Summary: Cost per serving: CAD 1.25-1.50, time per serving: ~30 minutes(!)
Since people were curious, here’s the rough recipe we used for the last batch of wontons:
|Amount||Ingredient||Cost / source|
|generous knob||ginger, peeled and finely chopped||left over from previous|
|6+ cloves||garlic, peeled and finely chopped||pantry|
|small handful||cilantro, finely chopped||from the garden|
|two bunches||green onions, finely chopped||CAD 1.14|
|1 large bag||small shrimp, raw, unpeeled, 70/90 – peel and chop||CAD 10.00|
|~2.5kg||ground pork||CAD 15.61|
|6 packages||wonton wrappers||CAD 8.94|
|salt and pepper||pantry|
Sauté the ginger and garlic, then mix everything together (except the wonton wrappers, of course). Set out a small bowl of water, a plate, and a teaspoon.
For each package do:
If you want to quantify your wonton production, the easiest way is to count them as you’re about to boil them.
Each package contained an average of 70 wrappers (stdev: 5, mode: 74) and took the two of us roughly an hour to process and boil (~1.5-2 person-minutes per wonton). The cost per wonton worked out to $0.08 per wonton (maybe $0.09 considering the pantry ingredients), which means each serving costs about 30 minutes of labour (not including grocery-shopping) and less than $1.50 in raw ingredients.
Thirty minutes seems like a lot for a serving that disappears pretty quickly, but the time is both relationship-time and movie-watching time for us, so it works out. And the wontons are yuuuummy – much better than the frozen ones you can get in the store. (Texture! Flavour! Smug satisfaction!) We like them even more than the ones you can get in a restaurant. =) We usually have the wontons with udon noodles and soup, although we occasionally snack on plain wontons seasoned with soy sauce.
Lots of the freezer recipes we come across are geared to Western tastes, so we like collecting Asian recipes that freeze well too: wontons, Japanese croquettes, okonomiyaki, beef bulgogi… So nice to be able to pull something out of the freezer and enjoy it any time!
June promises to involve a lot of consulting and professional sketchnoting, lots of gardening and biking, and some big personal decisions. Let’s see how it works out!
This summer has been surprisingly cool, which is not a bad thing when biking. I’ve been scaling back consulting and sketchnoting events in favour of coding and working on personal projects, and I like the results. =) This was also the month we worked on the backyard patio, shovelling gravel and laying patio stones – that’s why family time went up quite a bit. New experiences, yay!
I experimented a bit with virtual meetups, too. Seems to be fun! Looking forward to digging into that some more.
July will be about gearing up for more changes, getting better at writing blog posts and making videos, and working on more projects around the house. I like this. =)
UPDATE 2013/07/08: Now with very long transcript! (Read the full blog post to find it.)
After I chatted with Bastien Guerry about Emacs, he asked me if he could interview me for the same series. =) So here it is!
Just want the audio? http://archive.org/details/EmacsChatSachaChuawithBastienGuerry
Find the rest of the Emacs chats at http://sachachua.com/emacs-chat
We did the first virtual hang-out experiment with Google Hangout, since… well, virtual hangout, right, so it makes sense. Google Hangout limited interaction to the first 10 people. Since more than 10 people wanted to join that, the rest ended up just watching the video stream, which is less fun, and they didn’t have a way to participate in the embedded text chat either. (If you’re paying for Google Apps for business, government, or school, you can have up to 15 people interacting.)
AnyMeeting has the advantage of letting more than 15 people join and interact (up to 200, actually, which is not a huge deal because I’m not that popular anyway). I don’t like turning people away at the (virtual) door, so it was worth a try. Besides, the ad-supported version is free.
Video worked okay, but audio conferencing was a little laggy for us, and some people’s microphones didn’t work (maybe Linux is not fully supported?). We switched to text chat instead, making do with the small chat box in the lower right corner. The chat box couldn’t be resized or undocked, but it was enough for interesting conversations. People swapped tips, I picked up a couple of good ideas, and all of that worked out.
I wasn’t sure if I could get the chat transcript afterwards and the chat box wouldn’t let me select all the text, so I copied everything one by one just in case. It turns out that you can get a copy of the chat log from the Past Meetings tab, so that’s convenient. It does say that the chat log is only available if the meeting was recorded, so that might go away if I’m actually on a limited trial and my account reverts to the regular free account after a week or a month or so.
I tried GotoWebinar with someone else and that didn’t work for what I had in mind either, since people couldn’t chat with each other unless you made everyone panelists. Maybe GotoMeeting someday? It’s pricey, though.
Here’s what I want for the hangouts:
So, probably Google Hangout for general hangouts (first come first served!), streamed and recorded, with AnyMeeting for structured webinars with one or two presenters that more people might be interested in.
Wild success would look like:
Here’s the chat transcript from the July 3 chat, if you’re curious or want to follow up:
Next steps: I’ll set up a Google Hangout on Air for the upcoming hangout, and I’ll also work on setting up an “editorial calendar” for more structured webinars.
If you’re a corporate leader trying to transform your organizational culture, Leading Out Loud would be a good book to read in order to plan how to align your personal values and your organization’s values with a communication plan that resonates with people. Even if you aren’t, it might be a good read if you often sketch out a vision of the future and work on getting other people involved.
Want to read the book for yourself?
Let’s see if it works on the small scale. What would my Personal Leadership Communication Guide look like? I’m not leading anyone through an organizational change, but it might be worth going through the steps anyway.
I. Establishing Competence and Building Trustworthiness
Clarity of Purpose: I care about remembering and sharing what we learn. The problem is that we waste time by forgetting. We waste opportunities by hoarding what we know or being self-conscious about what we can teach. Think of all the time you spend rediscovering solutions to problems you’ve already solved. Think of when you stop and wonder, “Where did the time go?” with nothing to show for it. We learn so much, but it disappears. If we can get better at learning and sharing, imagine how much more we’d be able to do. I want to learn more about learning and sharing so that I can not only share my life, but also inspire and help other people share theirs.
Credentials and vulnerabilities: I’m not an expert. At 29 years old, I can’t even claim to have learned very much. I get things wrong. I make mistakes. I forget.
But it turns out that you don’t have to be an expert, and sharing probably even works better if you aren’t. I’ve been sharing my learning notes for more than ten years. I’ve been learning about drawing and screencasting as ways to share more effectively. I’ve even been working on learning how to interview people so that more people can share their lessons learned through me.
Empathy: I wouldn’t be this comfortable with learning and sharing in public without the amazing support of people who have taught me and encouraged me throughout the years. When I wrote about an obscure topic and heard, years later, from someone who used one of my tips to solve a problem, that appreciation spurred me to write more. When I made a mistake in my server configuration and sent hundreds of e-mails in a short span of time, people forgave me, and that forgiveness helped me be less afraid to experiment. I learn from comments, conversations, questions, role models, and inspirations. There’s so much out there, and that’s a real gift.
I know what it’s like to worry about whether you’re going to waste someone else’s time or mess up someone else’s work. Sometimes that keeps me from writing or publishing, but I’m getting better at going ahead anyway. More often, I struggle with not feeling that I understand something well enough to write about it – and then I remind myself that “showing my work” helps other people learn from or even correct it.
There’s a lot I need to learn about sharing more effectively. Writing with a plan. Cutting out excess. Making things clear. Drawing, editing video, and so on. I need questions and answers and feedback. I think it will be a good adventure.
Commonality: We’re all learning, and we all have more to learn.
Willingness to be known: Why does this matter to me personally? I was a child when I realized that life is too short to spend figuring everything out on my own. I devoured books – voracious enough that my grade school principal said I wasn’t a bookworm, but a booksnake.
I started finding the gaps that I couldn’t learn from the books I read. I started learning things on my own and from other people – and, too often, forgetting. I share because I don’t trust my brain, and because I’m curious about what I can learn from people if I help them leapfrog me. I don’t want writing to be limited to authors or drawing limited to artists. I want people to feel comfortable using whatever they want to capture and perhaps share what they learn.
II. Shared context
Blogging made it easier for people to share their thoughts, but still, surprisingly few people do it. New technologies make it easier for people to draw, but people tell themselves that they can’t doodle. I wonder what’s next, what could encourage people to share more, what could help me share better.
I don’t have a burning platform; it isn’t a timely issue. Except, perhaps, that life is short, and I forget, and things unshared are conversations that don’t happen. So yes, I have a very selfish reason for sharing. =)
III. Declaring and Describing the Future
Here’s the future I imagine: an awesome life. A life filled with doing and learning and sharing, saving other people time or inspiring other possibilities. It’s a small vision, an individual one. The bigger vision is to help other people live their own awesome lives. =) Better than a foggy life, yes?
What does that future look like and feel like? I imagine I’d follow my curiosity, dipping into my outline or list of ideas for more inspiration. I’d read, try things out, talk to people, write, draw, share. We’ll ask questions together, dig into things deeper, explore more. It’ll be useful and fun.
But it has to be more than that. It would be good for me to learn how to order my thoughts and write books, so that I can help people who are new to a field instead of just people who are in the middle of it. It would be good to learn how to make the most of whatever new tools are developed. It would be good to get better at encouraging other people to share.
IV. Committing to Action
Here are some steps I need to take:
If you want to help out, comments, questions, and suggestions welcome!
Want to read the book for yourself?
Like this? Check out my other visual book reviews!
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review. Also, if you buy the book through the Amazon link above, I get a small commission. (Check your local library if they have it, if you have a library near you!)
Long weekend, lots of cooking. Life is good.
Focus areas and time review
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[X]Follow up on B invoices
[X]Set up tracking spreadsheet
[ ]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[ ]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[ ]Follow up on overview
[ ]Sketch how to make a deputation
[X]Finish goal interface
[X]Sketchnote a book
[X]Write about drawing emotions
[ ]Sketchnote another book
[X]Figure out how to pay myself
[X]Set up payroll account
[ ]Pay myself annual salary
[X]Document process experiment for Visual Thinking meetup
[X]Talk to Eric and Joshua about Quantified Self workshops
[ ]Do a quick video on Areas & Outlines
[X]Check out lots of libraries on my bike
[X]Check out potential new bike for J
[X]Go to Eric’s moving party
[X]Hang out with Morgan and Cathy
[X]Host LivingAnAwesomeLife.com virtual meetup/experiment
[X]Make lots and lots of wontons while watching movies
[X]Set up next hangout as a Google Hangout On Air
[ ]Hang out with Linda?
[ ]Pick up bicycle
[X]Follow up on my passport
[X]Follow up with embassy regarding passport
[X]Read through my backlog
[ ]Follow up on my passport
[ ]Review Emacs chat transcript and post it
Almost every morning, we can count on being meowed awake by our cats. They seem to do this in shifts so that only one cat is meowing at a time. They don’t really have a snooze button or a time sitting, but they seem to pause for a little bit if you meow back or fully close the door.
My current hypothesis is that Neko is checking if I’m still there, since she doesn’t meow W- awake if I’m already up. It seems to match experimental observations. She’s only temporarily satisfied by voice; she insists on seeing me. She doesn’t cuddle or anything, just walks downstairs with me and goes about her usual cat life.
I raised her myself (hello, 2AM and 6AM soy milk feedings!), but when I moved into the dorm for university, I saw her only on weekends. And then there was that six-month span when I was in Japan, and four years (four!) when I was in Canada. Whenever I was home, Neko took to sleeping on top of me, probably to make sure I didn’t go anywhere without her knowledge. (Then she would bite my ankles at 5 AM so that I could let her out of the room to do her business.) My mom says that even though Neko avoided her most of the time (my mom’s not a cat person), Neko would cuddle up with her whenever I left on my trips.
Leia is usually the next one to meow. She usually meows if our door is left open a crack (for circulation), but closing the door often helps. Leia just wants to be picked up and cuddled. (She usually sticks around in the bathroom, meowing, until I get the message.) Luke is the meower of last resort. I think he meows because he wants someone to play with and sometimes the other two cats won’t give him the time of day. (Luke is usually the only cat at our door when he’s the one meowing, while we often wake up to all three cats waiting if it’s Neko meowing.)
I try to avoid anthropomorphizing the cats too much, but it’s fun to speculate at what goes on in their head, especially if you can test the hypotheses. =)
Neko is about ten years old now, and the other cats are four years old. The Internet says that indoor cats tend to live between 13 and 17 years. There will come a time when our mornings are quiet. In the meantime, I can appreciate the racket; our cats and their quirks.
One of the tricks I picked up from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy is that of negative visualization: imagining loss in order to enjoy a deeper appreciation of what you have. I practise it frequently. Not so much that I dwell on it, but enough to sharpen my enjoyment of life and be ready for the inevitable sadness. There will most likely come a quiet morning, maybe years from now, when I’ll look back at this sketch and and trace the outline of a memory. I practise imagining loss with pets, with friends, with family, with W-. Emotional exercise.
Sometimes I’m up earlier than I’d like, but the cats are worth it.
“What did you do today?” W- asked over dinner last week.
“Not much,” J- said. She’s on summer vacation.
We rattled off suggestions for things to do. Physical exercise like jogging or biking. Building practical skills like cooking. Learning about Linux or programming.
I pointed out that she had been reading, which counts as more than “not much”. Sometimes we forget to take credit for the things we do in a day. I suggested making a goal of doing at least one “good” thing a day.
One to three good things is enough. Part of it is learning to identify those good things: to value your own time and your own decisions, and to demonstrate that value to others. And then, once you’ve made the day worthwhile, it’s good to feel that you have the abundance of time for other things. Unstructured time is important: time to figure things out, time to learn what you want to do instead of having stuff assigned to you.
Semi-retirement is a little like a long summer vacation. I can choose what to do with my time. How do I spend it? How do I account for it? What do I decide to do, moment to moment? How do I make it count – the day, the week, the year, the experiment?
I don’t have a grand plan, not really. I take small steps. I feel like I’m making good progress on a variety of interests and skills. I haven’t hit a plateau yet in terms of sketchnoting. There’s always more to learn. There’s more to learn about coding, Emacs, writing, Japanese… My interests will swallow up whatever time I want to give them, and I’m still far away from the point of diminishing returns. This is why it’s easy to ignore video games, movies, malls, aimless browsing of the Internet. There’s so much more that promises long-term value. (Although I occasionally check out news sites and comics, because you never know what might be useful; and I can spend a day reading just for the heck of it.)
Time abundance; making room for small things and experiments. I’ve been curious about making better use of speech recognition in blogging. It might let me write more naturally, and the practice in forming thoughts might even help with my occasional stutter. I was training the Dragon NaturallySpeaking recognition engine, dictating one of its pre-programmed selections in order to improve its accuracy. While reading an excerpt from Success is a Journey (Jeffrey J. Mayer) out loud, I realized that I no longer quite identify with “success literature:” you know, that genre of books full of exhortations to work hard and follow your passion.
Practically all motivational speeches I’ve heard include some variant of “Work your tail off to make things happen.” Sometimes I wonder if I’m short-changing myself because I’m not working hard, like the way my dad works (up early, up late, always making something happen). Should I work long hours at a start-up, carefully tuned to be just shy of burning myself out? Should I be squirrelling away more savings for an unknown future?
I like this pace, though. More contemplative than chaotic, with the occasional sprint of enthusiasm. I’m drawn along by curiosity rather than driven by desire. It isn’t that I need, but that I wonder. Keeping my wants and commitments small gives me plenty of freedom to ask questions and experiment. I give myself space.
Despite this, people tell me that I get a lot of things done. I tell them it looks that way because I share what I do, while most people forget what they’ve done. What have you done today? Not much? I think you’ve done more than you remember. I don’t know how my day stacks up against other people. I feel that I do less, but I try to make it count. It’s only when I look at my task lists and weekly reviews that I see the distance covered by small steps.
Anti-advice: What if you don’t have to work hard? What if you can start small and grow out from there? What if you don’t have to cram the day full, as long as you’re happy with the way you made it matter?
Along with Patricia Kambitsch and Alex M. Chong, I co-organize the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell. It’s a small gathering of graphic recorders, sketchnoters, mindmappers, doodlers, illustrators, artists, students, and so on, and we meet on the last Tuesday evening of every month at OCAD University (100 McCaul Street). We’ve had six meetups so far, and we’ve been thinking about how to make the meetups even better.
The goals for the meetup redesign are:
Here’s the agenda from a past meetup:
|7:00pm||Welcome and brief introductions. There’s usually a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board. For example, one time, participants were asked to map where they were on a “visual thinking” map. Another time, people drew things related to weather.|
|Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup|
|7:10||Presentation and Q&A|
|7:30||Open space show&tell: people volunteer topics they would like to discuss, and then the group splits up into smaller groups. People have paper and markers so that they can take notes. People are free to shift from group to group. For example, someone once brought three editions of a cookbook spanning different decades in design. Other people have brought delightfully-illustrated shopping bags, inspiring books, and so on.|
|8:10||Open space round 2|
|8:45||Report back from open space, final remarks|
|9:00||Pub night (often at Sin and Redemption)|
The current approach is good. The open space is great for a multiplicity of topics. Still, there are a few challenges we’d like to address. It can be difficult to find a speaker – sometimes there’s a last-minute scramble. It would be great to get participants to be more actively involved both during and after the meetup, too.
This is what we’d like to try as the new agenda structure:
|7:00pm||Welcome, brief introductions, plus “Share Your Work”. Before the meetup, people can upload things they’d like to share to the Flickr pool or e-mail it to me at email@example.com. I’ll compile the images into a presentation that will loop as people come in and settle down. As before, there’ll be a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board too.|
|Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup|
|7:10||Technique presentation and Q&A: In addition to accepting volunteers, we might also brainstorm some topics of general interest and then ask people to present on them (or present them ourselves).
Group doodle: There’ll be a wide roll of paper and markers or pastels so that people can doodle during the presentation. This has actually been part of all the meetups, but it might be good to explicitly encourage people to get down there and draw things. (And it helps people remember!)
|7:40||In focus: Brave souls share something they’ve worked on, optionally for feedback and suggestions.|
|8:30||Recap of the open space|
|8:40||Harvest: We review the group doodle and the open space, and people talk about what they’re planning to take away from the meetup.|
|8:55||Visual Thinking Exercise: We set a group exercise that people can do at home. For example, for emotions, it could be “Draw different emotions and share them with the group in the ‘Share Your Work’ section. For example, you can start with joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, anticipation. Play with more!”|
Meetup communication plan example:
July 16 (-2 weeks): Meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, and submission instructions for “Share Your Work”
Here are some theme ideas:
It would be interesting to do a survey so that we can learn more about people’s interests, prioritize topics, and see what other ideas we can draw out from people. =) Maybe after a couple of months with the new meetup structure, or if I have the mental bandwidth to do a survey?
I’ll keep you posted on how this meetup redesign works out!
(Curious about Visual Thinkers Toronto and want to join us at one of these meetups? Sign up at VisualThink.org!)
David Achkar has a great blog post sharing his observations from 42 days of time-tracking using Google Calendar and a few scripts for export and analysis. Since it’s fun to be able to compare numbers, I thought I’d reflect on 2013 so far.
Like David, I spend about half of my life on “survival”-type activities (48%): sleep, routines, exercise, walking, and so on. I include planning in my Personal category, even though that might be more of a discretionary activity, because planning helps keep me sane. I count my bike commutes as part of this category as well, because I think of it as exercise. Without the bike commutes, exercise, and planning, the part of my week used for survival activities is down to 44%.
I don’t think that’s a bad proportion at all. After all, you’ve got to sleep sometime. =) While some people can get along fine on four hours of sleep (hello, Papa!), I know I need my 8-9 hours of sleep, because I feel fuzzy when I don’t get it. Assuming I sleep an average of 8.5 hours a day—which turns out to be the actual result from my 2013 numbers—that leaves me with 15.5 hours of awake-time for awesomeness. Of those waking hours, I use:
So that’s roughly 58% of waking hours for good stuff, which is plenty of time to get things done. And the chores are pretty good for me, too – cooking and tidying are relaxing. =) I don’t mind. If anything, I should probably increase my “overhead” and spend more time exercising and wandering.
Choosing your time
David talks about being aware of and consciously choosing activities instead of simply reacting to whatever comes our way. It’s one of the nifty unexpected benefits of time-tracking: once you put a name to the time you’re spending, it becomes easier to recognize other things as not that activity. Working? Facebook doesn’t count. Relaxing? Checking e-mail doesn’t count.
Tracking your time manually adds a tiny bit of friction to switching tasks (you need to track it yourself, after all!), but this turns out to be a good thing. It encourages you to put off distractions until you legitimately track it as that, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do that for at least five minutes. As it happens, postponing distractions makes them less tempting.
I look at my work time mainly as a way of keeping it in check. =) I’m delighted to see that my average business-related time per week is 39:29 in 2013 so far and 39:51 in 2012, amazingly close to my target of 40. (How do I manage that? Boggle.)
2013 has an average of 18:13 billable hours a week. This is down from 19:49 in 2012, which is good because I’ve been moving towards focusing on my own things. I’ll try to bring this down to less than 8 hours a week next year, to see what that’s like. If I can get one to three good things done each day, that’s enough.
It turns out that I can actually concentrate in long stretches, and that I can arrange my time to accommodate these spans if needed. I tend to favour 0-2 hour sprints, though. Flow feels great – but it’s also dangerously seductive, and limiting it might be worth a good idea.
|Category||< 1 hour||1 hour||2 hours||3 hours||4 hours||5 hours||6 hours||>= 7 hours|
|Business – Build – Book review||4||3|
|Business – Build – Coding||39||17||6||3||1||1|
|Business – Build – Delegation||12||1|
|Business – Build – Drawing||46||15||7||1|
|Business – Build – Learn||13||2||2||1|
|Business – Build – Paperwork||69||18||2||1|
|Business – Build – Plan||14||4||3||1|
|Business – Build – Quantified Awesome||34||18||6||2||3||1|
|Business – Build – Research||10||4||1|
|Discretionary – Productive – Emacs||33||19||5||2||2||1|
|Discretionary – Productive – Gardening||36||3|
|Discretionary – Productive – Japanese||45||11||1||1|
|Discretionary – Productive – Nonfiction||20||7||2||1|
|Discretionary – Productive – Outlining||4||1|
|Discretionary – Productive – Sewing||1||1|
|Discretionary – Productive – Tracking||4|
|Discretionary – Productive – Writing||153||38||6||1||1||1|
Since practically all of my meetings are discretionary, I don’t need to make a special effort to clear large blocks of my day for concentrated work. Even when the day stretches before me without a calendar entry in sight, I usually don’t spend it all doing One Thing. I shift from one activity to another when I reach a good stopping point, following my interests or energy. Besides, food is important, so I usually interrupt my work for lunch or a snack. No marathon sessions for me!
(One year, I got so carried away programming that I forgot to make sure I drank regularly, and I fainted from dehydration. Other times, I’ve forgotten to take care of important things. So… right. I’ll pick moderation even if task-switching cuts into efficiency.)
Very little in my life is urgent, so I’m rarely stressed. That’s partly because I have the freedom to minimize commitments and to recover from mistakes. I usually answer my e-mail within a week or two. I could probably earn more or do more if I was more responsive or went looking for more commitments, but I don’t want to give up my creative time by shackling myself to e-mail or schedule expectations.
Time data is an amazing thing to have, and it’s well worth tracking. I’m looking forward to more analyses from David. If you track and analyze your time, I’d love to hear from you too!
Noorul asked, "How do you generally begin your day and how does it span? Do you plan for each hour or do you plan a task across many days/weeks?"
I have three kinds of days:
I briefly experimented with planning my life in detail before, assigning tasks to specific days or even blocking off hours in my calendar. I wanted to make sure that important tasks didn’t fall off my radar and that I didn’t overcommit my day. It didn’t really work for me – I kept moving things around depending on how I felt.
What works for me now? Minimizing commitments, thinking in terms of weeks, making decisions moment by moment, and always having good things to choose from (it helps to keep track of good ideas). Not wasting energy in beating myself up about what I haven’t done; instead, I celebrate the things I do.
Here’s what my decision process looks like when I ask myself, "What do I want to do right now?" It’s roughly in terms of priorities, although I might pick something lower on the list if that’s what I really want, and I save chores for downtime.
I prioritize things based on happiness, relationships, energy, what I’ve been doing recently (momentum!), what I haven’t done recently, whatever else comes to mind…
E-mail and social networks are pretty far down my list. Sometimes I trawl my inbox for blog post ideas, and once in a while, I go through my inbox to reply to as much as I can. (I try to do this every week, although sometimes it stretches.) TV and movies are background activities, to be saved for sessions of laundry-folding or coding – almost always DVDs checked out of the library, so that we can watch with subtitles and rewinds. In the interstitial time between activities, I do flashcards or read blog posts on my phone.
Commitments go on my planner (Org Mode in Emacs, for flexibility); all the rest are unscheduled tasks that I can review by context or look up by project depending on what I’m interested in or drawn to. There are things that I plan to do that I don’t end up doing, but that’s because they get preempted by things that are more important to me.
So that’s the discretionary stuff. What about our routines?
I wake up at 8 or 9, snoozing if I feel sleepy. I use the bathroom, wash my mouth guard, let the cats drink from the faucet. Downstairs, I have our "standard breakfast": one fried egg with brown rice, sometimes even two eggs as a weekend luxury. I head upstairs to brush my teeth and dress up. Then I pack my lunch and whatever I need (if I’m going outside) or settle into working on my own projects on our kitchen table or at our standing desk. W- leaves for work, J- leaves for school. If I’m at home, I have a simple lunch (salad? home-made frozen food?), and then I move on to whatever I want to do next. J- comes home, W- comes home. We have dinner, and then it’s time for chores or exercise or a little more writing. I tidy up, shower, brush my teeth, and go to bed at roughly midnight, although sometimes I stay up later.
I’m lucky. We keep our lives simple so that we have time.
How do you decide what to do?
Want to make your drawings more interesting? Add emotions! Drawings of emotions can communicate so much more than words describing emotions, and they do so in an immediate, visceral way. For example, consider the list of words below, and the faces beneath them.
Even if you don’t think you’re an artist, you can draw basic emotions easily. Simple combinations of eyebrows and mouths say a lot. You can show different degrees of emotions by emphasizing parts.
You can combine emotions, too. For example, angry eyebrows + happy smile = evil overlord plotting to conquer the world. >=)
Play around, and you’ll find even more emotions that you can express with small changes to the face. For inspiration, you can look at smileys and emoticons.
Icons and symbols let you be even more expressive. You can pick these up from comics and smileys.
Emotions aren’t just expressed with the face. Posture can communicate emotions powerfully too. Explore the physicality of emotions by looking at how actors show feelings, or by imagining yourself feeling those emotions.
You can also show emotions in how people relate to each other.
Metaphors are fun to play with, too.
Learning how to draw emotions isn’t just useful for sketchnoting. You can draw emotions in order to understand other people better. Mindmaps or empathy maps can help. You can draw your own emotions, too. When I’m faced with a difficult situation or a confusing tangle of emotions, I try to break down the different emotions I feel and the reasons why I feel that way. When you understand why you’re happy and sad and worried and excited all at the same time, it’s easier to move forward.
Want to learn more about drawing emotions? The best resource I’ve found so far is the Bikablo Emotions book, which has a lot of full-body emotions. Here’s a sample of the drawings I made based on part of the Bikablo Emotions book. (There are even more emotions in the book – check it out!)
Children’s books are a good source of emotions. I remember loving the Mr. Men and Little Miss series when I was growing up, and I look forward to discovering other wonderful illustrations as I go through the library’s collections. =)
Comics are another great way to learn more about expressing emotions, from the concise forms of newspaper strips to more elaborate drawings in comic books.
And then there’s learning about all these emotions in the first place, because it helps to be able to recognize the emotion and give it a name. Wikipedia has a few good pages: Contrasting and categorization of emotions, Emotion classification. HUMAINE proposes a classification of 48 emotions (see Wikipedia for an easier-to-read list) The Center for Nonviolent Communication lists 259 emotions in their feelings inventory.
I’m thinking of going through those lists and practising drawing all these different emotions. Want to join me? I’ll post stuff here once in a while, and I’d love it if you sent me links to your drawings!
Dug into the D3 data visualization library a little more this week – got lots of coding done! =) Also, I’ve been working on creating resources for visual thinking, and I’m looking forward to making more. =)
Focus areas and time review
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[X]Follow up on overview
[X]Sketch how to make a deputation
[ ]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[ ]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[X]Sketch out receipt tracking interface
[X]Add a filter string
[X]Add duration to last activity
[X]Add friendly names
[X]Add goals to nav
[X]Add receipt categories
[X]Add sunburst graph for grocery data
[X]Add zoom level selection to review
[X]Fix monthly view for time summary
[X]Get all tests passing
[X]Get tests to pass again
[X]Set up my lookup and category data
[X]Write more integration tests
[X]Write tests for receipt tracking interface
[X]Sort durations by category instead of total
[X]Practise drawing hands
[X]Practise drawing figures
[X]Prepare presentation on emotions
[ ]Design landing page for livinganawesomelife.com
[ ]Design new front for business cards
[ ]Design sketchnoting tips for business cards
[ ]Redesign Experivis site
[ ]Sketchnote a book
[X]Follow up with CRA regarding reassessment
[X]Pay myself annual salary of $15,000
[X]Review Emacs chat transcript and post it
[ ]Send out Visual Thinkers Toronto message
[ ]Host another LivingAnAwesomeLife hangout
[ ]Write blog post on life planning with Mural.ly and Evernote
[ ]Do a quick video on Areas & Outlines
[ ]Order new business cards
[X]Pick up bicycle
[ ]Go to Eric’s housewarming party
[X]Call Sun Life to find out if the recare frequency also affects cleaning
[X]Check with dentist regarding filling
[X]Follow up on my passport
[X]Follow up on my passport again
[X][#A] File for police report
[X][#A] Print report from Canada Post
[X]File an appeal with the ombudsman
[X]Print everything that needs printing
[X]Withdraw more cash for passport application
[ ]Follow up with consulate regarding police report (should have been faxed)
[X]Add Bill Z to possible Emacs book repository
[ ]Add more to my outline
Because my passport was going to expire in December, I submitted an application for renewal in April. The new application form said that if I wanted my old passport back, I needed to submit an Xpresspost envelope. I was a little hesitant about this (the Internet has lots of stories about people losing their passports in the mail), but since my passport had a valid US visa that I wanted to keep, I paid the fee and submitted my application along with the prepaid, pre-addressed envelope. The consulate gave me a slip of paper that said the passport would be available on June 19 if I was picking up, and they confirmed that they would mail both the old and the new passport to me using the Xpresspost envelope.
I started worrying when July rolled around with no passport in sight. I called the embassy to look up the tracking number, and then looked up the tracking number on Canada Post’s website. Canada Post’s site claimed that the parcel had been delivered on May 31. May?! Nope. Hadn’t seen it. W- hadn’t seen it. J- hadn’t seen it. It wasn’t anywhere near the mailbox or in our mail sorter. We get along with the neighbours, and they hadn’t said anything. Missing. Nada. Zilch.
Oh no! I felt annoyed at the inconvenience, disappointed with Canada Post, and worried about whether I’d get stranded here in case a family emergency came up. I had considered the risk and gone for it anyway, but that still didn’t mean I was happy with the worst-case scenario. I called Canada Post to investigate. After several days, they said that they unfortunately couldn’t track it down, and they sent me a letter confirming its loss.
Fortunately, when Canada Post said that they’d given up, W- was working from home. I cheered up after a few hugs. “I’d never lost a passport before,” I said. “I could learn about the process. And besides, it could’ve been worse.” I started singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
“Okay, that’s stretching it,” W- said, laughing. I think he was happy that I bounced back quickly. I know I was. I like being able to flip things around and look at the good stuff. This was another opportunity to find out if it’s true that things aren’t bad, they’re just different. Another opportunity to practise focusing on what I can do to move things forward instead of getting tangled in useless blaming. Another series of blog posts as I figured things out.
Besides, that’s what I have buffers for. Replacing the passport would be expensive (> $300 if I include the cost of replacing the US visa), but that’s what my travel budget is for – it just means the next trip will be a little further out. Replacing the passport would also involve a lot of time and a fair amount of frustration, but I could also look at it as free exercise from biking, some time to do Japanese flashcards or read, and free practice in keeping my cool in the moment. Buffers absorb little shocks in life and let me reduce stress.
Equanimity restored, I made a list of the requirements for replacing a lost passport.
If you ever have to go through the process yourself, here’s what I’ve been learning from the first part of it:
… and that’s where we are. I’ll keep you posted.
Anyway, this is just one of the many, many reasons why, unlike practically every other twenty-almost-thirty-something, I really don’t like travelling. Paperwork. Grr. But it is what it is, so I might as well get through it, and I can focus on squeezing as much good stuff out of it as I can. =)
It’s not bad, it’s just different.
The idea of learning a new skill can be overwhelming. If you break the skill down into specific things you can learn, it becomes much more manageable. Tim Ferris used this to hack cooking (video) by dissociating it from shopping for groceries or cleaning up. Josh Kaufman’s new book The First 20 Hours fleshes out how to rapidly learn, illustrating it with stories, examples, and practical tips for a wide range of skills. A key insight? You don’t have to be amazing, just good enough to enjoy the skill, and 20 hours is enough to get you there if you learn effectively. (Even if it turns out to be more complex than that, stick with it anyway, and then see where you are at 20 hours.) Click on the one-page summary below to view or download a larger version. Feel free to share this visual book review! (Creative Commons Attribution – I’d love it if you link back to this site and tell me about it. =) ) It should print out fine on letter-sized paper, too. The book is both practical and entertaining, especially if you’ve been curious about some of the areas he covers in his chapters. =) While the advice is common sense, the application of the advice makes it interesting – and the stories might nudge you into taking similar steps towards the skill you’d like to develop the most. Besides, the book has stick figures in the chapter on yoga and shell commands and a Ruby tutorial in the chapter on programming. Not that many books can pull that off, although if you’re the type who reads things like travel books for just one chapter, you might grumble about paying for all the other chapters you’re not interested in. 20 hours isn’t going to make you an expert in something, but it might get you farther than you think. Intrigued by the ideas? You can check your local library to see if they have a copy, or buy your own: The First 20 Hours (affiliate link). What I’m going to do with this book One of the benefits of this experiment with semi-retirement is that I have the time and space to explore what I’d like to learn. Not all of it at once, but I can certainly make decent headway on a few skills I want to improve. I rarely start from scratch, so it’s not that I’m really spending my first 20 hours on something – new interests are usually offshoots of something that I already do well or enjoy, because unfair advantages lead to other unfair advantages. I like programming, writing, going through flashcards… I even get along with accounting.
So, let’s pick another skill. Something that I haven’t dived deeply into, but that I’m curious about. Some candidates:
Of the three, I think visualizing data with D3.js will be the most fun for me. I can break that down this way:
In terms of barriers, it’s really just about sitting down with some data and the documentation. I’ve worked with D3 before. I just have to practise enough to grok it. The most important skill to master first, I think, is creating typical graphs. If I get that into my brain, I can imagine custom graphs and other applications from there. So learning this skill might involve doing “programming kata”: take an existing data set and visualize it in different ways using common chart types. It’s also useful to look at how other people are breaking down skills and learning them. Duncan Mortimer (who I think is the same as the Duncan Mortimer behind this WriteOrDie mode for Emacs?) wants to write blog posts better. He came up with this list of skills that he wants to work on in terms of blogging:
I’m also interested in writing more effectively. For me, the key things I’m working on are:
Anyway, here’s the book again if you’re curious. Disclosure: I’ll get a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon using the links in this post, but you could also see if your local library has the book. (I got this one from the Toronto Public Library!) Check out first20hours.com for more info. Like this? Check out my other visual book reviews!
For another visual take on this (pretty colours!), check out Cynthia Morris’ summary. Enjoy!
It can be frustrating learning something new. When you hit a plateau, you feel like you’re not making any progress, which makes you feel like you suck, which makes it even harder to make progress. Sometimes I feel that way about learning Japanese, or drawing, or even coding with a new platform or API.
I really like khatzumoto’s blog post on Intermediate Angst: Dealing with Feelings of Suckage (from All Japanese All The Time). Here’s what made me go “Hmm…”:
Call it the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of learning languages: you can’t have any momentum if you’re busy worrying about your position.
And from earlier in the blog post, concrete advice on small victories:
If you want to win the long game, stop playing it.
Stop running the marathon and start sprinting instead.
Start running and playing and winning short games instead.
Don’t learn Korean.
Learn the chorus of this song.
Don’t learn Korean.
Play this movie. Don’t even watch it. Just play. It. Audibly.
Sometimes I get lost in the big picture, feeling the insignificance of each small step. If I focus on constantly making small steps, even absurdly small steps, I’ll get somewhere faster than if I’m worried about how slow I’m going.
I knew this truth better when I was younger, reading and rereading books even though I didn’t understand everything in them. Why not rediscover it with Japanese? Some small steps: to read the manga we have out loud, not worrying about whether I understand it, and to repeat that (and other things) until it gradually becomes clearer.
Hello, I’m Sacha Chua, and today I’m going to show you some of the ways I’ve been using Mural.ly‘s new Evernote integration as well as the Areas and Outline feature. (You can enable the Areas & Outline feature by clicking on your account picture, choosing Settings, and choosing Labs.)
You can watch the screencast (< 2 minutes), or read the blog post below.
I was recently working on a small redesign of my blog’s landing page at LivingAnAwesomeLife.com. While giving people my card, I realized that my personal blog can be… a little overwhelming for people. Time to design a new page!
First, I started with some ideas for what I want this page to do. The text tool makes this easier, and I can draw connectors between items. Even if I move the items around, they stay connected.
There’s a lot of great inspiration out there, so I use the Evernote Web Clipper to save images and webpages to my notebooks. I file the relevant notes in my project notebook and tag them with keywords.
To import the notes into Mural.ly, I click on the Evernote icon. You can search across all of your notebooks, or you can pick a notebook to browse and search within it. Adding the note is as simple as clicking on the thumbnail.
One of the things I really like about Mural.ly is the ability to see multiple Evernote items together, like clipping things to a virtual bulletin board.
With the Areas and Outlines feature, it’s even easier to keep things organized. To define an area, click on the Spaces icon and fill in the name.
If I want to get back to the original site that I clipped, I can right-click on the item and open the note in Evernote, then follow the source URL.
I drew some ideas for my landing page design on my tablet. Let me add them here as well.
So then I drew the landing page design and implemented it on my site. Here’s a screenshot that I saved to Evernote… and now I can update the arrows to show what connects to where, doublechecking that I’ve covered everything.
Now that Mural.ly makes it super-easy to grab my Evernote clippings, I can imagine using Mural.ly for sketching out user interface flows, data visualizations, and all sorts of other stuff. I hope you have fun with it too!
Other things you might be interested in:
For your convenience, this post is also available at sach.ac/murally . Enjoy!
Summary: Until June 2014, I’m focusing on work that’s either public or that reaches an audience of 10,000+.
I’m celebrating my 30th birthday next month. To get a sense of where I’ve come from and where I want to go, I’ve been reviewing more than ten years of blog posts. If I didn’t have my archive, the years would be a blur. The posts help me remember the significant events that happened, and then I can remember other details around those.
Here is something I’m starting to realize: Whatever isn’t written down—whatever isn’t published—gets forgotten. Private notes? Lost in computer migrations and disorganized files. E-mail? Too many to go through. Photos? Few and far between. Things I’ve shared with other people? That comes back, even when I’ve completely forgotten about sharing it in the first place.
There’s this amazing thing that happens when you have an external brain: people make the connections for you. People comment on blog posts years after I post them, which is great at bringing things back to mind. Longest gap between blog post and comment: 3,410 days (a little over 9 years!) on this post on literate programming, which I wrote long before Org Mode made it super-easy to publish websites with code. Google Analytics shows me that a post from 2010 still gets more than a thousand views a month, and quite a few older posts get hundreds of views a month. My oldest source code available on the Web? This fractal-drawing program I wrote in 1997, when I was in high school. People help me remember and inspire me to learn more.
Good things probably also happened with the confidential workshops and projects that I worked on, but it’s harder to point to them and say, “Oh, that’s where those years went.” The things I’ve shared help me feel that I put the time to good use, especially as they keep providing value.
Open = good.
Putting my time where my philosophy is
Now that I’m on my own, I can choose what to spend my time on. One of the decisions I’ve been working my way through is whether I should work (almost) exclusively on open things: ideas, code, and resources that I can share with other people.
What if I stop accepting requests for confidential work, and focus instead on what can be opened up? I have the space to do that, and it makes decisions so much easier.
I can make an exception for work that meets my desire for scale – perhaps directly affecting more than 10,000 people (even with a small effect) in a searchable, semi-public way. For example, I still hear from IBMers who come across the blog posts I shared on the intranet, and that makes me happy. As for small-scale confidential work… other people can handle that, and they can handle that happily.
Considering the opportunity cost
What would I give up by focusing on only open projects?
What are the benefits of focusing on openness?
Okay. I think we can do this. From this time until my 31st birthday next year, I’m going to apply the following decision criteria to the professional work that I accept:
If exceptional circumstances come up (say, something happens to W- and I need to return to work), I can change my mind about this, but let’s give it a try.
SQL query for finding longest time between post and comment in WordPress:
SELECT TO_DAYS(c.comment_date) – TO_DAYS(p.post_date) AS days, comment_post_ID FROM wp_comments c INNER JOIN wp_posts p ON c.comment_post_id=p.ID WHERE comment_type NOT IN (“pingback”, “trackback”) AND comment_approved != “spam” ORDER BY days DESC limit 5;
Another big milestone in my business adventures: I paid myself for the first time! Not bad, considering this is my second fiscal year. I’ve been nervous about this for a while because I wanted to make sure that the business had a emergency fund of its own, especially when it comes to taxes. I also wanted to get a little more confidence in accounting before opening up a payroll account and remitting the proper amounts. Well, now I’ve done it!
Most of the salary/dividend comparisons lean heavily towards dividends to increase the tax-free income available, although some include a little salary in order to take advantage of the exemptions for tax and for CPP. Since dividends use after-tax dollars, I don’t need a high income to support my lifestyle, and I have some unused RRSP deductions (that’s what happens when you keep maxing it out, and you end in a low-income year!), I crunched my own numbers and figured out that an all-salary payment would be the best for me right now, even with the mandatory CPP contributions.
To keep things simple, I chose an annual payroll period. I didn’t need the regularity of a bi-weekly or monthly paycheque, and it was easier for me to deal with one cheque and one set of remittances. It’s not a popular option, so I called the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) a few times to check that I was doing things correctly. They told me to use the payroll calculator’s 10-payment option and multiply everything by 10. I wrote myself a business cheque for the amount that I wanted to draw out, deposited it… and then realized that I’d written down the nice round gross number instead of the net amount that the provided calculator had provided, so I went back to the payroll calculator and jiggled the numbers around until it gave me the correct remittances for the net amount I received. I filed my remittance through the CRA’s online My Payment system, and in January next year, I’ll file a T-4 tax form.
Because we’re expecting significant medical expenses that W-‘s extended benefits won’t cover, I also set up a private health service plan (PHSP) with Brock Health. Brock has a $100 set up fee and a 5% admin charge for qualifying medical expenses, but it may let me convert the medical expenses into before-tax business expenses. It doubles my up-front cost, but I have both the business and the personal buffers to absorb that.
It turns out that you can set the effective date for a PHSP to anything that matches a 12-month period ending in the current fiscal year. Since my fiscal year started on October 1, 2012, that meant that I can probably claim expenses going back to incorporation (or maybe even earlier, but let’s not be greedy here).
I felt the twinge of buyer’s remorse after signing up for Brock, as further research turned up Promedent, another PHSP provider that charges a $150 setup fee with a flat fee of $50 per claim. Going with Promedent could save me a few hundred dollars – probably even worth the cost of cancelling and signing up there instead. However, there’s a lot more on the Internet about Brock Health than about Promedent, so if I’m going to experiment with this, I trust Brock a bit more. Brock also promises claims processing in 10 days (within 5 days of receipt) while Promedent processes claims in ~30 days, and the turnaround time might come in handy for feedback and getting things right.
Large medical expenses usually trigger audits, so we’re going to carefully file all the receipts, dot all the is, cross all the ts, and Scan All the Everything! I’m a little worried about what the CRA considers a reasonable health benefit for a corporation, but I may as well claim whatever I can and then work things out.
Let’s see how this goes!
Lots of drawing and paperwork, and lots of backyard work too! =)
Focus areas and time review
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[X][#A] Sketch School4Civics
[ ]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[ ]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[ ]Sketch municipal view
[X]Design landing page for livinganawesomelife.com
[ ]Redesign Experivis site
[ ]Research how to make custom maps
[X]Add day/week visualizer
[X]Fix filter string for records
[X][#A] Write blog post on planning with Mural.ly and Evernote
[ ]Sketchnote a book
[X]Call Brock Health and clarify
[X]Set up Brock Health HSA
[X]Do a quick video on Areas & Outlines
[X]Draft Visual Thinkers Toronto communication
[X]Host another LivingAnAwesomeLife hangout
[X]Send out Visual Thinkers Toronto message
[ ]E-mail Farzad
[ ]Check out Draw By Night
[X]Do risk analysis for M
[X]Call in M
[X]Go to Eric’s housewarming party
[ ]Fix rice cooker at Hacklab
[X]Plan goals for birthday celebration
[X]Prototype gratitude map
[X]Sketch my visual history
[X]Start exploring goals
[ ]Work on gratitude map for 30th birthday
[X]Help measure and make stringer for stairs
[X]Help with Sketchup
[ ]Make the rest of the stringers
[ ]Follow up with consulate regarding police report (should have been faxed)
[X]Add recent 5-star posts to my blog collection
[X]Add more to my outline
[ ]Draw/write about learning
[ ]Have filling re-filled
I’ve seen the e-mail hamster-wheel that other people are stuck on, and I don’t want to go there. As for me, e-mail doesn’t make me feel important or needed or valued. E-mail is… well… it’s conversations that are hidden from the world, thoughts that I’m going to forget because no one else is going to come across them in a search engine and post comments. As lots of people have observed (including Luis Suarez, whom I knew at IBM): “E-mail is where knowledge goes to die.”
Still, e-mail is useful. I keep e-mail for following up with clients, coordinating with W- or with meetup organizers, introducing people, handling quick tech support for my mom, and answering the occasional private question that usually doesn’t have to be private anyway. I like getting quick questions, especially if I can send people links (although getting those questions as public comments works even better!). I like getting in-depth questions too, which I try to answer in blog posts whenever possible, add a note to my outline with the name of the person requesting it.
I reply to e-mail roughly once a week, although I check it more often to see if there’s anything that needs attention. Here’s how I work. Maybe you’ll pick up some ideas or tips! =)
I use my phone to quickly check e-mail while I’m walking or waiting. I get a lot of e-mail that I don’t particularly care about, even though I periodically unsubscribe from lists. The phone’s limited interface means that I generally don’t use it to reply to e-mail (unless I can say what I need in one or two sentences with no links), but I can delete unneeded messages and add stars to messages that need action.
Friday is my “catch up” day. I balance my company books, follow up on tasks I’m waiting for, and go through my e-mail, writing blog posts (like this one!) and e-mailing replies. The Share a Draft plugin for WordPress helps here because I can keep my ~1-post-a-day schedule while still giving people a sneak preview of any upcoming blog posts related to their question.
If there are important conversations I need to follow up on, I use Boomerang for Gmail. This archives the message for now, returning it to my inbox in case I haven’t received a reply within the specified timeframe. I also use Boomerang for Gmail’s “Send Later” feature to schedule e-mails so that I don’t have to set a reminder.
There are lots of other ways that people handle e-mail. There’s the idea of “Touch it once” – check mail only when you’re ready to handle it, and move important information to your to-do list. That would probably mean checking it more frequently, though, and I don’t want to commit time every day to do that. There’s being strict about checking only at specified times (such as once a day, or even once a week) and always having an Out of Office message turned on or putting that in your signature, but that felt odd too. So here we are – I check mail frequently, respond occasionally, and try to move things into blog posts as much as possible.
There are trade-offs for my approach, of course. I could probably drum up more business and build more connections if I had a reputation for being instantly responsive… but I wouldn’t want to be shackled to my e-mail and I wouldn’t want my task list to be rearranged with every incoming message, so I’m fine with what I have.
Also, if it takes you a few weeks to reply too, no need to apologize. Almost all of my mail isn’t time-sensitive, and if it’s important to me, I’ll indicate the date I need a response by and I’ll follow up if time has passed.
E-mail doesn’t have to be a slave-driver. =)
How do you learn? What’s your process like? What helps you learn more effectively? Timothy Kenny put together this learning profile based on almost 30 of my blog posts and pages throughout the years. Some of his observations are still true today, while others are a little out of date or incomplete. (For example: I’m back to feeling a visceral horror at the thought of marking up my books, and I don’t use a special keyboard.) Since quite a few people are interested in learning about learning, I thought I’d write about what I find helpful and how I want to improve.
1. It starts with attitude
I learn better when I’m learning something I care about and I can celebrate small successes. I can see this difference more clearly by looking at where I’ve had problems. I’ve struggled with learning when I didn’t start off with that engagement and feeling of possible competence. In my English literature classes, I felt like a fake trying to write critical essays. (“Irony? I don’t do irony, I’m a programmer!”) In calculus, I fell behind in memorizing and understanding different principles, so it was harder and harder to catch up. Most of my consulting engagements were fun, but I hated dealing with enterprise software stacks or Microsoft SQL Server administration because feedback was slow and I didn’t have that small kernel of confidence to build on.
When I catch myself making excuses why I’d have a hard time learning something, that’s useful information. I’m avoiding it for a reason, sometimes several reasons. What are those reasons, and what can I do about it? I don’t allow myself to say that I can’t learn something. I have to face the facts. Either I haven’t broken it down into a small enough chunk to learn, or I don’t care about it enough. If I don’t care about it enough, then I look for ways to work around it. I don’t have to learn everything, but I need to believe that I can learn what I need to.
Tip: Watch out for your excuses. Deal with them, or be okay with dropping things you don’t care about.
2. Work with your brain, not against it
We learn in different ways. I find it difficult to sit still and listen, so I fell asleep in many of my university lectures, and I’m not really into online courses or podcasts. My memory is fuzzy, so taking notes and searching them helps a lot. I can find it tiring to concentrate on one thing for more than four hours, so I keep a list of things to learn more about. I love reading, and I love trying things out for myself. Spaced repetition seems to work well for me in terms of memorizing, while small tasks work well for me in terms of learning something new.
Tip: Know your brain’s quirks and limitations, and work with them.
3. Embrace uncertainty and intimidation
It’s hard to learn when you don’t know where to start, what’s involved, or what’s possible. I’m learning to embrace that uncertainty. Uncertainty is awesome. It means there’s lots to learn. You don’t have to completely resolve uncertainty – small experiments can give you plenty of information.
Intimidation can be good, too. Even if a topic looks too large to handle, if you can break it down into smaller chunks that you can learn and you celebrate that progress, it can feel fantastic.
Tip: The important thing here is not to avoid the topic just because you don’t know enough about it. Get your teeth into it and start chewing. That’s the point of learning, after all.
4. See learning opportunities at many levels
If you can get better at recognizing learning opportunities, then you can wring more learning out of the same 24 hours we get in a day. This is mostly about mental friction. For example, Canada Post recently lost my passport. I could spend time and energy getting really annoyed about that (which wouldn’t do anything), or I could focus on learning from it. Everything is a learning opportunity.
It gets even better when you can recognize multiple levels of learning opportunities. The same experience can teach you many different things. For example, attending presentations can be a hit-or-miss experience. Sometimes I go to an event and the presentation covers something I already know, or the speaker isn’t engaging, or there’s not enough time for Q&A. Many people would think that’s a waste of time. But I get a lot of value even if the talk doesn’t meet my expectations: drawing practice, connection opportunities, raw material for blog posts and communities, reflections on what would make the presentation more effective… It’s like getting several hours’ worth out of one hour.
Tip: See each experience as a learning opportunity, and wring out of it as much as you can.
5. Think about thinking, learn about learning – observe and improve your processes
If you can reflect on and observe yourself, it’s easier to improve how you work. Words help you understand and communicate. I read books and research papers on thinking, and recognizing my processes helps me articulate them and tweak them.
6. Break things down into small chunks, and write down your questions
You have to start somewhere, and besides, it’s more fun when you can celebrate along the way. A question is a good unit to work with. You can break large questions down into smaller questions. I try to get things down into questions that I can answer within four hours. Questions give you focus, and they often suggest ways to answer them as well.
Writing down your questions helps a lot. It means you never run out of things to learn, you don’t have to worry about forgetting an interesting idea while you’re focused on something else, and you can review your progress as you go along.
7. Reduce friction
Make it easy to learn. For me, annoyance, frustration, and intimidation cause mental friction, so I try to avoid them unless I can use those emotions to fuel my motivation. It’s worth reducing environmental friction, too. Make it easy to get started and keep on going. For example, I’m learning Japanese. I have Japanese flashcards on my phone so that I can learn anywhere instead of needing to be at home with a textbook. Set things up so that learning is the path of least resistance.
It can be surprisingly easy to try something out with minimal risk and see what happens.
I like thinking about the grand experiment of life. Worst-case scenario, even if one of my experiments turns out badly, my notes might be able to help someone else make a better decision.
9. Notice the unusual
Getting into the habit of making small predictions will help you notice when things are different from what you expect. More learning opportunities there!
It’s also useful to look at familiar things in a new light. Anything can be amazing if you look at it from the right perspective. I’m working on learning how to fix a rice cooker, and rice cookers are pretty darn cool.
10. Build in feedback
Learning is faster when you have quick, reliable feedback. This is one of the reasons why I like programming so much: you can do something, see the results, change it a little, and see the new results. Whenever possible, build short feedback loops into how you learn. (Hmm; I should see about experimenting with having an editor again…)
11. Take advantage of other people (in a good way)
Other people have probably learned what you’re trying to learn, so learn from them if possible. This is why I like reading books and blog posts, having mentors, and asking questions. One of the surprising benefits of having a blog is that other people help you remember really old posts, too.
12. Do something with what you learn
It’s not yours until you do something with it. You can start by summarizing it in your own words, but the best thing to do is to apply it to your life or make something with it. Then you’ll have better questions and you’ll understand it more.
13. Relate what you’re learning to what you know
The human brain is really good at association. If you start a sentence with “_(thing that you’re learning)_ is like _(something you know)_ because…”, chances are that you can finish the sentence easily. Seeing the connections helps you build your confidence and lets you take advantage of transferrable skills.
Don’t believe it? Here are some examples from my life: sketchnoting is like computer programming because they’re both about simplifying concepts so that I can communicate them with a limited vocabulary and a logical layout. Writing is like biking because it helps to have a map of where you’re going, but you can take different routes to get there, and you can make some interesting discoveries if you try different routes.
14. Take notes and review them (and share them, if you can!)
People’s brains are terrible at remembering things. I can’t remember the details of what I did last week, much less what I learned four years ago. Take notes so that you can remember. This applies even if you can easily go back to the original material, like books, presentation slides, or videos. Sure, you might have a copy of the content, but you might not remember what you felt, what you decided to do about it, what you learned, what you were surprised by, and so on.
Writing notes that other people will read forces you to understand things better. I find that visual notes capture less detail, but are faster and more fun to review, so I take lots of them.
15. Practise continuous improvement
Tiny improvements can lead to big changes over time. Experiment. Try things out. Notice where you’re doing well, and where you can improve. Tweak the way you learn.
For example, I’m learning more about outlining now. Looks promising!
16. Celebrate progress
This makes the journey fun. Notes and plans help here too. Every so often, take a look back and see how far you’ve come, and plan a little ahead so that you know where you want to go next.
So those are some things I’ve learned about learning. I’ll write about specific tools and techniques in a future post. More about reading, outlines, sketchnotes, mindmaps, transcripts, asking, and so on – next time!
Update 2013/07/22: Here’s my breakdown of different skills involved in learning.
I’m nearly out of business cards, which means it’s time to evaluate my business card experiment and plan my next one. Past performance is a good indicator of future results, so let me think about how I’ve been using my business cards and how I want to use them in the future. For comparison, here’s last year’s business card plan.
People usually ask me for cards:
I haven’t gotten any business leads from cards yet, but I’ve had a lot of good conversations. I think they’re worth carrying. I try to not rely on them, though. Whenever possible, I get the other person’s contact information, because I’m often good at following up.
Mostly, I want my cards to make people to think, “Oh, I’m also interested in that! Let me go check out her site and get in touch.”
I designed the current set of cards in November, a month before I came up with the “Experivis” name and logo. For fun, I drew the front of the card. I took advantage of Moo’s ability to print individual designs on the backs of the cards, using scaled-down images of my sketchnotes.
So far, people tend to react to:
No one complained about rounded corners or the inability to write on the back (I guess I didn’t run into corner-folders). I liked how the rounded corners felt, but could do with a matte background so that I can write (or draw!) memory hooks for people.
I’m definitely changing fonts to something where the “a”s don’t look so much like “o”s – maybe to the Open Sans that I use on my blog.
When coming up with design ideas, it’s good to try several very different approaches. Here are some I might consider:
Ooh. I like that last approach.
The Moo cards are USD 0.54 per card (per pack of 50, after shipping). Small runs are more expensive, but I can learn more from them. The Vistaprint cards (per pack of 250, plain back, after shipping and promos) are CAD 0.09 a card. With a colour back, it would be about CAD 0.13.
Other ways to achieve similar effects:
I think printing a small run of business cards will be the best way to test this idea of sharing mini-drawing tips.
I’d still like to know whether it actually engages people, though. What would be my threshold of awesomeness to make it worth the premium over an ordinary card? Possible benefits:
I’m going to work on making business-card-sized drawing exercises/tips and some pay-what-you-can resources, and then I’m going to make Moo business cards that take advantage of them, probably with the front of the card mentioning a variety of interests instead of focusing on Experivis’ branding.
In the meantime, I’ll experiment with a month or two of not giving business cards to test how uncomfortable that might make me and whether I’ll remember to follow up. We’ll see!
Objectives: Dig into how I write and see if I can dislodge something that can be improved; connect with other people who sometimes struggle with writing to show that hey, they’re not alone.
I’ve been experimenting with writing headlines first. That’s a popular blogging tip: come up with two or three headlines, and you might find that the rest of the blog post writes itself.
Except that most of the time, I don’t know what I want to write about until I start writing it. Maybe the blog post is about a technical problem that I’m still trying to solve. Maybe it’s about a personal question that I need to explore. Maybe it’s even a bit of both. I write and write and write. It takes shape. Then I cut out what doesn’t belong there any more, come up with a title or two, and stash the clippings for a future post.
I still haven’t figured out how to write to an outline or a plan. I wander. My occasional attempts at having daily themes for my blog dissipate after a week or two, with the exception of my weekly review. Instead, I write whatever comes to mind, although sometimes I schedule the posts apart so that I’m not writing about the same topic four days in a row.
I write from the bottom up, one chunk at a time, gradually bringing ideas together with links and categories. Now that I think of it this way, it makes a lot of sense. A wiki lends itself to top-down writing, because you can link to pages that don’t exist. Blog posts tend to link to the past, instead of the future.
Part of it is because I like taking a closer look at topics, ignoring the big picture in favor of detail. I’m less interested in mapping out the entirety of a space, and more interested in answering one question at a time. My questions tend to be bite-size. I don’t dwell on the overall structure of an area. I ask: what’s the smallest thing I could learn in order to move forward? This is great for learning and for making progress, but it might be hard for other people to follow.
It would be good to learn how to write methodically, to survey the land from a high point before whacking my way through the jungle, to define landmarks that can help me see my progress.
Other people have figured it out. I can learn how to do so too.
It’s amazing how little tweaks give you a whole new sense of the data. I’ve been using Cal-HeatMap to look at my blogging history. I figured I’d build it into Quantified Awesome to make it even easier to analyze how I spend my time. 1.9 hours later, here’s what I have. All totals are reported for the past 12-month period by default (as of this writing, July 19 2012 to July 19 2013, including the day’s activities), but it adjusts depending on the filter settings.
Here’s me working on the Quantified Awesome system:
Instead of just a table of log entries or a summary of numbers, I can see the gaps and sprints in my activity.
Here’s the one for Discretionary – Productive:
Pretty consistent, actually.
and Discretionary – Play:
February must’ve been when I had a new video game to tinker around with. Plenty of opportunities to relax.
Here’s my Business – Earn graph:
and Business – Build:
I’ve been biking pretty regularly, mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays…
In contrast, I take the subway only if it’s winter or really rainy, if I’m going somewhere far or steeply uphill, or if my bike is flat (as it was yesterday).
Neato. I should definitely do this for groceries too, now that I’ve loaded my grocery receipts into Quantified Awesome! (No public link yet for that data, sorry. =) ) I also want to figure out how to speed things up enough so that I can do quartile analysis and then use that to colour the scale…
Calendar heatmaps for the win!
A fact-checker from FLARE Magazine followed up on a recent interview I did on time-tracking and sleep, which will come out in the September issue. Among other things, he asked me to confirm the following statement: "You mentioned that after a few weeks or months analyzing sleep date and daily schedules, most can find more otherwise wasted time for sleep." It turns out I have a strong reaction against this idea of “wasting time”, so we explored the nuances in a phone call. I thought I’d dig into those ideas here so that I can understand them further.
People often ask me about tracking time. They say things like: “I waste a lot of time commuting/waiting/doing chores/watching television.” “I want to spend more time writing, but work and family obligations get in the way.” “I should be exercising, but I find myself playing video games instead.”
I try to share not only the mechanics but also a good mindset. Like everything that you can track, you can lose yourself in self-criticism or frustration. Beating yourself up may work for some people, but I find that it’s easier to learn and grow if I accept where I’m coming from. Practise loving kindness, even with—especially with—yourself.
You choose your activities because you’re getting some kind of payoff from it. Maybe you don’t consciously decide, and maybe you haven’t questioned your assumptions, but you always get something – whether it’s the opportunity for progress or the avoidance of pain. You might take a chance that doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean your decision was bad. It’s okay. Embrace that, and work on understanding your decisions and trade-offs.
I gave this example: Work is valuable. But if you work long hours and deprive themselves of sleep, it can affect your ability to do things at work and outside work. If you’re okay with the trade-offs, then it’s fine – maybe a temporary sacrifice to make things better. If you aren’t okay, it might be a good opportunity to examine your assumptions. Is more really better?
So that’s one reason why you aren’t wasting your time: you’re probably getting something out of it, although you might not have thought about what that is and what you’re giving up. If you try to cut out all television-viewing for your life so that you can free up time for reading, but you don’t address the underlying needs or tensions that were why you chose TV over other activities before, you’ll be fighting yourself. The Power of Habit has a good explanation of the habit loop and how to replace habitual actions with others.
My life is full of things that people might consider wastes of time. I sleep when I’m sleepy. I write my way through tangled thoughts. I read things that may not be immediately helpful. But it’s all part of my life. Sometimes I consciously decide how to spend my time. Sometimes I do things without looking at the trade-offs well. Sometimes I take chances that don’t work out. Still, it feels better to work with what I have than to judge myself for what I don’t.
So instead of “don’t waste time”, I think the goal of my tracking is more about “understand myself better and make better decisions”. Hope that helps clarify the difference!
Do you think you waste time? What do you get out of it?
Turns out the weekly review from last week didn’t get published. Anyway, it’s up there now! =) Keeping this week relatively light as we see how it all works out.
Focus areas and time review
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
[X]Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
[ ]Sketchnote a book
[ ][#A] Call CRA to clarify HST
[X]Draw/write about learning
[X]Talk to Marty Pauschke about sketchnotes
[ ]Chat with Timothy Kenny about learning
[X]Fix rice cooker at Hacklab
[X]Buy thermal cut-off 10A 184C
[X]Make more stringers
[X]Make the rest of the stringers
[ ]Work on E for project P
[ ]Work on T for project P
[ ]Work on gratitude map for 30th birthday
[ ]Follow up with consulate regarding police report (should have been faxed)
[ ]Reschedule dental appointment to next week if possible
[ ]Have chip filled
From Saturday afternoon: It had started raining, so W- put away his tools and stopped working on the deck stairs. He asked if I wanted to go out and do something fun – maybe watch a movie, or have pho?
I checked the movie listings. Nothing particularly worth watching on the big screen instead of on our television, and we had food in the fridge. So we stayed home, watched one of the movies we’d checked out from the library, and enjoyed some home-made pizza.
We haven’t been to a movie theatre in ages (ever since I decided that actually, even superhero blockbusters are just fine on the small screen). The library is the source of a constant stream of DVDs. While there are long waits for the latest releases, there are plenty of old movies we can go through. I’ve gotten accustomed to watching with subtitles and the ability to pause or rewind, which is great since many movies involve at least one mumbly moment. Besides, if we watch at home, we can make jokes.
I am such a homebody. My default is to spend time at home, and I enjoy it. I love reading, writing, drawing, coding. Tidying up is slightly less fun, but it’s also useful. We’re not hermits – we go to the supermarket, the library, the hardware store – but we don’t often go out just for recreation.
I go out occasionally – more often than W- goes out. I go to the clients’ offices. I go to HackLab to hang out with other geeks and learn from them. I go to friends’ get-togethers. And then I come home and recharge.
Back when I lived at home, my parents took me and my sisters out a lot: eating at restaurants, strolling through the malls. I hardly go shopping here, aside from the occasional stressful sprint when I need to restock my shoes or clothes. I hardly go to restaurants, either. When I get together with friends, it’s usually in someone’s kitchen.
I think the trick is to embrace this homebody-ness instead of wondering whether it makes us weird. (At least we’re weird the same way!)
Sunday: Also, maybe I should check the event listings once in a while, when the weather is good. There’s always something going on in Toronto, and it could be a good excuse for a bike ride. For example, there’s some kind of Japanese festival going on downtown, so I might head out. Maybe something outside 1-3 times a week? Let’s try that.
Update: Hah, staying home to work on the deck stairs instead. We’ll probably head out for celebratory pho afterwards, though!
Update 2013-07-31: You can find a table of contents and associated links at http://sach.ac/accel. Here’s the video!
From time to time, I say interesting-enough things that make people want to pick my brain further. When people do, this is excellent! Sometimes I don’t know what people will find useful or interesting until they ask. When the opportunity comes up, I try to wring out as much as I can. In the podcast interviews I’ve done so far, I’ve always been delighted by what we learn from the conversation.
An interview is entirely different from a presentation, and it would be a waste to treat it as one. I love where other people’s questions, interests, and experiences can lead me. So I don’t want to structure it too much – but I also want to give people the benefit of clear thoughts and useful replies. Having struggled with making good conversation myself, I also want to help people find things that they or other people will like instead of wandering until they bump into something good.
It’s a little like the media training I got when I was at IBM. One of the tips I remember is to think about your story before you talk to people. You don’t have to stick to the script, but you should know the key points you want to get across, and try some ways of expressing it so that you can be clear and concise.
So here’s what I e-mailed to Timothy Kenny in preparation for our chat about accelerated learning (which will be this afternoon):
I thought about what I do the most differently and what your subscribers will probably benefit from. Here are some topic ideas. How about picking whichever one you think will resonate the most? =) I’m sure there’ll be future conversations, so we don’t have to get everything covered in one chat.
- Ideal outcome: People are inspired to take visual notes for their own use
- Learning and reviewing presentations and books; Connecting with people; Understanding your thoughts; Sharing what you know
- Making the most of your blog through the years
- Ideal outcome: People are encouraged to blog for the long term; people who have been blogging a while are inspired to organize their work
- Weekly, monthly, yearly reviews; Indexes; Other people as part of your memory; Collections; Backups
- Tracking and experiments
- Ideal outcome: People are inspired to make better decisions by tracking
- Time; Money and an opportunity fund; Clothes, decisions, etc.; 5-year experiment with retirement
- How it all fits together
- Ideal outcome: People see how the different techniques can support each other, and they are motivated to take the next step
- The flow of learning; How different techniques work together; Getting started; Getting better; Going from strength to strength
- Continuous improvement in everyday life
- Ideal outcome: People examine their processes
- Understanding your processes; Handling weaknesses; Building on strengths; Learning from experiments
He wrote back to say that he was curious about sketchnotes, blogging, connecting, learning flow, and what I considered my strengths and weaknesses in terms of learning.
I spent some time on Saturday night thinking about what I’ve learned and what I want to help other people learn. A podcast isn’t the place for technical instruction; blog posts are better for that because I can include step-by-step tips, links, and other resources. A podcast or videocast is great at communicating enthusiasm, helping other people see that they can get started. It’s also great for the back-and-forth, bringing two people’s ideas together.
So my goals for the chat are:
(Not only do I sketchnote events, but I can sketchnote the future! )
The idea is that these talking points can let Timothy pick whatever he wants to focus on, while giving him a peripheral awareness of related topics or other things we can talk about. They also give me visual aids that I can refer to (or draw on top of!) during the chat, which is probably more interesting than watching a bunch of talking heads. And if we run out of time or focus on some things instead of others, no worries – the blog post and the sketchnote will be there as a way to follow up. =)
I’ve done this before, like the digital sketchnoting workflow that I sketched in preparation for my podcast with Mike Rohde (episode, transcript). Our target time for that was 12 minutes, so it was great to be able to zoom in and talk about key parts knowing that other things could be left for the blog post or sketchnote.
I discovered the power of sharing my notes (showing my work!) when I was giving a lot of presentations. Knowing that my talking points were on the Net somewhere (ex: my Shy Connector presentation for Women in Technology International, or my talk on How to use Evernote to improve your visual thinking) meant that I didn’t have to worry about forgetting anything important, because people can always look up my notes. It gave me more freedom to ad-lib or go off-script, too, following whatever people were interested in.
So really, the main reason to come to one of my presentations or to interview me is to ask questions and figure out answers together, which is exactly the way I want it. If I can do the braindump outside the time we have, then we can use the time for interaction. In presentations and conversations, I want to give people just enough to get good questions. Questions are my pay-off for the preparation. Questions spark my curiosity and turn into follow-up conversations and blog posts and presentations.
Unrelated observation: making my own URL shortening thing was totally worth it, even if the domains are expensive. Much better than squeezing long domain names into my sketchnotes. Although I’m still flipflopping between sach.ac and liv.gd in sketchnotes because I think my nickname is hard to spell… Any opinions?
I’ll post the recording when it’s up, and I’ll probably work on transcribing it too. Fun!
Here’s the e-mail announcement that Timothy sent:
Hundreds of years ago during the Renaissance, creative geniuses like DaVinci revolutionized science by visualizing information for the first time. Huge leaps were made in engineering, math, architecture and physics because of this new focus on visualizing information.
A new visual Renaissance is coming…
Today at 1PM EDT (New York Time) I’m interviewing Sacha Chua on her accelerated learning techniques and especially how she visualizes information to learn faster and understand new concepts better.
Click Here to Join the Hangout:
Sacha is also a programmer. Programmers have the ability to see and create systems because coding requires that you build a system to process information.
All businesses are systems. And the more you can systematize your business the more stress free it will be for you. The starting point for understanding systems is learning how to get them down on paper as visual diagrams (much the same way programmers sketch out their program on a white board before building it) and that is a big piece of what we will be discussing today.
We’re doing it live so you can chime in with questions or observations during the interview.
Why You Should Come
Many people know about learning and productivity hacks but I have never met someone who actually put so many of them together into such a coherant system.
Sacha is also a visual genius. She created both of the images below. You will learn how she does it and why it is so important to get comfortable drawing and visualizing for your business and your learning.
What We Will Talk About
Example of Sacha’s 1 page visual book reviews
See you at 1,
Sign up for the Hangout here, then check out the learning profile I did on Sacha here:
Marty Pauschke was interested in sketchnoting/drawing as a way of planning your own life. I find drawing to be really useful in making sense of my life and planning ahead, because it allows me to see the bigger picture. Here are some types of diagrams and visual metaphors that I use. I’d love to see yours!
Life as a journey
You can think of life as a journey. Imagine what the destination looks like, and think about the milestones you’d like to see along the way. You can draw obstacles and think about ways around them. This is great for celebrating your progress so far and seeing what’s next.
Example: 2012 as a sketch
Here’s another way to look at it: as a target that you’re reaching with an arrow. Sometimes it helps to think about the goal first, then work backwards: what needs to happen in order for you to reach your goal? What needs to happen for that to happen? Continue until you get to actions you can take today.
Of course, life isn’t a simple journey – it’s full of decisions. Sometimes it helps to think about what some different possible outcomes are, and what you like or dislike about each one. Then you can figure out what you’re leaning towards.
If you’re looking at multiple decisions, a simple diagram might be easier to make and read. You can see the branching-off points and think about what information you need in order to make the best decisions at each stage.
Mindmaps and other diagrams
Great for branching out into detail. Example: Imagining the next five years and planning 2013. You don’t have to stick with having one central idea. Play around.
Charts are handy, too – make up your own labels and chart types! Example: Mapping my work happiness
Timelines are good for remembering because you end up filling in the blanks.
I like making spiral timelines because they give me different amounts of space for things that are more important to me (ex: more recent memories). Spirals can go the other way, too – zeroing in on a goal.
Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
Pre-mortem and post-mortem analyses
Speaking of weaknesses, I like doing pre-mortems – anticipating ways something could go wrong. Gravestones are a nice touch. Example: Experiment pre-mortem
These are just some of the ways I use drawing to help me remember and plan. How do you draw your life?
I’m celebrating my 30th birthday this August. Milestone birthdays are great excuses to look behind and look ahead. I don’t know how other people do it. I can barely remember what happened last week, much less ten years ago. Me, I cheat. I have blog archive, which 18-year-old me had the foresight to experiment with (although back then, I was just looking for a way to remember all those class notes and Emacs tidbits I was picking up). I’ve written more than six thousand blog posts in the last eleven years. (See Quantifying my blog posting history for a nifty visualization of my blog posting history.) My published posts probably include well over two million words. This is awesome.
Since not a lot of people have the same experience of blogging consistently over more than a decade, I thought I’d share what I’ve been learning along the way.
Have your own domain name. One of my first websites was on Geocities. Another was on Veranda.com.ph (hosted by I-Manila, which was our ISP then). Both services are long gone. I registered sachachua.com in 2006 and moved everything over to that. Since my name can be hard to spell, I registered LivingAnAwesomeLife.com in 2008. I‘ve started experimenting with my own URL shortening domains, sach.ac and liv.gd . While domain names are a recurring expense, they’ve been well worth it.
Move your data instead of starting from scratch. I changed blogging platforms (Emacs Planner Mode to WordPress) and moved web hosts, but I’d taken pains to move my data instead of starting fresh. Now I’m enjoying the benefits of having that archive handy.
Back up, back up, back up. I want this to be around in another sixty years. I like backing up the data in many different ways: database, files, HTML dumps, PDFs, even paper. I lost a bunch of photos and drawings when my Gallery2 setup got hacked, but I restored a number of them from files I found elsewhere. I look forward to being able to review decades and decades of notes.
Weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews go a long way towards making it easier to remember what happened. Day-to-day living makes it hard to see what’s important. A week seems to be the most natural chunk of time for my reviews. I wrote a little bit of code that auto-summarizes my task list and accomplishments. Every month, I
Search is your friend. If it takes a lot of digging to find something, make it more findable. I often use Google Search or my blog’s built-in search to find posts based on keywords that I remember. If it takes me a while to find something, I edit the post and add categories or tags to make it easier to find in the future. I sometimes write a new post that shares what I’ve learned since then, linking to the previous post for history.
Comments on older posts are awesome. Search engines are a wonderful, wonderful thing. I love it when people comment on old posts – it’s nice to know those posts are still helpful. Sometimes people comment on things I’ve completely forgotten writing, so it’s a great way to refresh my memory as well.
Check your analytics once in a while. I don’t really care about the number of visitors or the bounce rate, but I’m curious about what people are reading and where they’re coming from.
Indexes are good, too. Every month, I update this categorical index of my blog posts. I probably should go back and make sure that the WordPress categories match this as well, although in WordPress, I tend to use categories more like tags (I file a post in multiple categories).
Cultivate synchronicity and randomness. WordPress plugins help recommend similar posts, other posts that were written on the same day, and random posts. It might mean that my pages are overloaded with links… but it might also spark an aha! or an interesting conversation with someone browsing around, so I think it’s worth it. Besides, at this point, a computer will often be better than I could be at recommending other things that people should check out, so I use those features myself when I’m browsing my blog.
Write about the small stuff. I used to wonder whether the weekly reviews were worth posting on my blog, seeing as they’re mostly my task lists. Reviewing my blog years later, I was surprised to find that the weekly reviews were excellent at helping me remember what was going on. They were also great for filling in the blanks in my records – When did I fly out? What did I do? Whatever happened to that thing? Hooray for the small stuff.
Revise and summarize. It’s okay to write about something you’ve written before. In fact, it can be a great excuse to learn more and get closer to understanding the big picture.
If you’re starting out today, don’t worry. Stick with it, and in ten years, you’ll have something pretty darn awesome too.
Out of curiosity, do I know anyone else who’s got a big archive? How do you manage yours?