of shoes and the ideas associated with them.


The second class focused on negative space and chairs. On the left, you can see the chair I drew in class. On the right, here’s a chair that Leia (one of our cats) often likes sleeping in.


The third class was about lines, angles, and proportions. I started by drawing the scissors, then drawing the detergent bottle, and then finally by drawing the overlapping shapes of the coffee mugs.




At home, I practised by drawing the salt-and-pepper shakers, and by drawing the mouse.


My last session was one about faces and proportions (see above). Both of these were drawn from (rather odd-looking) mannequins. I like the profile likeness, although it was a little difficult getting the hang of the chin.

I’ve read many art education books such as Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and Drawing by Seeing, so that sped up the teaching and gave us a shorthand for discussions. For me, the art classes were more of a meditative space where I could deliberately practise techniques, with feedback from a teacher who could warn me when I was getting too close to the paper (and thus shifting my viewpoint) or who could figure out where I was a little bit off in terms of proportions.

It’s a very different style of drawing compared to sketchnotes. I’m usually just focused on getting the gist of an idea across in a very simple, iconic form. In terms of getting better at sketchnoting, I’ll focus on broading my visual vocabulary by sketching different terms of concepts instead of focusing on drawing more realistic images. Still, it was fun discovering that even though I hadn’t been practising much “proper” drawing, I was getting better at seeing things!

Decision review: Good decision to experiment with art class, although I’ll keep looking around for other classes and I’ll keep practising on my own.

Tips for growing as a sketchnoter

December 17, 2012 - Categories: drawing, kaizen, sketchnotes

New to sketchnoting? Aside from reading Mike Rohde’s The Sketchnote Handbook (see my sketchnote of it!) and Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin, how else can you grow your skills? Here are some ideas from how I keep working on improving my sketchnoting. Hope you find them useful!

Click on the image for a larger version of the sketchnote.

20121216 Growing as a sketchnoter

Feel free to share this! You can credit it as (c) 2012 Sacha Chua under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada licence.

Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes. Want me to sketchnote your event? Know of any interesting tech / business talks coming up? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks to Tamara Paton for the nudge to share this. =)

Sketchnote and got tips to share? Curious and have questions to ask? Comment below!

Imagining sketchnotes as a business

December 18, 2012 - Categories: business, planning, sketchnotes

People tell me that conference/presentation sketchnotes are an amazing service. I’ve been getting paid to cover conferences and events, so I’m thinking of focusing on building this as a business in 2013. Here are some ideas I’ve been playing around with:

20121210 business planning - imagining wild success for sketchnotes


Imagine you’re a conference or event organizer. You want to make sure your attendees get a lot of value out of your conference, and that a lot of potential attendees hear about it so that they’ll sign up for the next one. That’s why you’re using social media, you share slides, you’re working on getting videos uploaded, and so on. BUT you’re still only engaging a small fraction of your potential audience because most people don’t have the time to review all the materials, people aren’t interested in wading through lots of slides or text, or the materials are published long after people have gotten distracted by something else they need to focus on.

Sketchnotes can help you help your participants remember and share key points from the conference, increasing their ROI (and yours!). By sharing these images, people become ambassadors for your conference.


This is about helping organizers engage participants through digital sketchnotes that are published throughout the event, taking advantage of the Twitter buzz. Sketchnotes can offer more information and more context than live-tweeted quotes, and they can reinforce the conference brand and sponsor relationships through templates. included in every sketchnote.

After the event, these notes also help participants remember and share key points from the conference. People can feel overwhelmed by all the great ideas they’ve picked up from a conference. When they get back to their offices, they probably need to justify their participation in the conference by writing a report on what they’ve learned. Few people have the time to review slides or re-watch videos. Conference sketchnotes are a quick way to trigger memory, and they can also be shared with people who have not been to the talks. This additional value gives conference organizers a good reason to follow up with participants after the event, which could influence feedback survey completion rates and scores.

Sketchnotes can also help organizers pre-market the next event. As a quick proof of the content covered in the conference, sketchnotes can spark interest in a way that slides may not. Often tweeted, reblogged, and searched for after an event, they’re an excellent way to share great ideas.


One of the great things about this is that I don’t have to build a market from scratch. Bloggers and live-tweeters are now part of many conferences’ social media and marketing planning, so there’s an established need for real-time sharing. Video/slidesharing is part of many conferences as well. Many companies and conferences have worked with graphic recorders and facilitators to capture and share discussions.

Organizers use several alternatives for engaging people during and after events, some of which are complementary services. Here are a few:

  • Doing nothing: No cost. However, this misses out on the opportunity for engagement.
  • Live-tweeting: Often on a volunteer basis, although sometimes there’ll be a small team dedicated to monitoring, responding to, and posting on social media networks. Live tweets are good for engagement, but are difficult to curate or read afterwards.
  • Live-blogging: Often on a volunteer basis, or in exchange for admission. Variable quality and shareability. Sometimes results in lots of text that people don’t enjoy reviewing afterwards.
  • Posting the slides: Many conferences post slides on Slideshare, Lanyrd, or similar sites. This tends to be a split between presentations that have too much text in them and take much time to review, or presentations that have practically no text in them and are impossible to share with people who have never been to the conference.
  • Posting the videos: This can take months, if it gets completed at all. It takes time to review these and find the key points.
  • Transcripts: Very few conferences post transcripts of talks. It’s expensive and time-consuming, although transcripts can increase the searchability of a talk.
  • Graphic recording / facilitation: Excellent for discussions. Visually impressive, as artists work on huge sheets of paper at the front of the room. Can be distracting if people are tempted to watch the graphic recording instead of watching the speaker. Takes time to post-process the images for posting, so not well-suited to publishing during the event itself. Less flexible when it comes to content because it’s hard to erase or move segments of a drawing. Matching colours, adding logos and sponsor information, and using other template elements may not be cost-effective.

I think there is a space right there, in the gap between

  • social media blog posts / tweets / slides / video on one hand (a “good” conference these days), and
  • full graphic recording / facilitation

where digital sketchnoting makes sense, especially considering the advantages to working with an all-digital workflow. (Quick publishing, templates, non-distracting setup…)

Also encouraging: I’m not the only one looking into this! Here are some companies offering digital sketchnoting/digital scribing services: The Grove Consultants International, Imagethink, See in Colors, The World Cafe, WrightMarks, LearningTimes, Virtual Visuals

Potential differentiators:

  • I have a technical background, which means I’m fine with acronyms, diagrams, and lots of abstract/obscure concepts (especially related to web design/development, social media, social business, mobile development, and other topics I’m personally interested in)
  • Many visual communication companies focus on large-scale graphic recording; by specializing in digital sketchnoting, I can get really, really good at it
  • Many sketchnoters / visual communicators are coming from paper-and-pen backgrounds or Mac backgrounds; I use a different toolset, and I continually experiment with making it better
  • I’m comfortable with social media, and have set up many tools to help me make even better use of it
  • I can offer complementary services, such as getting a talk transcribed and turned into an e-book
  • I speak, too! People enjoy my practical, down-to-earth illustrated talks, and hundreds of thousands of people have viewed my presentations online.


Most conference and event organizers won’t be looking for sketchnoting in particular, so I’ll want to start by identifying potential clients, reaching out to people, and figuring out the possibilities together.

Another way to find potential clients would be to work with event producers who help organize lots of events. Sketchnoting becomes another capability they can offer to clients in order to add value.

People might not know how to make the most of sketchnotes as a resource. By handling the social media publishing and coordinating with the event’s social media team, I can simplify the process. I’ll also put together a guide for organizers who have existing blogs, Twitter accounts, Pinterest accounts, and other publishing platforms, so that they can take advantage of the sketchnotes that they’ll have.

My long-term evil plan

One of the reasons I’m interested in building a business around sketchnoting is because I want to learn more about sales and marketing. I could learn these business skills using web development or consulting instead, but those engagements involve longer iterations and less tangible services. Sketchnotes are easy to appreciate and share.

In addition, sketchnoting business and technology events also helps me build my visual communication skills, my understanding of topics, and my archive of content. This will come in handy when I write more books and work on more experiments. I think there’s room in the world for more visual books like the Sketchnote Handbook, especially as we shift towards reading less and wanting to understand things faster.

I think that sketchnoting might turn into an interesting 12-16 hour/week business that takes advantage of and fits in well with complementary strengths. Looking forward to trying this out!

More notes: Business idea: Digital sketchnoting agency

Quantified Self: Learning from a year of time data and planning what to tweak in 2013

December 19, 2012 - Categories: quantified

Last year, I decided to move from tracking my time using off-the-shelf applications (Time Recording, then Tap Log Record) to building my own system using Ruby on Rails so that I could tailor it to my quirks. Quantified Awesome now has more than a year of time data, and I wanted to see the patterns in how I use my time.

How I categorize my time

For ease in comparison with OECD time studies, I use the following high-level categories:

  • Sleep: What it says it is. Important!
  • Discretionary: Hobbies, socializing; anything optional or chosen
  • Personal: Morning and evening routines, personal care, exercise
  • Work: Working on IBM projects
  • Business: I split this out from work because I wanted to see how much time I was spending on building my business or improving my skills
  • Unpaid work: Commuting and other unpaid work/business-related activities; also, tidying up, getting groceries, cooking, doing laundry, and any household tasks that I could theoretically outsource
  • Within the categories, I have one or two levels of detail, which I’ll discuss later.
  • image

    This graph shows the major changes in how I used time this year. To account for the varying numbers of days in a month, I’ve expressed each category as a percentage of the time available for the month. The major change was the swap between working with IBM and experimenting with running my own business, but all my other categories are surprisingly stable.

    Here are some basic statistics looking at the monthly and weekly variation. There’s a bit more variation on the weekly level, but it smoothens out a lot when it gets to the monthly level. Also, the overall numbers tell me I should probably work less and spend more time on discretionary activities.

    OECD 2011 – Canada   Mean ~ total hours / week Monthly STDEV Weekly STDEV
      Sleep 35% 58 2% 3%
    22% Business + work 28% 47 5% 6%
    21% Discretionary 16% 28 5% 7%
      Personal 14% 23 2% 4%
    14% Unpaid work 7% 12 2% 3%

    Sleep + personal for me = 49%; OECD 2011 stats for Canada: 42%


    I get an average of 8.3 hours of sleep per day, which is a familiar and fairly stable number, and right in line with the OECD 2011 leisure time study’s findings. Looking at the inter-day statistics for sleep, I see a standard deviation of 1.63 hours, which means my sleep pattern is a little jagged. Here’s a daily chart that shows the variation.


    It doesn’t look so irregular on a weekly scale, though. I tend to be pretty good at taking it easy after I catch myself getting tired due to lack of sleep.



    Business-wise, I was thrilled to have a running start. Here’s billable time as a percentage of total time (out of 7 days a week). May was a little crazy because I was helping out two clients at the same time. I took time off in September and December to focus on other interests, and I’m generally scaling back consulting because I need to make myself learn how to do other kinds of business too.


    Here’s some more information in a table, showing that while I don’t reach the utilization ratios I remember from my performance review days, I still do okay.

      Billable time  
      % of total time % of business time
    Mar 2012 17% 61%
    Apr 2012 16% 71%
    May 2012 24% 76%
    Jun 2012 17% 60%
    Jul 2012 21% 66%
    Aug 2012 18% 66%
    Sep 2012 1% 5%
    Oct 2012 11% 37%
    Nov 2012 14% 42%
    Dec 2012 2% 10%

    Going forward, I should probably plan for a 25% billable : 75% marketing/overhead mix (or even more weighted towards marketing).

    On average, I spend about 10 hours a week connecting with people for business, which is a surprisingly large chunk of time. It’s good, though. I’m learning a ton and helping lots of people along the way. The weekly standard deviation for this is 7.8 hours, which probably points to “introvert overload” kicking in – after an intensely social week, I’ll hibernate for a while in order to recharge.


    All work and no play makes for a boring sort of life, so this is where discretionary activities come in. Discretionary – Social is by far the juggernaut of this category, with 46% of all discretionary time use (average per week: 13.7 hours, stdev 11.9 hours – same introvert overload kicking in). Business networking + discretionary socializing works out to an average of 20.8 hours per week, with a standard deviation of 15.1 hours. Here’s the sparkline, with a spike around the September trip where I went to a conference and hung out with family.


    The graph below shows that I’m not necessarily substituting business connecting for discretionary socializing. There’s actually a very slight positive correlation between them. I do need my breaks afterwards, though.


    On to other things I do with my discretionary time. Because the Social sub-category is so much bigger than the other categories, these sparklines all use different vertical axes instead of using a shared axis for inter-category comparison. They show percentage of discretionary time, with the peak time highlighted. (Remember, we can’t compare heights across categories!) The third column shows the total percentage of discretionary time spent doing that activity.


    The sparklines show that my interests tend to shift. They also show some categories that I’ve forgotten to use, such as Discretionary – Family which tends to get lumped under Discretionary – Social, and Discretionary – Read – Blogs, which has become more of either Personal – Routines or Unpaid work – Travel. Looking at this, I can see that LEGO games tend to give us about three months of obsession time, which may not be a good thing. Winking smile Fortunately, W- plays them too, so it’s actually “sit on the couch and chat” time, with bonus scritching of kitties who like sitting in our laps.

    Unpaid Work

    Duty comes before pleasure, though, so I need to make sure chores are taken care of before I settle in for some writing. Here’s how the chores worked out.


    For scale: I spend about 3.3 hours a week cooking, which is really spending maybe 6-7 hours every other week or so cooking a whole batch of things. Or at least that’s what I think it works out to. The weekly data shows me that I tend to cook in cycles (mean = 3.5 hours, STDEV = 2.3 hours):


    Other interesting things: Why, yes, biking and subway time are negatively correlated (coeff = -0.53). Yay biking! The weather’s been decent, actually, so I should totally break out the bicycle and bike some more. (Biking: 209 hours this year, average of 7.2 hours per week during biking season)

    % of total time Personal – Bike Unpaid work – Subway
    Nov 2011   2.4%
    Dec 2011   0.6%
    Jan 2012   0.9%
    Feb 2012 0.1% 1.6%
    Mar 2012 0.1% 4.5%
    Apr 2012 7.3% 0.3%
    May 2012 5.9% 0.2%
    Jun 2012 4.6% 0.3%
    Jul 2012 3.6% 0.7%
    Aug 2012 2.5% 1.2%
    Sep 2012 0.8%  
    Oct 2012 3.7% 1.1%
    Nov 2012   6.9%
    Dec 2012   3.6%


    The personal category includes all the little things that keep life running, like having breakfast and brushing my teeth. On average, I spend 2.1 hours a day dressing up, eating, brushing my teeth, and so on. That’s 815 hours over the last 386 days! Biking, walking, and exercising account for 408 hours over that time span, which works out to be an hour a day. Not bad.

    So, what does this mean for 2013?

    I’m planning to:

    • Spend less time commuting; spend more time biking and exercising – extend biking season earlier and later (November was totally bikeable, but I chickened out and got a Metropass!), and ramp up personal exercise to ~4 hours a week.
    • Spend less time working as a whole (and yes, trying to not panic about this shift either); spend more time writing and doing other discretionary activities – keep business-related time to ~40 hours a week
    • Spend less time working on billable projects; spend more time marketing/selling/learning (and trying not to panic about this shift) – shift to 25-30% billing as a percentage of total business time

    Glad to have the numbers! You can actually see my time data on Quantified Awesome.  I’ve just added a “Split by midnight” option that makes analysis a little easier for me and other people who use the system to track their own data.


    Delegation: Being clear about what you value

    December 20, 2012 - Categories: delegation, kaizen, reflection

    In Spousonomics (now retitled as It’s Not You, It’s the Dishes), I came across a brief explanation of David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. Economically speaking, it can make sense to trade with other parties even if you can do something faster yourself, because trading frees you up to focus on higher-value work as long as the transportation and transaction costs are not prohibitive.

    I’m slowly learning to let go of more and more tasks in terms of delegation and outsourcing. For example, I’ve been working with someone on developing marketing materials for this business idea around sketchnoting. We want to put together a leave-behind that can help event/conference organizers learn more. The person I’m working with has a lot of experience in graphic design and illustration, although I’m probably more comfortable with the copywriting and sketchnoting aspects of it.

    She set this up as a fixed-price project. I’ve worked on similar illustration projects at fixed price, and I’m always careful to specify the number of rounds of revisions included. For revisions beyond that, I work at a specified rate, although I might throw in minor revisions for free. I do this because I know people in both software development and illustration who have gotten burned in an endless revision cycle because of client expectations, but I guess many illustrators do open-ended fixed-price projects instead.

    When I hire people to do work for me, I want to make sure that I’m doing right by them as well. I don’t want people to get tired of working on this never-ending project. I want to build on people’s strengths and their career interests instead of running into their gaps. I want to focus on the highest-value activities, going for about 80% awesome instead of spending all the time trying to chase down 100%.

    One of the things that I’m learning to do is to be explicit about what I value and what I’m looking for. For example, we were going back and forth on the copy for this leave-behind. It can take a while to get to copy that feels right. The discussion does help me clarify what style I’m looking for (now I have a “Goldilocks style guide” with examples of what’s too formal, what’s too informal, and where I want to be), but copywriting isn’t the key value I want to get out of this arrangement. I’d rather have her focus on the parts where I hope she can really make a difference.

    I suggested using filler text like “Lorem ipsum” so that we can play with the layout and the feel of the piece without getting distracted by the words. It’s important to have an idea of the rough structure of the text – short paragraphs? a bulleted list? – but we don’t have to finalize it just yet, and I don’t want her to spend hours wrestling with it if there are better things she can do.

    What are those things? Well, let’s think about what I really need help with in terms of a leave-behind. The final form factor is probably something like a half-sheet of cardstock. I want something that I can print at home if I’m in a rush, or have printed elsewhere for extra oomph. It should probably be double-sided for efficiency, but it has to accommodate the imprecise nature of printing on home-office equipment. It should look good in black-and-white, and extra-nice in colour. It should be something I can easily edit. There are a whole lot of things that need to be figured out: layout, font selection (must be a Google Web Font that I can use on my website as well), visual balance, what needs to be drawn.

    So, what does mini-success for this project look like? Maybe an Adobe InDesign file (ideally, something that I can also convert to an Inkscape SVG!) with some text boxes in a selected font… I’ll probably need to do the final drawing of any illustrations, so maybe there are just boxes where the images go, too.

    It’s a bit different from other things she’s worked on, then, where she designs the piece, writes the copy, and draws the illustrations. It can be odd working on something that seems like something you’ve done before, but isn’t quite the same equation. I know I’ve felt insecure about working on projects like that! If I’m clear about what I value, maybe that will help us make the most of the time we spend working on this project.

    So I said:

    If you’re worried that it’ll be too close to "Well, I drew these boxes on this InDesign file and tweaked them a few times until they lined up, and then you sweated over the copy and the illustration and all of those things I usually work on," I’m sure you’ll find other ways to create enough value to feel good about it. For example:

    • "I looked at X fonts and shortlisted A – E. I recommend B because ______, but C is another good fit for you because _______. Both pair well with D if you need to use a different font for emphasis."
    • "While working on this, I found some examples of marketing materials that you might like. _____ is interesting because of _____, _____ because _____, and _____ because ______."
    • "You’re trying to say too much here. People only need to know ____, _____, and _____. We can save the rest for the website."
    • "You’re not answering enough questions here. We need to bring back that point about ______."
    • "Here are some sketches of what this could look like."
    • "That sketch is unclear – doesn’t communicate ____ to me. How about these versions?"
    • "I checked this with ______ and _____ and they understood it, too."

    Who knows, maybe it will include answering specific questions about Illustrator and InDesign in case there are little tweaks I can’t figure out myself! That would be useful too. =)

    In particular, the key values I think I’m getting from working with you are:

    • Because you focus on graphic design, you’re probably exposed to lots more input and inspiration than I am. I’m counting on you to be able to pull out examples and ideas from your stash.
    • For similar reasons, you may be better able to differentiate between things and explain why something is a better or worse fit. Think of the way people who are versed in colour theory can explain why certain combinations work and what they can communicate, or how someone who’s interested in typography can discuss different styles
    • Because you aren’t me, you can push back if I’m giving too much or too little detail, using too much jargon, coming across with the wrong tone, or drawing something that people would find hard to understand. ("I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t look anything like an elephant inside a snake…")
    • You’re more familiar with the Adobe suite of tools than I am. You know what things are called and where they are. So you can get the basics in place faster, and you can help me figure out how to do things (especially if I don’t know what those things are called, or which approaches are easier than others).

    Part of learning how to delegate is about figuring out where the task boundaries are, so that people feel good about working on and completing various chunks. I’m open to making the copywriting a separate project, and possibly even working with someone else for that. It’s tough, but if I learn how to break things down into projects that tap people’s strengths, and we figure out what makes sense to focus on, that’ll probably work out to a good thing.

    There’s so much to learn, and it takes work to learn about delegation this way. I wish I could learn faster or more effectively, but I can’t imagine learning all these things in a class or seminar. Practical experience and mindfulness, then!

    Understanding how I’m changing as a speaker

    December 21, 2012 - Categories: kaizen, speaking

    As I was reading the transcript of my recent presentation on social media for hardware dealers and home improvement stores, I noticed a few things I don’t think I used to do before – or at least, not with this frequency. One of the great things about blogging and sharing my presentations through the years is that I can hop in a time machine, remember much of what it was like back then, and see these little changes.

    Here are three ways I’m not the same speaker I was ten years ago:

    I now start by acknowledging the “Yeah, but”s. You can see how I experimented with this pattern through the years. I started with very technical talks in 2001. I think my 2009 presentation A Teacher’s Guide to Web 2.0 at School was the first time I explicitly called out the “Yeah, but”s on a slide. There, it was near the end of the presentation. In 2010’s Six Steps to Sharing, I moved the “Yeah, but”s near the beginning of the presentation, where it has stayed ever since. (Yes, it took me that long to figure out that you want to get as many people as possible on the same page as early as possible…)

    I then spend a lot more time on helping people imagine what they could experience in the future, dipping briefly into what they can do right now to move towards that. It’s like a small-scale version of the pattern that Nancy Duarte describes in Resonate (Amazon affiliate link, key points) – that alternation, the thrum of going back and forth between present and future. I’ve realized that my key contribution as a speaker isn’t usually to give people technical or how-to information – they can get that through the Internet – but to help them see the possibilities and get excited about what they can do, so that they can then learn more. So, I help people imagine point B, and then sketch the many lines from A to B. I didn’t emphasize this in my early talks.

    I also find myself illustrating those futures through what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. What people might say. What their customers might say. How their customers might find and interact with them. I think this comes from all the viewpoint-switching and success-imagining I’ve been doing for both professional and personal planning. In my slides, I illustrate ideas with screenshots of what people are already doing. In my speech (I like planning for the “audio track” of my presentations!), I drop in imaginary quotes to help make the possibilities real. I didn’t notice myself doing that a lot before. I’m getting better at figuring out what something would sound like if it was successful, and it’s useful for explaining things to other people as well. (I’m trying to find the book that stressed this point – imagining the complete experience of your customer – but I’m having a hard time pinning it down. One of the E-Myth books? Hmm. I need to revisit and sketchnote more books.) I used to be a lot more abstract about this. Now I try to make things much more concrete, much more real. It’s like when people think, “I want my customers to say that to me, so maybe this is worth a try.” (Precisely!)

    I know, I know, a decade to realize that I’m learning these things. I can’t wait to find out what I’ll be writing about in another ten years!

    Experience report: Naming my company!

    December 22, 2012 - Categories: entrepreneurship, experiment

    Ten months after incorporation, I’ve finally come up with a name for my company. I wanted to combine the different aspects that resonated with me and with other people during conversations and events. Consulting was easy to do under my own name and with a numbered company, but if I want to expand to channel opportunities to other people, it would be interesting to see if I can build something bigger than myself.

    One of my favourite words for describing what I’m working on is Experiment. I like it because it combines openness and deliberate exploration, where even the challenges are opportunities to learn. Because this is an experiment, I don’t have to over-commit to a single option. I can try something and see what happens.

    For this next experiment beyond consulting, I’m thinking of building a business around visual summaries and sketchnotes. The visual aspect of it is fascinating. Somehow these sketchnotes are more engaging than blog posts or talk videos. I think it would be wonderful to see where this goes.

    I’ve been collecting different name ideas. Straightforward names like Visualize Business? Something punny, like Sketchup & Relish (turns out there are a few groups by that name)? Visualisto (playing on “alisto”)? Visualysis, referring to analysis? I looked up Latin roots and played around with prefixes.

    After turning over all sorts of names in my head, I started playing with this one on Tuesday night: Experivis.

    Why Experivis?

    I like the way this made-up word lends itself to multiple explanations. Experience –> Visuals is the one that’s the most relevant to this next experiment. Experi- also evokes experiment, and combined with vis-, it’s kinda like saying, “Let’s try things and see.” It’s abstract enough so that I can use it for other ideas, too.

    (W- said, “It sounds like a drug name!” I said, “Maybe people will think of experts or experience.” He said, “People tend to think of pros instead of experts.” “Provis?” “Now that definitely sounds like a drug.” So Experivis, then.)

    Okay, now what?

    I did a quick check to see if the domain name was available, if it was in use on the Web or as a trademark, and if there were any unfortunate meanings or translations. Only two pages of Google results, and no one was using it as an exact word.

    Then I slept, because it’s good to give your brain time to play around things like that.

    When Wednesday morning came, the name still felt okay. Great! I spent a few hours setting up the domain, registering it as a “Doing Business As” name in Ontario, and putting together a quick website at with a custom theme based on Pitch. I disabled the parts I hadn’t built yet, created some pages, imported some content from my main blog, and fiddled with the text. Whee! It’s fun to spin up a website so quickly.

    Some next steps

    • Explore logo ideas
    • Draw the value proposition as a sketchnote
    • Add more links
    • Write and organize useful content

    Level up!

    Weekly review: Week ending December 21, 2012

    December 23, 2012 - Categories: weekly

    Quite a week indeed! Hosting people for tea, going to two dinners with friends, preparing for hosting W-‘s family…

    Doing lots of sales and marketing, too. I figured out a name for my company: Experivis! =) (Story) I’ll keep working on the site and the other sales/marketing materials after the break.

    From last week’s plans

    CD – could delegate?; PD – partly delegated!


    • [X] Earn: E1: Check in on E1 and theme
    • [X] Earn: Review I2 sketches
    • Earn: Sent v3 of I2 sketches
    • [X] Earn: Follow up on Hardlines (CD)
    • [P] Earn: Send Hardlines invoice – waiting for them to get back to me (CD)
    • [X] Build: Try including Criselda in weekly review sessions – next delegation goal: data entry
    • [X] Build: Share marketing resources with Tipera
    • [X] Connect: Have lunch with Karim (Third Ocean)
    • [X] Connect: Get together with Rafael and Adnan regarding their startup idea
    • [C] Connect: Sketchnote ENT101 – none until January
    • [X] Connect: Connect with other sketchnoters / graphic recorders/facilitators
    • [X] Build: Experiment with using mornings for coding – yay!
    • Connect: Shared sketchnoting tips with Tamara (CD – writer/artist?)
    • Connect: Reached out to HRPA on Twitter, got a retweet
    • Build: Requested review copy of Visual Leaders (CD – writer)
    • Build: Worked on marketing copy oriented towards conference organizers, with help from Tipera (PD)
    • Build: Created website for Experivis (CD – WordPress)
    • Build: Set up galleries on Experivis (CD – WordPress)
    • Build: Wrote bios for Experivis (CD – writer)
    • Build: Improved templates for main site (CD – WordPress)
    • Build: Reviewed copy and layout for leave-behind marketing material (PD)
    • Build: Redirected subdomains to pages on my main blog (CD – WordPress)
    • Build: Documented process for requesting review copies
    • Build: Balanced my business books (CD – bookkeeper; 8 minutes)


    • [X] Host get-together
    • [X] Have dinner with Rachel Lane and friends
    • [X] Have dinner with David Ing and friends
    • [X] Attend krav fitness class – survived, yay!
    • [X] Spend time with W-
    • Help prepare for family party


    • [X] Write more personal stories
    • Quantified Awesome: Added split-by-midnight option (CD – Rails)
    • Quantified Awesome: Crunched my time data (CD – analytics)
    • Updated financial tracking spreadsheet
    • Updated ledger and broke down credit card transactions into separate monthly categories for easier doublechecking

    Plans for next week


    • [ ] Take a break! =)


    • [ ] Host get-together for W-‘s family


    • [ ] Have massage
    • [ ] Review year
    • [ ] Choose blog highlights
    • [ ] Analyze blog following this pattern

    Time review

    • Business: 37.5 hours (Connect: 13.6, Drawing: 0.8, Illustration: 1.9, Coding: 4.5)
    • Discretionary: 30.0 hours (Social: 12.6, Writing: 8.9)
    • Personal: 21.7 hours (Routines: 14.3)
    • Sleep: 62.3 hours – average of 8.9 hours per day
    • Unpaid work: 16.5 hours (Commuting: 5.2, Cook: 2.8, Tidy: 6.8)

    Blog posts

    My favourite post from this week was #4, because I spent more time thinking about the sales and marketing for my business. Runner-up: #5 (my time analysis) because I crunched lots of numbers and learned a little more about how I use time.

    1. Weekly review: Week ending December 14, 2012
    2. Decision review: Art class (includes sketches)
    3. Tips for growing as a sketchnoter
    4. Imagining sketchnotes as a business
    5. Quantified Self: Learning from a year of time data and planning what to tweak in 2013
    6. Delegation: Being clear about what you value
    7. Understanding how I’m changing as a speaker

    Emacs: Strike through headlines for DONE tasks in Org

    December 23, 2012 - Categories: emacs, org

    I wanted a quick way to visually distinguish DONE tasks from tasks I still need to do. This handy snippet from the Emacs Org-mode mailing list does the trick by striking through the headlines for DONE tasks.


    Here’s the code:

    (setq org-fontify-done-headline t)
     '(org-done ((t (:foreground "PaleGreen"   
                     :weight normal
                     :strike-through t))))
                ((((class color) (min-colors 16) (background dark)) 
                   (:foreground "LightSalmon" :strike-through t)))))

    View my Emacs configuration

    Year in review: 2012

    December 24, 2012 - Categories: review, yearly

    I’d sketch this, but Adobe Illustrator CS6 keeps crashing on me and I’m tired of fighting with my computer today. Next time!

    This year was about experiments. After building up my “opportunity fund,” I turned over my projects at IBM and left to start a 5-year experiment exploring what you can learn and build if you have the time and space to do so. I want to learn how to build businesses, and I want to share what I’m learning along the way.

    Here’s how the year went!

    January: Set things in motion for my next experiment by sending in my notice at IBM. Mapped out what I had learned. Started transitioning projects. Favourite post: Getting ready for my next experiment.

    February: Made the leap! Set up a business mailbox, incorporated, and registered for HST. Favourite post: Thinking about how to experiment with business and what I might want to do

    March: My first full month as a business owner! I immediately had consulting clients, which helped me hit the ground running. I drew a lot, too. (Monthly review) Favourite post: What I want from visual notetaking; imagining wild success

    April: It was a lot of fun enjoying the benefits of a flexible schedule, paricularly in terms of biking. I also spent some time building my writing and drawing skills. (Monthly review)Favourite post: Why I’m temporarily unhireable

    May: More client work than I expected! Sketched lots of presentations and events, too. Biked all month. Switched from community-supported agriculture to buying our own vegetables again. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Thinking about the next mini-experiment

    June: Experimented with digital self-publishing by putting together a PDF of my favourite blog posts over the past ten years. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Experiment! Stories from My Twenties PDF

    July: Lots of gardening and biking. Bought an Android tablet. Went strawberry-picking with the Hattoris! (Monthly review) Favourite post: Trusting myself with making time

    August: Celebrated my 29th birthday! Bought a new phone, switched to a data plan. Hosted a get-together. Wrapped up consulting in preparation for a temporary break. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Thinking about what wild success at 29 looks like

    September: Went to Palo Alto for the Quantified Self conference. Spent time with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. Went to Disneyland with them! (Monthly review) Favourite post: Weekly review: Week ending September 21, 2012

    October: Back to consulting. September 30 was my fiscal year end, so I spent time figuring out my books and filing taxes. Lots and lots of sketchnotes from conferences, too. (Monthly review) Favourite post: Celebrating my fiscal year end; planning how to improve

    November: Gave another presentation. Started helping out with Awesome Foundation Toronto. More sketchnotes from conferences and events! (Monthly review) Favourite post: Made my largest sketchnote ever! Painting the MaRS Lean Startup Day banner

    December: Took another break from consulting in order to focus on building the business. Worked on laying the groundwork for marketing and sales. Came up with a name for my company: Experivis! Favourite post: Imagining sketchnotes as a business


    I want to really dig into this idea of building conference/presentation sketchnotes as a business. It’s a good way to learn sales and marketing skills.

    Life-wise, I’m looking forward to making exercise part of my routines, and to spending more time with W-. The biggest thing I have to learn, I think, is to keep moving forward even though the temptation is to get stuck in limbo; to somehow have a multiplicity of plans layered onto different possibilities, and to keep myself fueled and excited by them.

    Decision: No Illustrator CS6 for now

    December 25, 2012 - Categories: decision, drawing

    I wanted to like Adobe Illustrator CS6. I really did. I’ve been looking for a vector drawing tool that could fit into my sketchnoting workflow. Illustrator CS6 handled my tablet PC’s pen input more smoothly than Inkscape did, creating neat curves while still letting me work with the tight circles I use for lettering. Vector-based drawing meant that I could resize and move things around easily. I liked using the Navigator to keep a bird’s eye view of the image while zooming in on details. I was excited by the possibilities of building my own symbol libraries so that I could drop in visual elements quickly.

    But it keeps crashing on me, which is frustrating. Even though I’ve rigged up some AutoHotkey macros to make it easier to save (triggered by a foot pedal, no less!), I don’t want to deal with that kind of mental friction and re-work. So, no Illustrator CS6 yet, and by extension, probably no Creative Cloud subscription. It’s like the way I ended up ditching Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my Android tablet – it mostly works, except for when it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it frustrates me.

    I tried CorelDraw, too, but the eraser tool there doesn’t work the way I want it to. Artrage Studio Pro has a sticker library that might give me the ability to clip frequently-used images, but it’s not as responsive as Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is, so it’s a little frustrating too. Oh, well. I guess I’ll stick with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for another year, and maybe use Inkscape to trace my drawings if I need to resize them.

    I trust things a little more if I have backup plans. For example, I’ve messed up with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my tablet PC. One time, I accidentally moved my layer instead of zooming it. Fortunately, I’ve gotten into the habit of using Camtasia Studio to record my screen during the drawing process, so it was easy to go back in time and reconstruct the missing parts. Still annoying, but at least that was more my fault than the program’s.

    It’s a little frustrating investing time into learning something that didn’t pan out, but knowing that these tools aren’t a good fit for what I want to do is valuable information as well. I’ll keep an eye out for other things!

    Blog analysis for 2012: ~133,000 words so far

    December 26, 2012 - Categories: blogging, quantified

    I reviewed my blog posts in 2012 and rated them on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 indicates my favourite posts – the ones I want to keep around and refer back to, or the ones that represent key moments in my life.


    I’ve been pretty good at keeping to ~1 post a day, although travel and family time meant I was away from my computer during much of September.

    Year-by-year comparison:


    Observation: I write fewer posts, but I feel better about them.

    Number of words in 2012: ~133,000 (~ 380 words per post)

    Observation: Fewer words, but bigger ones.

    Looking at the three-word phrases I used the most, I can see that I continue to use my blog for a lot of planning. They’re mostly the same as last year’s words, except that “a lot of” has dropped down to fourth place from second.

      This year Last year
    I want to 238 158
    so that I 115 94
    that I can 113 76
    a lot of 89 126
    be able to 86 86
    in order to 67 55

    For comparison, here’s the analysis from last year, and here’s the post spreadsheet with ratings.

    2012 as a sketch

    December 27, 2012 - Categories: sketches, yearly

    Here’s how I’d like to remember 2012. =) (See also this quick month-by-month summary)

    2012 summary

    For comparison, here’s the sketch and summary from 2011.



    Experience report: Designing my logo

    December 28, 2012 - Categories: business, marketing

    Update 2012-12-31: Made the swoosh swooshier!

    Having come up with a name for my business (I turn experiences into visuals, so ExperiVis!), I decided to spend some time figuring out what a logo might look like. I need this in order to start creating sketchnote templates and choosing colour schemes for marketing materials. Here’s what I sketched:


    I tried a plain lettering style versus typing it in, and I preferred the formality of typing things in. Replacing the X with a stylus made me smile, so I kept it. I liked red more than blue – I think it’s more exciting, even though red might also make people think of grade school teachers, incorrect answers, and negative results.

    W- thought bright red was more vivid and energetic than the dark red I’ve been using for my website, so I used bright red. He also suggested adding the little eraser cap like the way the Lenovo stylus is designed:

    Here’s the image after I cleaned it up in Inkscape:


    Update 2012-12-31: Now with a swooshier swoosh!


    I think it’s a good starting point. =) Next steps: Sketch my services!

    Weekly review: Week ending December 28, 2012

    December 29, 2012 - Categories: weekly

    W- was on vacation this week, so I decided to take time off from work as well, although I couldn’t resist the temptation to do a little drawing and planning.

    I’ve been moving more of my task management into Emacs, which is why this weekly review is more detailed. It’s good to see where the week

    (PD – partially delegated; CD – could delegate?)

    Accomplished this week


    • [X] Take a break! =)
    • Earn: Set up Wave Accounting for sending out invoices – CD:general
    • Earn: Send Upverter an invoice – CD:writing
    • Connect: Reach out to HRPA about sketchnotes – CD:writing
    • Build: Document gallery update process – CD:writing
    • Build: Prepare sketchnote templates for ExperiVis – CD:drawing
    • Build: Add logo to website – CD:wordpress
    • Build: Research tech conferences – CD:research
    • Build: Change gallery detail to have full-size image or zoom – CD:wordpress
    • Build: Learn how to block specific pages from Google – CD:wordpress
    • Build: Set up e-mail forwarding – CD:google
    • Build: Sketchnote a book: Blue Ocean Strategy – CD:drawing
    • Build: Sketchnote a book: Running Lean – CD:drawing


    • [X] Host get-together for W-‘s family
    • Thank Maira for her holiday card
    • Take Leia to the vet with W-


    • [X] Have massage
    • [X] Review year
    • [X] Choose blog highlights
    • [X] Analyze blog following this pattern
    • Drawing
      • Go through Module 5: Your Personal Toolkit in Rockstar Scribe course
      • Draw 5-year vision in more colour
      • Draw 5-year map
      • Sketchnote 2012
    • Planning
      • Plan next year’s garden – CD:gardening
      • Update my short-term plans
      • Organize my contexts
      • Organize my someday/maybe list
    • Quantified Awesome – CD:rails
      • Add the ability to refresh library items
      • Fix Quantified Awesome bug – library refresh
    • Awesome Foundation Toronto
      • Set up newsletter – CD:writing
      • Verify that e-mail address works – CD:general
      • Send e-mails to all the rejected people – CD:writing
      • Document rejection process – CD:writing
    • Emacs – CD:emacs
      • Create a function that summarizes the weekly agenda in the form of my weekly review upcoming/past thing
      • Move tasks out of the weekly review list and into regular Org tasks
      • Get mail sending to work from my Windows system
      • Set up mail reading
      • Go through org-hacks
      • Figure out hierarchical tags in Emacs
      • Learn how to use Org to show tasks by effort estimate
      • Tweak my Org agenda views
    • Maintenance
      • Hem the Tilley pants – CD:sewing
      • Hem the yoga pants – CD:sewing
      • Re-attach my coat button – CD:sewing
      • Sort the winter accessories
      • Set up vet appointment – CD:phone

    Plans for next week


    • [ ] Earn: Check in with client E1
    • [ ] Connect: Have lunch with Nathan and Jen
    • [ ] Build: Update venue preferences for scheduling
    • [ ] Build: Tweak the underline to make it more swooshy
    • [ ] Build: Sketchnote a book


    • [ ] Prepare warm lentil salad
    • [ ] Prepare celery root soup
    • [ ] Attend fitness class on Thursday


    Time review

    Lots of sleep! Lots of exercise too, though, so all’s fair. I tried taking a break from work, but found myself focusing on drawing the logo and improving my skills anyway. =)

    • Business: 26.1 hours (Drawing: 17.3, Coding: 0.1)
    • Discretionary: 44.3 hours (Emacs: 6.0, Writing: 3.6)
    • Personal: 21.3 hours (Routines: 10.4)
    • Sleep: 67.1 hours – average of 9.6 hours per day
    • Unpaid work: 9.3 hours (Cook: 2.3, Tidy: 2.7)

    Visual book review: Running Lean–Ash Maurya

    December 30, 2012 - Categories: visual-book-notes

    If you’re starting a technology business – or other kinds of businesses – you’ll find many tips in Ash Maurya’s book, Running Lean. In particular, he provides step-by-step guides for conducting problem interviews, solution interviews, and MVP interviews, all great ways to validating your business assumptions and make sure you’re on the right track.

    Here’s a sketchnote that summarizes the key points from the book. Click on the image to see a larger version.

    20121228 Book - Running Lean - Ash Maurya

    The business model canvas in Running Lean is released under the Creative Commons Sharealike Licence, so this image is as well. Enjoy!

    Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Second Edition (O’Reilly). (affiliate link) Copyright 2012 Ash Maurya, 978-1-449-30517-8. Recommended for startup founders and early employees.

    If you like this, you might want to check out:

    Stocking up on chicken stock stock stock

    December 30, 2012 - Categories: cooking

    We save the bones from chicken quarters, turkey drumsticks, and other pieces of poultry that pass through our kitchen. They get tossed into the freezer, and when two freezer bags or so get full, it’s time to make a pot of chicken stock.

    I joke about renaming winter to “baking season.” It’s soup season, too. Chicken soup to ward off the cold, leek and potato soup for variety, split pea soup with its pork cracklings… Chicken stock goes into stir fries and sauces too. Very useful to have around.

    Since we’re trying to eat more vegetables and less meat, we don’t have that many bones to cook with—not as many as we would want if we’re having soup weekly. Fortunately, a large bag of chicken bones costs $1. The largest stock pot we have can fit two bags of bones initially, with a third squeezed in once the chicken bones settle.

    2012-12-30 20.28.35

    This is what all that stock looks like: three layers of containers, probably around 40 cups. There’s no room in the fridge (there’s a turkey defrosting) and the stock has to cool before we can freeze it, so W- took the containers to the shed, where they’ll cool (and most likely freeze, too). Side benefit of winter: free cold storage. Not quite a walk-in freezer (at least until it hits -18C), but decent at chilling things quickly.

    I want to learn how to make vegetable stock as well. That’ll give me another use for all these vegetable odds and ends, and it might lead to other interesting soups along the way.

    Emacs Org: Display a subset of tasks by context

    December 31, 2012 - Categories: emacs, org

    I wanted to get a quick preview of my top three tasks by context. Since org-tags-view didn’t seem to have a built-in way to limit the
    number of displayed items, I used defadvice to add my own. Here’s the relevant code from my Emacs configuration:

    (defvar sacha/org-agenda-limit-items nil "Number of items to show in agenda to-do views; nil if unlimited.")
    (defadvice org-agenda-finalize-entries (around sacha activate)
      (if sacha/org-agenda-limit-items
            (setq list (mapcar 'org-agenda-highlight-todo list))
            (if nosort
              (setq ad-return-value
                (subseq list 0 sacha/org-agenda-limit-items))
              (when org-agenda-before-sorting-filter-function
                (setq list (delq nil (mapcar org-agenda-before-sorting-filter-function list))))
              (setq ad-return-value
                    (mapconcat 'identity
                                (sort list 'org-entries-lessp)

    and the snippet from my org-agenda-custom-commands:

    (setq org-agenda-custom-commands
        ;; ... other commands go here
        ("0" "Block agenda"
             ((tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]"))
             ((org-agenda-sorting-strategy '(priority-up effort-down))
              (sacha/org-agenda-limit-items 3)))
            (")" "Block agenda"
             ((tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]"))
             ((org-agenda-sorting-strategy '(priority-down effort-down))
              (sacha/org-agenda-limit-items nil)))
            ("9" "Unscheduled by context"
             ((tags-todo "[email protected]e")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]")
              (tags-todo "[email protected]"))
               (lambda nil
                 (org-agenda-skip-entry-if (quote scheduled) (quote deadline)
                                           (quote regexp) "\n]+>")))
              (org-agenda-sorting-strategy '(priority-down effort-down))
              (sacha/org-agenda-limit-items 3)))
        ;; ... more after this

    This way, I can see all of my common contexts on one screen, and I can decide what I want to work on first.